Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

TW: This review deals with mentions of suicide, please don’t read this if that might upset you. Don’t worry, you’re not missing much.


Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=janre4HxsX4

Thoughts before I hit play:

I assume this is going to be a near exact replica of the first film with little to no derailment from the first. There might be more gore than the first, might be a sub-plotline with more sex in it, and I have a feeling they’re going to completely nix the dinner scene in lieu of a high speed chase through the house or something. I can’t imagine it’ll be too much different than the first, though I do think this is the one that features a shotgun suicide within the first ten minutes. Oh! And I guarantee all stars of this fill will be able-bodied.

Synopsis: A remake of a film that never needed to be remade only with more gore, less structure, and a better final girl than I expected to find.


Main Meat:

When I think Michael Bay, the first word that comes to mind is aliens. Then I think of the Transformers films and how they somehow keep happening even though no one asked for more than one.

I don’t think about Leatherface and the beautiful world that is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, but apparently, Michael is responsible for producing this and the next film I’ll be reviewing so I suppose I should suck it up now.

I don’t want to get *into* the details of this movie, because it’s a remake; you already know what happened in the first one, so you don’t need me to tell you some teens in a van get killed one by one and in the end, only one girl survives.

What you do need me to tell you though is that this movie changed the ENTIRE Sawyer family story line to the point where they even gave the family a new name. According to the executive producers this was because if they had used the same family, viewers would have known what to expect. This makes sense, but then leaves me to wonder why another, fully-formed family that owns a gas station with no visible signs of selling human meat also has a raging lunatic monster as a kid.

Like, yeah, Leatherface is an enigmatic horror icon with no real substance, personality, or motive (according to the public/director of this film) but at the same time, he’s part of something. As we’ve seen in the sequels previous, changing the family dynamic, characters, and items of Leatherface’s persona only serves to make the character overall more confusing.

The entire story line in this film is totally different as well. Rather than heading to a graveyard to identify their decaying grandfather, the kiddos are headed from Mexico to a concert. Apparently Kemper is a weed dealer and has 2 pounds of the stuff hidden away in a pinata within the van they’re driving.

We take a moment to meet the characters, Erin and Kemper, the main couple with all the lines, Morgan, the “braniac” who is considered so because he knows one fact about STDs, and Pepper and Andy, a couple that is left entirely vague as to how they’re connected to the other three.

As they continue down the road, they spy a girl walking and pull over. Erin asks if she’s okay, but when she doesn’t respond, Erin assumes she can be helpful by getting her in the van and continuing to drive in the direction she was walking.

Within seconds, they arrive at the first sign of life, a slaughterhouse. The girl then freaks out, grabs the steering wheel, nearly causes a crash, and goes on and on about not wanting to go back and that everyone is dead. She then pulls a gun out of her vagina and shooting herself in the head.

This is where the coolest shot of this entire movie comes into play.

Using what I later learned was an endoscopic camera (the kind they shove up your butt and down your throat for medical procedures), the scene pulls from the horrified faces of the van passengers through the bullet wound in a dummy head and exits through the broken glass of the rear window. It’s seriously the coolest part of this movie besides the composition and lighting of a few other higher contrast scenes I really liked.

Let me just take a moment here to talk about how beautiful this movie was. It was seriously a masterpiece and I don’t say that lightly. Some of the scenes looked like they came right out of a Del Toro movie and while the story itself didn’t seem to hold up, the acting combined with the sets and the saturation of colors did wonders for the overall appearance of the film and made it feel gross and real the whole time, even if what was happening on screen did not.

The kids end up meeting an old woman who owns a gas station/bar/maybe BBQ joint. It’s all very vague as to what meat these people actually sell considering we never see anyone butchered, and we never see any human meat hanging anywhere, leaving me to wonder what purpose Leatherface serves in this movie, if any.

Eventually the team ends up at an old mill where they were told the sheriff would meet them. There’s a long conversation about whether or not they should just dump the body and leave or take the body with them, arousing suspicion.

I found it funny that no matter what they would have done, in a normal situation, they would have been accused of murder either way yet none of them seemed to care about that fact and basically defaulted to calling the sheriff anyway, risking him discovering the weed they had in their car in lieu of respecting a dead body enough to be brought back to her family.

