October 16, 2003 4:39pm EST
No pun intended but this remake of Tobe Hooper's low-budget 1974 cult horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre cuts straight to the chase and goes right for the jugular. The result is a horror movie bloodbath with jolting scares guaranteed to shock moviegoers out of their seats and onto sticky theater floors. Like the first the remake is set in the early 1970s and follows five friends on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Dallas after making a drug buy in Mexico. Their fates are forever changed when they pick up a hitchhiker who commits suicide in the back of the van. In desperate need of a solution to the dead girl in the car the quintet stumbles upon a dilapidated house in a rural Texas community inhabited by Thomas Hewitt (Andrew Bryniarski) and his strange extended family. Hewitt receives the group led by Erin (Jessica Biel) revving a chainsaw--and suddenly their aspirations go from catching a performance of "Free Bird" to leaving the house with their limbs intact. This is supposedly based on the true story of Plainfield Wisconsin's cannibalistic grave robber Ed Gein which is precisely what makes this film so entrancing. If horror movies are designed to brutally assault not only the victims on-screen but also its viewers then TCM succeeds.
Biel 21 first impressed viewers on the WB series 7th Heaven with her portrayal of Mary Camden the eldest daughter of a progressive minister. As Erin in TCM Biel emerges as a strong lead and it's refreshing to see a horror movie heroine who never twists her ankle in a pivotal chase scene doesn't scream unnecessarily and knows how to hotwire anything on wheels. This role should definitely prepare Biel for her next project playing vampire hunter Abigail Whistler alongside Wesley Snipes in the upcoming Blade 3. While Biel carries the film there are also some decent performances from Eric Balfour (levelheaded Kemper) Mike Vogel (Andy the drunk) Erica Leerhsen (slutty Pepper) and Jonathan Tucker (STD statistic-spouting nerd Morgan). They all have clichéd characteristics that serve to create tension and each rises to the occasion in their limited screen time. At 6'5" Bryniarski (Scooby-Doo) is tailor-made for the role of the enduring yet no less frightening Leatherface. There are also some smaller performances worth noting from R. Lee Ermey (Willard) as the demented Sheriff Hoyt and Heather Kafka as the trailer park baby-thief Henrietta.
Music video helmer Marcus Nispel chose a doozy of a film for his directorial debut. Director Hooper's '74 slasher pic influenced a slew of contemporary horrors including House of 1 000 Corpses Jeepers Creepers and Wrong Turn and it remains to this day a highly romanticized and over-analyzed film. Some for example maintain that Hooper's TCM was a sociopolitical allegory of post-Vietnam America. But although Nispel's setup is practically identical to Hooper's there is no profound message here. Scribes Scott Kosar and Eric Berny do slip in a psychological explanation for Hewitt's wrath by giving him a skin condition that left him without a nose and ostracized as a child which is why he collects body parts and makes masks out of his victims' faces--hence the nickname "Leatherface"--but in the end it's just an entertaining slasher pic. Half storytelling half mood music intensive and richly atmospheric TCM has great visual appeal although some of it is undercut by some of producer Michael Bay's trademark bullet path shots. Nispel's music video background is pervasive in the film's visual MTV-style narration which is fitting for a film aimed at the 15- to 25-year-old TV watching audience.