In the history of film, "remakes" and "reimaginings" can be traced as far back as MGM's 'Ben-Hur', Cecil B. DeMille's 'The Ten Commandments', and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much' (where he remade his own film!). But it wasn't until the remake of Tobe Hooper's seminal slasher classic that something strange happened. Michael Bay's production of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' began a major trend that continues to the present day and shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Compared to the cost of making it, the updated horror movie was a success at the box office and attracted other major studios to revisit the movies and TV shows of the 70s and 80s. But unlike those which tried to imitate its success, this Marcus Nispel version of the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface is actually not half-bad.
As the film and promotional trailers have made abundantly clear, the horrifying events takes place on August 18, 1973. Five close friends, Erin (Jessica Biel), Kemper (Eric Balfour), Morgan (Jonathan Tucker), Andy (Mike Vogel), and new pal Pepper (Erica Leerhsen), are on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert after spending some time in Mexico. Driving through Travis County, Texas, they encounter a troubled hitchhiker walking in the middle of a dirt road. After almost running her over with their van (because it's the 70s, after all), they decide to stop and help the young, distraught girl. This is where the film suddenly announces itself as a huge departure from the original concept and gives even loyal fans a sense of this horror flick being a completely different monster.
In Tobe Hooper's version, the hitchhiker, played perfectly by Edwin Neal, is a disturbed lunatic who slashes himself with a razor blade, freaking out everyone in the van and causing him to be kicked out. Here, the hysterical girl appears to have just experienced something severely traumatic and speaks incoherently about a man doing bad things. (Spoiler alert) A few minutes later, she pulls out a handgun, warns the group they will all die, and commits suicide in front of them. The entire sequence is actually clever and ingenious not only for broadcasting a different approach to Hooper's vision, but it's also one of the best uses of the foreshadowing around. Audiences are made aware of what to expect for the next 98 minutes: a movie with brutal, graphic violence and blood-drenched gore.
The incident also forces the group to make contact with the local authorities, and it becomes obvious fairly soon there's something uncomfortably strange about Sheriff Hoyt, portrayed by the always-awesome R. Lee Ermey ('Full Metal Jacket'). The rest of the pic is standard genre fare as each young adult is picked off one by one and chased by a crazed maniac with a chainsaw known as Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski). While the rest of the cast are slightly above average, Ermey and Biel are standouts in their respective roles. The former marine drill sergeant is oddly hilarious in his expectedly intimidating demeanor, and Biel suits the character perfectly in an attempt to completely eliminate all traces of her "7th Heaven" origins. Other than Bryniarski's foreboding presence, they seem to be what holds our attention and the entire production together.
Besides straying from mere imitation, the only other thing which sets the film apart is Daniel Pearl's cinematography, who also served as DP in the original, and Marcus Nispel's direction. Already familiar with one another (Pearl did the photography for several of Nispel's music videos), the two have managed a terrific coalescence of stylized visuals with fast-paced movement. Although not as frightening as Hooper's version, their teamwork has resulted in a pretty slick-looking film that still captures a feeling of 70s grindhouse cinema. Nispel's 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' may not be the next great thing in horror remakes, but it's sure as heck a better genre entry than all the other garbage released since.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
New Line Home Video releases 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)' in a regular Blu-ray keepcase and slipcover featuring the same cover design found on the two-disc special edition. As with all Blu-ray titles released by the studio, viewers are taken straight to the movie once the disc is inserted into the player, with the lossless Dolby TrueHD track already activated.
As already mentioned, one of the best features of 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)' is Daniel Pearl's cinematography, giving this rehash a unique look meant to imitate old film stock without the dirt and scratches. The 1080p/VC-1 transfer (1.85:1) does a splendid job in preserving Pearl's work while giving viewers and fans a strong video presentation of a better-than-average remake.
Compared to the two-disc special edition from 2004, the high-def version of the movie shows a clear improvement in resolution and deep, lush black levels. Delineation within the shadows is above average and appreciable, but there are a few instances of murkiness which are arguably deliberate. Although the stylized photography arrives with a warm palette emulating a hot summer in Texas, colors are accurate and exhibit great variation in the hues. Contrast is also intentionally reserved, but it doesn't affect the film in any negative way. The image displays sharp, distinct details and facial complexions appear natural with good fine texture. Overall, the picture quality is very good for Marcus Nispel's only worthwhile film.
Perfectly matching the good picture quality, 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)' arrives with a very exciting and lively Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, which delivers well prioritized vocals even amongst all the loud action. While the lossless mix generally possesses a front-heavy design, the surround speakers show a great deal of activity. Whether indoors or outdoors, random sounds of different environments generate enjoyable moments of ambiance and envelop the viewer nicely. In the front soundstage, imaging and clarity are very discrete and engaging, giving the idling and whirring of the chainsaw a terrifying presence. While low-frequency effects are punchy, and channel separation is smooth, the track exhibits a mid-range with strong dimension and good room penetration, keeping things crystal clear and thrilling. It's a clear upgrade from the lossy DTS version found on the two-disc special edition and will not disappoint.
The special features mirror those found on the two-disc DVD, which is a nice treat for fans. Totaling over two hours, the selection is fairly large with plenty of insight into the production of the film. It's an entertaining and time-consuming package.
The next track is subtitled "Technical Commentary" and voiced by Nispel, cinematographer Daniel Pearl, production designer Greg Blair, art director Scott Gallagher, sound editor Trevor Jolly, and composer Steve Jablonsky. As would be expected, discussions are limited to the technical aspects such as shooting locations, working with the director and famous producer, the film's different approach, costuming, the style of the photography, and designing the various set pieces. It can drag a bit in a few areas, but it's nothing too damaging as the info is nice to know.
The final track is on the story and features comments from Nispel, Bay, screenwriter Scott Kosar, producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form. Cast members Jessica Biel, Erica Leerhsen, Eric Balfour, Jonathan Tucker, Mike Vogel and Andrew Brynarski are also given an opportunity to chime in with their input. After listening to the previous two, this last one doesn't offer anything new. In fact, it pretty much covers the same ground save for some good information on Kosar's script and the characters. Going through the entire collection can be exhaustive, but it's rare to see three commentaries let alone have them feature so many different people from various aspects of the film's production.
Despite being far from the greatest remake or reimaging, Marcus Nispel's modernized version of Tobe Hooper's seminal horror classic, 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', ushered in a new trend that has yet to slow down. Regardless of its notoriety, the flick is a surprisingly good and well-made genre entry. The Blu-ray release features a very strong A/V presentation sure to excite fans looking for an upgrade, and contains the same bonus material found on the two-disc special edition. Admirers of the movie will want to add this high-def version to their collection, and curious bystanders should at least give it a rent.