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While far from being the biggest horror film fan on the planet, I should absolutely adore the remake of the 1974 slasher classic by virtue of the fact that Harry Knowles’ head appears on a platter. While it may have merely been an attempt to cameo Harry into giving the film a positive review or simply a dig at his love-him-or-chop-his-head-off persona, the fact is I didn’t need to like the film based on only a couple of seconds; the rest of the 90 minutes does the job just fine.

One could have heard the collective groan from all horror aficionados (even from Down Under) when it was announced that the likes of Michael Bay and co were planning on dredging up the old Leatherface story for a modern remake. With so much trash headed the way of the slasher genre, albeit among gems such as 28 Days Later, it came as no surprise that critics and movie fans were queuing up to tear this one to pieces. The end result was an epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (2003)
Movie
You can guess the set up, which sees young adults headed out for a road trip only to run into some trouble shortly after. And it seems elements from recent and past horror films again make their way into this flick, but are completely justified. This time there’s some context surrounding the characters’ eventual plight. The five of them, two couples and a dorky fifth wheel (hello Cabin Fever) pick up a young wanderer, bloody and eerily stunned, after almost running her down with their van. She’s more than just a little stunned, however, when it becomes apparent the girl has lost her will to live. What occurs shortly after ranks as one of the most playfully gruesome deaths in recent times, the filmmakers taking great delight in watching us squirm.

From then on the characters commence their downward spiral into out-and-out terror, lead by moralistic nice girl Erin, played by Jessica Biel. While Biel provides more contrast than Marilyn Manson at a Wiggles concert, she more than holds her own as the victimised leader of the bunch. It may be initially tough to get her 7th Heaven angel out of your head, you’ll soon be rooting for her like never before as soon as the blood runs free. The support cast of victims  doesn’t turn up simple caricatures who we delight in seeing ripped to shreds. Instead we get some innocent kids who don’t deserve to fall victim to a freak with a chainsaw. Jonathan Tucker emerges as the standout, complete with the most pliable bottom lip in cinema history.

The situations the characters find themselves in border on truly terrifying but are incredibly playful at the same time. Leatherface not only uses his chainsaw but also a garden variety kitchen knife, several meat hooks and, wait for it, a sewing machine! Not just a less-than-pretty face, our villain. And speaking of pretty faces, the usual low down camera angles on Jessica Biel’s rear will appease those looking for some eye candy, as will the decision to combine a small white tank top with a series of scenes involving water. Leatherface helps out a little in this instance, turning on the sprinklers for no reason other than to make sure Erin doesn’t dry up any time soon. Pure genius.

First-time director, Marcus Nispel, fresh from the McG school of music video directing, shows a highly adept touch for tension, moving his characters in and around the frame in such a fashion that we’re never really sure where they are in relation to each other. The most obvious example is with good ol’ Leatherface and our heroine, with the chainsaw-wielding beast popping out from nowhere on more than one occasion. Kudos to the location scouts, too, who have given us more than just a leafy wilderness and run down old town (hello Wrong Turn). The variety of eerie locations only helps to ramp up the tension every time, thanks also to the most oddball bunch of locals ever assembled. This is one creepy bunch; a sheriff who gladly wraps up a dead body in plastic, a little boy in serious need of some dental work, a legless old man in a wheelchair, the evil sister of Mama from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and a young baby snatcher with an spine-chillingly calm tone. You’ll be on the edge of your seat with this bunch, for sure.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (2003)
Praise must be heaped on the cast and the director, who seems to revel in the film’s graphic violence without slamming it down our throats with anger. There are the inevitable slipups in logic every now and then but the characters never make those stupid decisions often attributed to a half-baked horror screenplay. By doing things with an air of familiarity yet slightly different as well, the story benefits greatly and becomes a highly enjoyable (if gruesome) 90 minutes of fun. Slasher fans can get their fix once again from a surprisingly accomplished remake. It may not be quite up there with the ’74 classic but it’s been given a very credible modern makeover. Check it out.

Video
Roadshow continues their fine form by providing us with a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that rivals the best of the new releases. The print is completely free from any defects, not surprising due to the film’s youth, and the colours look vibrant even though there’s very little to work with from a limited palette. One thing you’ll notice with the cinematography is that most shots seem to have been planned carefully for maximum impact. The stellar transfer only serves to make them even more effective as we are treated to some incredible sharpness and deep blacks throughout.

While most of the film takes place at night and is deliberately dark to perpetuate the air of mystery and tension surrounding the characters, the transfer never allows things to get lost in a sea of blacks. The sharpness helps to clearly define what should be seen while hiding those evil beings that lurk in the shadows until just the right moment. Aliasing creeps in on one or two occasions but you’d have to be on your toes to pick the errors up. In all this is a great looking disc that will have you on the edge of your seat for all the right reasons.

Audio
Keeping up the quality trend, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on the disc makes clever use of the surrounds and the subwoofer to ensure maximum impact, particularly in those intense chase sequences. The horror genre naturally lends itself to creativity when it comes to shooting sound effects around the stage, and TCM is no exception. You get all kinds of atmospheric sounds, dialogue placement and of course the crashes and slashes of all the best action sequences, all of which are bounced around the rears quite well. The subwoofer does an admirable job of adding just that little bit more power to proceedings, giving the bass-related sounds a real kick in the pants. Shame it wasn’t ramped up even more, but that’s very much a matter of personal taste.

The music in the film is equally as enjoyable. The characters are written as heading for a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, which is a clever excuse to play Sweet Home Alabama in one of the opening scenes. Couple this catchy tune with the orchestral score from Steve Jablonsky and co and you’ve got yourself a very effective sound mix. The levels are set perfectly between the dialogue scenes and some of the more frenetic moments in the film so you’ll never have to reach for the remote to change things around. There’s nothing really flashy about the mix as a whole but it does become quite important in conveying the obvious mood of the film, showing a great degree of control on behalf of the composers. The 5.1 soundtrack definitely does justice to all the hard work as your ears will enjoy some stimulation while your heart jumps every ten minutes or so.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (2003)
Extras
Oh dear. As soon as we took the ball and ran with it thanks to a stellar audio/video transfer set, we run headlong into the brick wall that is the non-existent extras package. While the region 1 release was afforded a whole bunch of extra material including audio commentaries, featurettes and deleted scenes, the only extra we’re given on the Australian release is a measly theatrical trailer. Roadshow have traditionally been quite good at bringing over the extras from the US discs, mainly with New Line productions, but sadly we’re given basically donuts right here. While the rest of the disc may be impressive you can’t help but be majorly disappointed at the lack of anything substantial in the supplements. And don’t discount the possibility of a Special Edition surfacing with the US extras at a later stage.

Overall
It’s still astounding that one can say this remake actually works. All the signs pointed to another lame attempt at reviving an inconsistent slasher genre, let alone giving us a remake of a 70s classic that was actually any good. It is very pleasing to say that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre succeeds on most counts as a film. The disc, however, suffers considerably because of the lack of any extras, even though the video and audio mixes come out well on top. For those who care little about supplements then this disc is a prefect fit. Others might baulk at a bare bones disc and either opt for the import or wait in the wings on the off chance a more extras-packed version surfaces at a later date.


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