Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 (2003)
Directed by Marcus Nispel

Starring Andrew Bryniarski Eric Balfour Erica Leerhsen Jessica Biel Jonathan Tucker Mike Vogel R. Lee Ermey

When it was announced sometime around 2002 that action movie director Michael Bay was going to produce a remake of Tobe Hooper's masterpiece "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," a collective groan pierced through the horror communitizy. Geez. A remake of one of the grittiest horror films of all time? What the fuck?

People got even more pissed off when Bay's production company let slip that this would be a "toned down" version of the original. The film would be directed by first-timer Marcus Nispel, known for his rock videos. It seemed like the upcoming film was going to be an irrelevant piece of fear film gutter trash.

As it turns out, however, the redo "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is one of the best horror films of recent years. It's not so much a remake as a "re-imagining," cliché as that sounds. It thankfully oesn't dare imitate classic moments like the dinner scene or the blood-drenched roadside ending. Set in the 1970s and borrowing from "The Blair Witch Project" with a "lost footage found" subplot, the film has a new story, new characters and a hotter female cast.

Leading that hot female cast is Jessica Biel. Woo. She plays the standard nice-girl-who-must-become-a-strong-killer character, a Sigourney Weaver type with the greatest belly button ever to grace a horror flick. While traveling in a road-trip to a Lynard Skynard show with drug-dealer boyfriend, another buddy and a hot female hitchhiker, the van-riding pot smokers run into another hitchhiker in a grimy town in Texas. They pick her up. Unlike the original (where the hitchhiker turned out to be a homicidal maniac who gets off on cutting his own hand), this gal is just suicidal. She pulls out a gun rammed up her vagina and blows her brains out right there.

The trouble our heroes are in now is simply with what to do with the body when they call the police: The sheriff is a sadistic drunk. Things go from bad to worse, when Biel and boyfriend run into an ultra-creepy old mansion to use a phone. The BF disappears. Leatherface appears. Then it's standard Texas Chainsaw Massacre mayhem from there, only done better than any of the TMC sequels that were cranked out in the '80s or '90s. R. Lee Ermey (last seen in another '70s horror remake, "Willard") is especially wonderful as the abusive sheriff, who sadistically makes the kids clean up the dead body in their car, all the while hurling accusations of murder at them.

Gorgeously photographed, with surprisingly effective sets (the TCM home is especially freaky looking), the '03 remake reinvents some of the story, with Leatherface portrayed here as a Jason-style freak, whose hideous appearance forces him to wear the skins of other people in order to feel normal. Wisely set in the 1970s, when cel phones didn't exist so that characters could call for help from even the remotest of locations, the film has characters that don't quite look the period, but so what.

The killings, although not graphic, are quite gruesome. There's even a painful euthanasia sequence. No, TCM2003 doesn't carry all the nihilistic, feral grittiness of the original, but comes the closest that any fear film has in recent decades. It owes much to "The Blair Witch Project," particularly with its closing and opening, which is fitting, since "The Blair Witch Project" owes much to the original TCM.

An absolute must see. But here's hoping they don't try to remake "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2."

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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