An extremely skeevy dude that calls himself the sheriff shows up that makes a lot of strange sexual remarks about the dead girl in their van, and Erin ends up at a house owned by an old man in a wheelchair. She asks to use his phone and he complies, not allowing Kemper to accompany her inside his creepy house.

It’s left intentionally vague as to who this wheelchair using man is, but I found it very interesting that they removed the wheelchair user from the main cast as in the original and replaced him with a bad guy in a wheelchair. Strange, how representation has changed since the 70’s, huh? I also noticed that they had the opportunity to play homage to the ONLY black character from the first film by making the truck driver that saves Erin at the end a black guy, but they didn’t do it and that makes me kinda sad.

Anyway, shit goes down, kids start getting picked off one by one, and we all know how the rest of these movies go.

In the midst of everything, there’s this mysterious little boy (coincidentally named Jedidiah but not related in anyway to other movies as far as I know). I think he exists to represent the good in the strange family because during the scene where we realize that this family is not the same as previous iterations, he’s seen outside and not let in until he learns to “follow the rules.” Later on, he ends up risking his own life to make sure Erin and Morgan get out of the house safely.

It’s portrayed as a very character-based story, yet is incredibly vague on the details of those characters. We meet everyone and, based on what we know from the original, can place who they’re supposed to be, but we’re still left wondering how the Hewitt family came to be or what makes Andy such an important character that he has to have the death scene that he did. The most we get are tastes of Erin, the final girl. We learn that she just wants Kemper to commit to marrying her, she’s honest and good, someone that sees the best in most people, trusts easily yet has staunch morals she sticks to, and has a dark side that’s teased when she mentions she’s been to juvie.

There’s no real story line besides seeing teenagers killed off. They pick up the “hitch hiker” watch her die, then discover her picture in a jar with the photo of another family. Then Erin meets a pair of women that are supposedly related to the Hewitt family and uses the photo in their trailer to discover that the baby one of them is holding has been stolen. In the end, Erin steals a cop car and takes the baby with her. That’s kinda it though, we don’t get to know what Leatherface looks like with a sister, we don’t get to know whether or not these people are actually serving human meat, we don’t get to know a lot of stuff and I find that really frustrating.

Oh yeah! There’s also this really REALLY weird scene where the “sheriff” guy asks Morgan to recreate the incident that happened in the back of the van. It’s very tense, very weird, and while it lends to the character of the sheriff, it doesn’t add anything to the movie because they never do anything with the information it tells us.

Basically the sheriff and Morgan are sitting in the back of the van, the sheriff tells Morgan to show him exactly what happened, encouraging him to stick the gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. Morgan eventually turns the gun on the sheriff and is screamed at by both Pepper (who wants him to shoot) and Erin (who doesn’t want him to shoot). He decides to do it, but the gun clicks. Although the sheriff has the opportunity to kill Morgan with the loaded gun he then pulls from a holster, he doesn’t do it and we learn that he’s all talk. I mean, I guess that’s fine, but when you have Leatherface in your family, you get to be all talk.

I also liked the whole “Leatherface wearing a Kemper mask to freak out Erin” thing that happened at one point. However, I think it could have lasted a bit longer than it did, especially at the end where she attacks him. Like she would have to deal with the fact that Kemper is dead in a whole other way, but the body would have been someone she despises for killing him in the first place.

Speaking of Leatherface’s mask, it is a SIGHT to behold, folks. This mask looks like someone grabbed a few dirty washcloths, used them to clean up a spill, and left them in a pile to grow mold. It’s twisted, one single color, bulbous, and inhuman- but not in a complimentary way. During the special features I found, the special effects guy said he wanted it to look like he had pieces of face that were older than others or newer than others stretched across his face, but it kinda looks like he forgot to paint it before it was used since the mask is all one color and just looks….bad.

We also learn in this movie that Leatherface was bullied in school because as a kid, he had a skin condition that we see has taken his nose later on in the movie. So there’s nothing mentally wrong with this version of Leatherface which is, I assume, why I don’t care as much about this film as I do the others.

