(director: Marcus Nispel; screenwriters: from the 1974 screenplay by Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper/Scott Kosar; cinematographer: Daniel Pearl; editor: Glen Scantlebury; music: Steve Jablonsky; cast: Jessica Biel (Erin), Jonathan Tucker (Morgan), Erica Leerhsen (Pepper), Mike Vogel (Andy), Eric Balfour (Kemper), Andrew Bryniarski (Thomas Hewitt, Leatherface), R. Lee Ermey (Sheriff Hoyt), Terrence Evans (Old Monty), Lauren German (Traumatized Hitchhiker), David Dorfman (Jedidiah); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Michael Bay/Mike Fleiss; New Line Cinema; 2003)

“The original was at least fresh meat.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unneeded and weak remake of Tobe Hopper’s overrated original 1974 cult-fave slasher/horror flick. The original was at least fresh meat, made on a low budget, emphasized tension over violence, was simply told, could relate to the Vietnam debacle, and had a raw power. The new version is slicker, more vile, more heavy on subplots, offering more violence for the sake of making chopped up body parts entertaining, and in the end never shows a reason why it had to be made except to make some coin. It’s again about a band of five charmless young adults who ignore all the danger signs and stumble across a rural Texas psychopathic family of serial butchers. The film boasts an abattoir of blood and gore, but can’t tack on a metaphorical reason to give it legitimacy. It’s an exploitation flick that can’t link this horror tale with the right-wing Bush’s flawed criminal justice system and the cannibalistic dog eat dog world of capitalism–as some critics have maintained was its purpose. This is strictly a film made for the restless fast-paced MTV ‘good-time Charlie’ crowd by director Marcus Nispel, noted for his ads and music videos. It lops off everything connected with the world of socio-political realities, as it goes for all the cheap thrills that a mindless exploitative film always does. Scott Kosar’s rehashed script from horror flicks such as in The Silence of the Lambs is contaminated so much with its bad blood that it goes down as indigestible. Cinematographer Daniel Pearl filmed the original, but why his shots don’t work here when they worked before must be blamed on the director’s decision to leave this film in a brainless state. For a film that relies on the macabre to be its staple, it turns out instead to be more of a revolting and dehumanizing experience than a scary film. I guess it’s hard to be scared when we have already seen this film and know pretty much what’s coming next!

Of note, the meat company in question is named Blair as an homage to The Blair Witch Project. Also, this gruesome tale is supposedly based on the Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, but bares little resemblance to his crimes.

John Laroquette who narrated the original also narrates this one. It begins with the same original film’s newsreel footage of a 1974 massacre. Then we follow the fab five in a hippie-van coming back stoned from Mexico after scoring some weed and are heading to Dallas to attend a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. The owner of the van is Kemper; Erin is his well-built babe in a tank top who is also sporting a cute cowboy hat; Pepper and Andy are necking in the back seat; while the cynical single Morgan is content to be rolling joints and wearing a Mets baseball jersey that has New York written across the front.

The action begins when the crew pick up a traumatized teenage girl who barely mutters something about a massacre, and when they drive past where the incident took place she pulls a gun from underneath her dress and blows her brains out. It then goes into a formulaic mode of those teenager horror movies where they all get picked off one by one and the viewer is left to guess if any will survive and who will get knocked off first.

The youngsters argue about whether to split or contact help. The liberal attitude of the fair sex wins out over their chauvinistic male pig opposites and they stop at the gas station in the middle of nowhere to call Sheriff Hoyt, but the authority figure turns out to be R. Lee Ermey playing the same sicko meanie role he did in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The sheriff’s sinister comic antics involve copping a feel from the corpse and having Morgan place the gun in his mouth while sitting in the bloody back seat to reenact how the suicide took place. The scares supposedly come from some crazy guy running around the slaughterhouse with a chainsaw and sporting masks from other corpses to cover his facial deformity. We’re informed he’s really pissed because he has a skin disease and was made fun of all his life. Now ain’t that a kick in the head!

If there are any thrills, they come from watching a demented grandfather figure in a wheelchair yell out to “Bring it on!” and Leatherface appearing with his chainsaw noisily humming and the vic screaming. The film is only as good as scoping out sexy Jessica Biel panting in fright in her soaking wet T-shirt. Hardly a reason for watching the whole film, but maybe a reason for some to sit through all the despair.

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REVIEWED ON 11/12/2003 GRADE: C-