The 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is a classic horror movie, and it's spawned its' share of horrible sequels and remakes. Although 2003's 'reimagination' is far superior to them all, the contemporary moviegoing public's standards for horror movies has changed considerably since 1974. Accordingly, we'll take a look at this latest iteration on it's own merits.
First off, the movie likes to say it's inspired by a true story. Well, there was no texas chainsaw massacre, or any such thing. The original 'Massacre' as well as Hitchcock's 'Psycho' were loosely based on the sickening life of Ed Gein, a very disturbed mind if there ever was one. If you really want to know more, there's a link to Crime Library's piece over to the left. Now, back to business.
The premise of the movie is a very familiar one, one we've seen a thousand times and doubtless will see a thousand more. To start with a group of teenagers travelling across Texas stop to pick up a distraught wanderer on the side of the road. The woman mumbles inchorently before shooting herself in the moving van. Understandably distraught, the teens stop to call the law in these here parts, and set off to meet him at the old mill (oh dear). As one might imagine, the situation rapidly deteriorates, and they find themselves at the mercy of a maniacal killer and his twisted family.
Yeah, it's been done, but rarely this good. See 'House of 1000 Corpses' for instructions on how not to do 'it'. The film starts a little slowly while it sets up it's latter half, but once it gets underway it doesn't let go. 'Massacre' manages to achieve and mantain a high level on intensity throughout, something other movies of the genre constantly struggle with. There's a very dark atmosphere to the movie, and it's never relieved by any type of one liner - things are far too serious for humor. Although, Leatherface does teach children an important lesson about running with chainsaws. Namely, don't. (Not to worry though folks, he's plenty alright... well maybe that is cause for worry).
This is director Nispel's first movie, after a successful career directing *cough* music videos. For the most part however, 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is one slickly shot movie, full of style and beautiful cinematography. The film is full of desaturated and washed out shots, dominated by pale dirty yellows, and otherworldly blues. Nispel creates a wonderful tone for the movie from the get go, and manages to mantain it throughout. He's helped out by some excellent set design - from the eerie and disturbing basement of Leatherface's house, to the trailer Erin (Jessica Biel) stumbles into later in the movie - it's all of the highest order. Dark and menacing shots work wonders in setting up the shocks the movie has to offer.
Unfortunately, sometimes this can work against the movie. Things can be so dark, it's sometimes difficult to see exactly what's happening when the action takes off. It's not helped by some shaky camerawork, and sometimes it's difficult to see what's happening to who, although you usually have a good idea who's doing it.
Yes, there's plenty of gore to be seen. However, as strange as it is to say it, it is pretty tastefully done. That's right, tasteful gore. At least for a hack and slash thriller such as this. It doesn't beat you over the head with it, although there's more enough to unsettle some of the queasier stomachs out there.
The acting is a pleasant surprise, as for the most part it's excellent. Jessica Biel is very convincing in her role as a terrified hero, and manages to inject plenty of emotion into her character. Granted, there's not much meaningful dialogue, but she's helped along by some very impressive screams and an altogether believable character. Eric Balfour (from HBO's Six Feet Under) also turns in a good performance, and together with Biel manage to avoid turning the movie into a standard teen flasher flick.
Although the movie has it's fare share of jumpy moments, probably more than it's fair share, it doesn't have the element of horror that the original managed to bring to the screen. Of course, it's almost forty years later, and it's very difficult to bring something as genuinely terrifying as the 1974 version to the screen. People just don't scare as easily. This year's movie is a little frightening, pretty disturbing, a bit sickening, sometimes disgusting, and very suspensful. It's gauranteed (this is not a guarantee) 'Massacre' will have you jumping at least a couple times. The entire movie is one big helping of suspense, and often times when something actually does happen, you'll have no idea it was coming. There's enough of these moments to keep you on the edge of your seat for the latter half of the movie.
This year's 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is a more than worthy sequel to the original, and an excellent movie itself. A gorgeous film filled with unrelenting action and atmosphere, 'Massacre' is sure to please fans of the genre. Some purists may take issue with any movie that isn't the original, but this year's entry delivers as best as it can. Which is pretty damn good.