Texas Chainsaw Massacres

In 1974, I was born and so was the Slasher film genre. The flagship of the slasher genre was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a simultaneously surreal and visceral depiction of the tragic day suffered by five idiot teenagers (horror staple) who get stranded in the Texas wasteland. It was so controversial that it was banned in the UK. Tobe Hooper’s directorial debut brought slashers to the mainstream conscious. It spawned three sequels and gave birth to an entirely new way to make people scream in their seats. Michael Bay’s production company released the remake of this horror classic in 2003. Horror was so hot that Bay’s version’s opening day take beat Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1, a movie that was ten times as hyped. In the same year, Freddy vs. Jason’s opening weekend take was the largest mid-August haul in history to that point.

So which one is better? I will compare them side-by-side and decide a winner. Please note that there are many spoilers in the following article so as to facilitate the comparison between the original and the remake. But it’s a movie about a cannibal chainsaw murderer, it’s not like you need to go in fresh. You know what’s going to happen.

Budget:

Hooper’s original was made on a shoestring budget of approximately 250,000 dollars. The script supervisor had to perform stunts because they couldn’t afford stuntmen. The scenes were shot in the blistering Texas summer sun. According to Hooper, the temperature inside the abandoned homes soared above 120 degrees. People fainted. Michael Bay’s version was shot for between 10-15 million dollars, a veritable bargain by today’s bloated and ridiculous movie budgets. It had a 29 million dollar opening and a prequel followed three years later.

Winner: Original, all the way. They did so much with so little.

Cast:

The 1974 version was a gaggle of unknowns. None of them amounted to much after the movie but they played their role of butchered sheep with the vigor and rawness of actors trying to make it. The actors in the current version include Jessica Biel, a TV star trying to cross over to the silver screen, and Eric Balfour, whose claim to fame at the time included several episodes on TV’s smartest drama of the day, Six Feet Under.

Winner: Remake. The actors in the first movie probably are more convincing but I am in love with Jessica Biel so she gets extra credit and Balfour performed adequately.

Cinematography:

The first Chainsaw used fantastic camera angles and odd lenses to get shots that no one had used before in horror movies or most movies for that matter. The camera work in the remake is slick and vibrant and devoid of any feeling, as in all Michael Bay films. His photography is akin to a lobotomized fashion model.

Winner: Original. Again, with no money, Tobe Hooper produced shots that directors copied for decades after him. While Bay’s work is glossy and technically proficient it’s got no heart.

Story:

The original was a fairly simple story. It was about a group of five kids who get stranded in the middle of nowhere Texas. They seek help at a nearby house. Unfortunately for them, it’s inhabited by Leatherface and his cannibal family. In the updated version, the kids are the same except for the replacement of the wheelchair bound brother with a svelte, non-handicapped “dork” with six-pack abs. Typical Hollywood “upgrade.” Hooper’s script did not try to explain the psychological reasons behind Leatherface and his family’s murderous and cannibalistic ways. There was no bullshit pop psychology reason to feel pity for Leatherface. He was a fucking monster, pure and simple. He was pure evil.

The remake posits that he’s a kid who was ridiculed by his peers and that’s the reason he saws people up for his family’s meals. If every unpopular kid did that, I would have made Hannibal Lecter loom reserved. Are people fattening? I suppose it depends on the individual. A horror script doesn’t need that new age crap. Insert fucked up monster and teenagers running for their lives. It’s not group therapy time.

Winner: Original. The addition of the new characters and new set pieces does not raise the horror level.

Direction:

Marcus Nispel, before he was assigned the remake, made Janet Jackson videos. Are you fucking kidding? The result is the absence of subtlety and the predominance of gore. Believe it or not, the original Chainsaw was not very gory. Never did you actually see Leatherface’s fabled chainsaw penetrate skin. Never were wounds painstakingly displayed. It was all implied. There was a big meat hook. And the person was lowered on it. But it was never shown. Blood sprayed when Leatherface’s chainsaw annihilated the wheelchair brother but the audience didn’t see the blade do its dirty work. It could have been a money issue. Effects were and are expensive. But at the time, even the intimation of gruesome murder was far more disgusting and vicious than anything preceding the film. The story progressed fast enough in both versions. But the dinner scene in the original, which combined extreme, art house style intense close-ups, geriatric blood sucking and cross dressing cannibals, out horrifies anything in the remake. Maybe Nispel knew this because he did not even try to put his spin on that seminal scene. It would be like someone trying to repaint the horror version of the Sisteen Chapel.

Winner: Original. No scene in the remake comes close to the grotesque and surreal torment portrayed in the dinner sequence.

Music:

Tobe Hooper did not have the money to license any classic songs. He composed his own score. Michael Bay’s company has the money. Sweet Home Alabama, always a crowd favorite regardless of whether the crowd is sitting in Mobile or Miami, started out the remake. Sweet Home Alabama is an example of the stagnant creativity in Hollywood. There are hundreds of classic and modern songs that could easily compliment this movie and that particular scene but the brain dead creative bosses decided to play the same songs over and over and over because there’s no possible way that Americans could groove to something that wasn’t completely overplayed. Didn’t they see that Tarantino single handedly brought back Surfer Rock? Americans seemed to grasp that forgotten genre handily enough. Hooper used chaotic and stark classical music to pace his film. It would be a crime to favor an overplayed country rock ballad over frantic, chaotic violins.

Winner: Original. Nothing beats the classics. Especially not overplayed shit. (No disrespect to Sweet Home Alabama. It’s a great song but I don’t need it to be part of every movie soundtrack.)

The victor, by an overwhelming final score of 5-1, is the original. It was the first of its kind to reach the popular consciousness and it influenced an entire genre. See the remake (it’s still gory fun) but don’t don’t expect the shadow to live up to the sun.

#tobehooper #michaelbay #jessicabiel #sixfeetunder #horror #slasher #1974 #2003 #moviereview #movies #film #cinema #remake

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