Movie review: 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'

MassacresEntertainmentTelevisionMichael BayMoviesMarcus Nispel

3 stars(out of 4)

Let's be frank: It's almost impossible to sneak up on someone with a buzzing chainsaw motor.

For this reason alone, the premise of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is ridiculous and absurd - an unlikely basis for what is, nonetheless, an effectively scary slasher film.

To date, there have been five feature films in the "Texas" franchise. The latest, a remake of writer/director Tobe Hooper's low-budget 1974 masterpiece, lays out enough fright and carnage to revitalize a horror franchise that was becoming dangerously cartoonish.

Jessica Biel (of TV's "7th Heaven") stars as Erin, lead heroine in a "Scooby-Doo" van full of fresh meat - would-be concertgoers, that is, on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd show in Dallas. After picking up a hitchhiker, their lives skid to a halt and terror mounts when they stumble upon a backwoods family of cannibalistic murderers who prefer a chainsaw to the traditional knife-and-fork culinary preparations.

Horror movies, forever a psychological playground for social fears, tap into something primal. This film, like 1972's "Deliverance" and the infamous "Home" episode of the TV show "The X-Files," feeds into an urban phobia of small-town life, inbred hillbilly folk and alien geography.

Even 1969's "Easy Rider" capitalized on such anxiety.

The new "Chainsaw Massacre," isn't much different, although the theme of small town decay due to mechanized labor has been lost in this version.Like its original, the remade "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" takes place in the mid-'70s, although first-time director Marcus Nispel erases nearly all references to the period. By dress, language and attitude, these are very modern teens.

Leatherface, the iconic chainsaw killer, disposed of only one 1974 cast member with a chainsaw (mostly because he was in a wheelchair). Nispel, acknowledging how impractical a weapon a chainsaw can be, nudges the buzz-saw body count up by only one - leaving himself free to design far more grisly deaths along the way.

So beware: Nispel's film challenges the stomach. Hooper created a sweaty, heart-pounding film through implied violence, preferring to keep his gore in the aftermath and his scares sadistically psychological. Nispel instead drags his prey through a Dante-esque "Inferno," a house of horrors - at one point forcing Erin to find her friends in pieces throughout Leatherface's macabre workshop. In a grisly, inspired twist, Leatherface even uses her boyfriend's mug for one of his famed masks.

Produced by Michael Bay ("Pearl Harbor") and Mike Fleiss, the new "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" has no pretensions about sneaking up on you - it simply charges, motor humming and blades flying, carving the spot where masochism and entertainment meet.

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
Directed by Marcus Nispel; written by Scott Kosar; original screenplay by Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel; photographed by Daniel Pearl; production design by Greg Blair; edited by Glen Scantlebury; music by Steve Jablonsky and Mel Wesson; produced by Michael Bay and Mike Fleiss. A New Line Cinema release; opens Friday, Oct. 17. Running time: 1:38. MPAA rating: R (strong horror violence/gore, language and drug content).
Erin - Jessica Biel
Kemper - Eric Balfour
Morgan - Jonathan Tucker
Sheriff Hoyt - R. Lee Ermey
Leatherface - Andrew Bryniarski

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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