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ISSUE 117 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/7/2003

Critic's Corner

By Molly Bayrd
Variety Editor

Friday, November 7, 2003

When attempting to remake a classic horror film, a director has one of two options at his disposal. He can: improve the cinematography of the film and expound upon the plot, or throw the plot out the window and shoot for some serious gore. Apparently Marcus Nispel, director of the recent adaptation of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” opted for the latter.

Not that the modernized version of Tobe Hooper’s terrifying slasher flick is a blood-fest devoid of any genuinely suspenseful moments. The fictional chainsaw-wielder Thomas Hewitt, more commonly known as “Leatherface,” is just as frightening in the 2003 film as he was the first time around. With no dialogue, his villainous appeal lies in his beefed-up arsenal, which consists of meat hooks and axes (as well as his trademark saw).

The plot of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” follows the tired pattern of many horror films past: a group of young adults make their way across Texas during the idyllic summer of 1973. Their intended destination: a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Dallas, to which they have front row tickets.

Trouble for the group commences when they slow their van to pick up a despondent hitchhiker who, once inside, proceeds to warn the concertgoers of their impending deaths before shooting herself with a concealed pistol. Not surprisingly, everything beyond the hitcher’s death has doom (and a gratuitous amount of bloodshed) written all over it. Soon the characters are getting picked off, one by one, in gruesome acts of butchery.

As in the case with the original film, 2003’s “Massacre” is loosely based upon a Plainfield, Wisc. man named Ed Gein, who in 1957 was arrested for several extensive acts of homicide. Most of the murders were characterized by the grisly dismemberment of women, whose body parts Gein used to create furniture and clothing. Other films, such as “Psycho” and “Silence of the Lambs,” also drew their inspiration from Gein’s horrific story.

Lacking the bizarre psychological component of cannibalism that fueled Hooper’s film, 2003’s “Massacre” is weighed down by its jumbled plot – a stolen baby and an unexplained cache of Mexican-grown marijuana a are two seemingly unnecessary twists – and it falters with its incessant focus on Jessica Biel’s curvy physique. And, rather than seeking his prey to satisfy the needs of his blood-drinking family, the modernized Leatherface slays his victims in order to use their faces as masks to conceal his own unsightly skin diesease.

Though “Massacre” does its best to improve the supposed inadequacies of its 1974 predecessor, it falls short of the mark. There is enough blood, and enough footage of Jessica Biel’s wet t-shirt to give any teenager a cheap R-rated thrill, but the movie fails to saw its way into the hearts of most horror-film fanatics.

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