In the end, only Erin is left, she runs away from Leatherface, who has just killed the last of her group of friends, and tracks down a truck on the highway. Like and IDIOT she pulls the same shit the “hitchhiker” from the beginning does by grabbing the steering wheel once the driver pulls up to the gas station.

Here there is another really cool scene where tension is built by shots of Erin trying to hotwire a car and the sheriff nearing the cab of the truck. We’re made to think she’s in the truck but really she’s in his police car and hits him a few times, assuring he’s dead before taking off with the kid she rescued.

I really liked Erin. Like I said, I wish I could just transplant her into another, less weird movie about the TCM, Jessical Beil really did an amazing job.


Year Released/Director: 2003, Marcus Nispel

Rating: “Um…”

2019 Ratings Banner SITD

Favorite Death: I thought the part where Andy died was pretty weird. As evidenced in the movie previously where she encourages Morgan not to kill the sheriff as well as her desire to respect the body of the girl from their van, Erin is supposed to represent a character with a pure heart. We learn at one point that she went to juvie, though we’re not sure why. That then presents us with the information that she’s been through some shit, led a troubling childhood, and has the capability to be dark, though she tries her best to be good these days.

Thing is, we have no idea how Erin and Andy know each other. Kemper was her boyfriend and in the beginning of the movie, we have established that she, Kemper, Morgan and Pepper all kinda know each other, but Pepper mentions briefly how crazy it is that she didn’t even know Andy the day before, yet they’re making out in the back of the van like it’s nothing. This guy is so out there, I didn’t even know his name without looking at the IMDB page.

So he’s on this meat hook, tries to get himself off with his man strength, but can’t do it, makes things worse, and basically waits there for Erin to show up. She tries to help him off the hook too, but can’t lift him. He then tells her to kill him so he can stop suffering and there’s this whole long, drawn out scene where she doesn’t think of other ways to get him down, but rather grabs a knife and cries “no, no, no” on repeat until she stabs him.

So like, it was really weird, especially since it’s the second total death in the film after Kemper (who, by the way we only assume is dead because Leatherface took his face off).

Funniest Part: Honestly, and I know it’s pretty fucked up that this was funny to me, but the moment Erin is in the truck, having watched Leatherface just kill Pepper, she watches him turn around to reveal that he’s wearing Kemper’s face as a mask.

I find it funny because you could tell they went to some extreme lengths to make sure we knew who’s face that was when he turned around to face her and it’s just so weird and unexpected because it’s not something Leatherface has done in any other movie too. The face itself looked awesome though.

How I would have done it:

I liked Erin in this movie, she’s definitely at the top of the list for my favorite final girls. Any final girl that can fight for herself and do what she must to survive is a-okay in my book. That being said, I would have taken her character and Jessica Beil into another movie altogether because this one was an absolute train wreck with the rest of the series in mind.

To be truthful, I wouldn’t have made this movie in the first place. It messed with the original idea for the movie, changed too many little details that were pretty crucial to the original, and didn’t explain itself.

Thoughts from Interviews:

In this interview with Hollywood Archive, we learn that Jessica Beil was initially scared to take on the role of Erin in this film. She stated that she was intimidated by the big shoes left to film from such a cult classic.

Thanks to the channel Massacre Feed, I found this deleted scenes documentary that seems like it was ripped right out of the DVD special features. AKA my favorite thing to find for this section of my reviews.

Yo! There was a whole chunk of this movie cut out in which we find out Erin is pregnant! If that’s the case, I’m kinda surprised that there wasn’t more urgency in her character to find him for, you know, that entire 20 minutes of the film she aimlessly walked around the Hewitt property. To be honest, I’m kinda glad they cut that out, because it made it more interesting for her to have stolen that kid at the end as opposed to having to have a conversation with Kemper about what having a kid will be like the second little Jedidiah shows up.

There was all kinds of stuff they cut out of this movie, some that would have added a little more to the characters, even Leatherface, but it all got cut with little to no explanation.

But THEN I came across a behind the scenes documentary that was nearly an hour and 20 minutes long. Thanks a million to Adam The Prowler for putting this up on  YouTube!

They didn’t cast a hitchhiker like they had for the original because they assumed it couldn’t be outdone.

