A time-honored chainsaw storySome people can’t understand for the life of them why anybody would want to see a movie in which people are hung on meat hooks and their limbs are sawed off. Does there need to be a reason?
The granddaddy of this proud genre, the Iliad that spawned hundreds of imitations with names like “Motel Hell,” “Night of 1,000 Corpses” and “Bloodsucking Freaks,” is 1974’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (it was actually spelled “Chain Saw” in the original release, lending the project a note of dignified formality).
The version now in Korean theaters, which was released in the United States in 2003, is at least the third or fourth remake of and/or sequel to this morality play, in which a vanful of college kids in what must be the most desolate, sun-bleached corner of Texas are set upon by a pack of inbred backwoods mutants. It very dubiously claims to be “based on a true story,” but research indicates that the inspiration was the 1950s Wisconsin cannibal Ed Gein, who never even used a chainsaw.
The 1974 original looks like it was made for about $500, which has a lot to do with why it’s so frightening. The film is grainy, the lighting is bad and the actors are nonentities; it could almost be a South American snuff film. You don’t get that subliminal reassurance you get from expensive movies ― the sense that you’re ultimately in the hands of sane people.
That’s where this remake is lacking. It’s slick, competent and corporate-backed (Michael “Pearl Harbor” Bay is the producer), with decent production values and even a TV celebrity in the cast (Jessica Biel). There’s a professional-sounding score, too. Heads may be severed and faces peeled from skulls, but the end result feels like it was approved by an accounting firm. It’s aggressive and oppressive, but it’s got no soul.
It’s set in 1973, in fealty to the original, and there are period cues like LSD references, psychedelic van decor and the song “Sweet Home Alabama.” Our college kids are en route to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert from Mexico, where they’ve picked up two pounds of marijuana that they’re hiding in a pinata.
Miles from anywhere, they nearly run over a young woman walking catatonically in the middle of the road. They pick her up, and before long she’s produced a pistol from underneath her skirt and shot herself. Pulling off at a gas station, they persuade the creepy, multiple-chinned hag behind the counter to call the sheriff. She reports that he won’t be available for a couple of hours.
One of the kids angrily asks how often it is that they get a suicide in this nowhere town. The hag gives them a cold-eyed stare and tells them to meet the sheriff at the old mill on the edge of town. Already, the hippies-versus-hicks conflict is percolating; it’s really what this Watergate/Vietnam War-era tale is about ― smartmouthed college punks, who smoke dope and look down their noses at decent godfearing Americans, getting what’s coming to them when one of the godfearing Americans fires up a chainsaw and chases them into a meat locker. It’s rough justice, but justice all the same, from a certain point of view.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Horror / English
by David Moll