And it came to pass that “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” begat “Halloween,” which begat “Friday the 13th,” which begat “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and they all begat “Scream” and the subsequent age-of-irony slasher films that were afraid to take themselves seriously because they knew they were targeting an audience that had seen it all before.
The saving grace of the remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is that it is not a descendant of the just-mentioned films. It is not set in 2003; it is set in 1973, before any of those movies — including the one it’s a remake of — existed. The characters are not expected to know the “rules” (never say “I’ll be right back,” never split up, never run into an abandoned slaughterhouse at night), because they haven’t seen all the movies we have. Subconsciously, we cut them some slack. We stop fretting over how stupid they are and start being scared right along with them.
Directed by music-video director Marcus Nispel and written by first-timer Scott Kosar, “Massacre” is exceedingly gruesome and occasionally very frightening as it follows a quintet of teens through the backroads of Texas, on their way to Dallas for a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. They are led by a fellow with the unlikely name of Kemper (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Biel). In the back seat are the horny couple, Andy (Mike Vogel) and Pepper (Erica Leerhsen), and the obligatory fifth wheel Morgan (Jonathan Tucker). The teens are one-dimensional, but not laughable, which is already a step above most of these films, where the kids are so irritating you WANT them to die.
They encounter a woman on the side of the road who has been traumatized to the point of catatonia. She serves as the film’s “You’re all doomed!” character, but she is more tragic than most, setting an ominous tone that permeates the rest of the movie. Soon the kids must deal with her and with the local sheriff (R. Lee Ermey), a man who can only be described as loathsome, in the long tradition of horror-movie characters who can only be described as loathsome. And, of course, there’s Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), a deformed man with a chainsaw and no conscience who resides in an old house with his considerably deranged family. The film might be breaking out of the mold a little, but there’s still no way all the teens are surviving the night.
While there is some of the goofiness we’ve come to expect in slasher flicks — a buck-toothed, Gollum-like little boy, for example, and a cantankerous old man in a wheelchair — it mostly avoids the pitfalls and delivers what it sets out to do, building to an effectively nightmarish and well-choreographed climax.
But then there is the matter of the violence, which cannot be overlooked. Certain characters are made to endure unbelievable levels of pain and torture, and watching it is more disgusting than terrifying. That’s one lesson this remake hasn’t learned from its teen-horror predecessors: Bloody isn’t the same thing as scary. It’s got the atmosphere and the tone to a T. Lay off the abuse, and you’ve got yourself a movie.
B- (; )