I went to the theater recently and saw a film, and before it, I saw a trailer for the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street. I wonder why people continue to make these remakes, along with why people flock to them on the film's opening weekend. I vehemently disagree with these remakes, and then I remembered that, back in 2003, Michael Bay helped facilitate this by producing a remake of one of horror's touchstone films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The remake of the Tobe Hooper classic was written by Scott Kosar (The Machinist) and directed by Marcus Nispel, who incidentally directed the Friday the 13th remake. The bulk of the story remains the same; Erin (Jessica Biel, Next), Kemper (Eric Balfour, The Spirit), Andy (Mike Vogel, Poseidon), Pepper (Erica Leerhsen, Wrong Turn 2) and Morgan (Jonathan Tucker, The Ruins) are all spending a summer afternoon in 1973 Texas driving in a van, when they pick up a passenger than will later send them to their demise. Those responsible are a warped "family" led by the menacing Leatherface (Andrew Bryianarski, The Program).
There are some deviations from the original though; instead of the kids finding a crazed member of the family in the original, they come upon a wandering survivor in the remake. Additionally, there is a prologue/epilogue of sorts which double as video camera footage of the crime scene, "shot" by the police. There's some loving nods to the original film, notably the incorporation of John Larroquette's narration, which he redid for this film.
Now credit should be given to Nispel and Kosar; they want to keep the franchise in high regard, and they are aware of the challenges before them. But they seem to take that regard and hope that it will overcome the deficiencies within the story. For instance, the hitchhiker that is picked up in the first act winds up killing herself, and the preceding two camera shots are among the worst I've seen. Not technically, but from a taste perspective. One is a camera pan that David Fincher wouldn't have done. So instead of regard for the franchise, liberty is taken from it to do silly things like that.
Most importantly, the raw and gritty nature of the first film is eliminated from the remake. The house where the family lives in squalor personified, and it's a menagerie of life's walking wounded. But let's not kid ourselves; the production budget of the remake is almost ten times that of the original film, so even if you get back to basics, the film might not ever look the same as it did decades ago. Yet in order to make the film work, some of the camera gimmickry and recognizable names shouldn't have been considered to begin with. Why a film like Hostel works and why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn't is because the former has a real feeling, bordering on a snuff film. Can you say that of the latter?
At least when it comes to casting choices, Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey, Full Metal Jacket) plays his role as the semi-respected law enforcement body well, but there is a certain charm or charisma that he's lacking as a cop. If there was another guy in the role who the viewer could feel a little more comfort in getting behind, the trip the kids have could at least have a respite, instead of starting out bad and staying that way.
Ultimately, the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is perhaps better done by people who aren't working with a bigger budget or production sensibilities. It would be better if it remained lean and raw, without being overly tasteless or glossy. Instead, we get a remake for remake's sake. And doing it for doing it's sake, especially when the original was so good, might be the biggest offense of all.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 1.85:1 1080p high definition widescreen presentation of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is presented with the VC-1 codec, and the film looks better than I was presuming. Daniel Pearl, who did the cinematography on the original one, keeps the color palette muted and devoid of a lot of color, but the results still manage a sharpness. A lot of the action occurs in the darkness and the blacks are excellent, and the facial details of the image are sharp. Even in the exterior shots, the grassy plains in Texas look as if you can taste the dust and dirt. So yeah, in high definition The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is, well, purdy looking.
The Dolby TrueHD track does what's expected of it, which means there's a lot of chainsaw noise that sounds clear and robust. Dialogue also sounds fairly strong and requires little compensation, and while the speaker panning and directional effects may be a little on the sparse side, they're subtle and provide a gentle layer of immersion in the experience. The secondary saw sound effects (on metal, through skin and bone, etc.) sound like they're right next to you, and the overall result of everything is an effective sounding film.
Everything from the two-disc standard definition edition (save for the DVD-ROM material) has been brought to this Blu-ray disc, so that's a nice bonus for the consumer. You've got no less than three commentaries to choose from and pour over; the first is with Nispel, Bay, Kosar, executive producers Bradley Fuller and Andrew Form, along with Biel, Balfour and the other starring cast members. The track is mainly dominated by Kosar as he talks about what it took to write the script for the film, and any challenges he might have had in pulling it together. The cast touch on how they related to their characters, with Fuller and Form recalling the casting decisions and how many pitches they had to listen to before landing on Kosar's. It a much better track than I thought it would be. The next track has Nispel, Bay, Fuller, Form and former New Line President Bob Shaye, and it's a little drier than the first track driven mainly from Nispel on his ideas and goals for the production. The final track has Nispel, Pearl, Production Designer Greg Blair, Art Designer Scott Gallagher, Sound Supervisor Trevor Jolly and Composer Steve Jablonsky. This covered the crewmembers as they talked about what they did in the production and how they worked with Nispel, along with some details on working out any particular kinks in things. These three tracks covered a wide berth of information about the making of the film.
But there's more to follow! "Chainsaw Redux: Making a Massacre" (1:16:08) examines the idea of remaking the film, and includes a few clips from it, when discussing the challenges of rewriting it. Bay discusses his role as a producer and what he decided to do to help the film gain financing. Nispel talks about his background and what he was thinking of accomplishing, should he get the director's chair. Pearl talks about his time working on the original film and what he did on this one, and the cast talk (again) about landing their parts. Other aspects of the production, like the visual effects and production/location design, are canvassed here, including some more challenges and what the cast thought of it. There's even a blooper or two sprinkled into the abundant amount of on-set footage. The post-production aspects of the film, such as the occasional computer effect, are given some time in this feature too, and the fan apprehension before the film starts it, while the fan love at the end finishes it. It's a good piece and well worth the time to watch.
From there, "Ed Gein: Ghoul of Plainfield" (24:16) examines the real-life inspiration for Leatherface, who spent his days in 1950s Wisconsin robbing graves and using the corpses as household decoration. Gein's background and childhood are recalled, and there are lots of pictures of what was in his house when he was arrested, and they're not for the squeamish. Some other latter-day serial killers are given a moment or two of discussion, while films that have serial killers are recounted. It's a unique addition to the disc. "Severed Parts" (16:41) is the deleted scenes part of the disc, except this part includes introductions to the scenes by Nispel. The deleted scenes section doesn't have this, but the scenes (7, 9:26) are decent, though include some unnecessary character exposition. Screen tests for Balfour, Biel and Leerhsen are next (7:16), followed by the promotional material (two trailers, seven TV spots). A music video for Motorgrater's "Suffocate" is the last goodie to speak of.
If it were any other original film, I'd guess that some would like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, or even say that it was great. But it's a reinterpretation of a horror classic, and not a very inspired one at that. The performances are flat and without any appeal, but at least the disc is a technical winner and supplementally, it's quite exhaustive. If you're a fan of the film, double-dipping is encouraged, but newbies should stick with the original.