Apparently if you were to have seen the movie in theaters when it came out, there was this whole auditory experience you would get of this girl running through a house and being attacked by Leatherface. It happened in pitch blackness and tossed itself between speakers as well.

They mentioned that they wanted to make a movie that wasn’t an exact replica of the first, so they changed a lot about it. One of the easiest things to change was the dynamic of the main family.

The way the director and screenwriter saw the character of Leatherface in relation to his family is that he is the monster and the rest of his family are just fragments of a split personality that all add up to one monster/psychopath.

Apparently that sickly young woman that lives in the trailer was supposed to have been Leatherfaces’ sister…

The house they shot in was basically preserved from the previous owners and moved to the filming location

Marcus doesn’t like using sets, so every location in the movie is a real place that was scouted in Texas.

Like I had expected, they took out the dinner scene. According to one of the executive producers, it didn’t fit tonally with what they wanted to do.

 

Trivia: the following trivia is sourced from the longer documentary and the IMDB trivia page for this film.

Before the script was even written, the movie was sold.

All of the meat from the freezer scene is real meat that the slaughterhouse let them use for the shoot before it was sent off.

To use a live chainsaw without the risk of hurting anyone, the prop team would use bicycle chain on the chainsaws

Jessica Beil is a vegetarian and stated it would have been easier for her to see human carcasses during the freezer scene than animals.

For the scene that included a shot through the gunshot wound, they used an endoscopic camera through a dummy head.

the “sound” this series is so famous for, the high pitched tone, is made by running a tuning fork along a piano string.

To make the chainsaw sound more menacing, they paired the sound of it with the growls of bears and lions.

Eric Fouler grew up in a nudist colony, so when the movie wrapped, he tossed off his costume and left the set entirely nude.

This film crew had several returning crew members such as the cinematographer from the original and writer from

While filing the scene with the opossum, the filmmakers had to re-shoot the scene numerous times in order to deliver the scares but every time they filmed it, the possum appeared more adorable than scary.

Film critic Roger Ebert gave this film a rare Zero stars rating.

To avoid an NC-17 rating in the USA, the more graphic shots of Morgan’s death were cut. The original version of the scene featured the shot of the chainsaw slicing into his crotch and then having intestines and blood falling out of him. The cut version cuts away when the chainsaw is about to cut him and totally cuts out the intestines falling from his body. The hitchhiker death scene was also cut severely. The original scene has her ear flying off of her head and blood and brain matter being more dark in color and more in amount flying out of her head. Jedidiah was originally supposed to be killed by Leatherface for helping Erin and Morgan escape, but the scene was scrapped for being “too intense”.

 

Summary:

If my count is correct, there have only been a handful of movies I haven’t hated since I started watching this series. I seriously doubt that this is because of the direction, cinematography, etc.

Truly, I believe it’s because these movies weren’t made for me. They were made for people that want to hate a bad guy that isn’t weighed down with story line or personality traits that make him someone to either root for or against.

For some reason I see the good in Leatherface, as I’ve described multiple times in other reviews, but that’s not the general consensus it seems. I think, being a fan of Ed Gein and seeing past the women he chopped up, I automatically have empathy for someone so confused about who they are, they go to great lengths to not only look like someone they feel more comfortable being, but become that person by wearing pieces of them.

Gunnar Hansen infused a kind of sensitivity into Leatherface that hasn’t been repeated in a remake or sequel since. This movie is the polar opposite of everything he set up, so in a sense it’s a stand alone movie that could be written off as inspired by the original TCM film, but not a duplication, which is, I think, what the directors, writers, and producers had in mind in the first place.

To me, it doesn’t make sense why this movie would exist in the first place. It’s just one more movie that’s part of a huge franchise people already love that takes a single character from that franchise and explores what it might look like for him to have no personality or human like traits whatsoever.

I can see how this might have inspired what came next; the sequels I watched before this one out of order, so it seems like this one started a whole new genre of understanding Leatherface, especially considering the most recent remake came out nearly a decade before the Texas Chainsaw 3D sequel that Leatherface used as a jumping off point.

The movie itself was okay, there was a clear vision, the director was skilled, experienced and talented, the team behind it was superb, the movie itself was a piece of art, but it just wasn’t for me, much like the next remake will probably be as well.


 

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