[Screen It]

(2003) (Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker) (R)

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Horror: Various young people try to avoid the repeated attacks by a chainsaw-wielding madman.
It's 1973 and Erin (JESSICA BIEL), her boyfriend, Kemper (ERIC BALFOUR), and their friends Morgan (JONATHAN TUCKER) and Andy (MIKE VOGEL) are driving through a remote section of Texas. They've already picked up a hitchhiker, Pepper (Erica Leershen), along the way when they spot a young woman in obvious distress.

They can't get much out of her, but after she states that the others are dead, she commits suicide in their van. Unsure of what to do, the group stops and calls for the local sheriff. They end up apparently getting the run-around and are then told where to find him. As Erin and Kemper head off on foot and arrive at a desolate farmhouse, Sheriff Hoyt (R. LEE ERMEY) shows up where the others are awaiting.

With a dark sense of humor, he investigates the suicide scene, but doesn't seem too intent on enforcing the law as they would expect. He eventually turns rather mean and sadistic toward them, but that's not the worse they'll face. For a homicidal madman, Thomas "Leatherface" Hewitt (ANDREW BRYNIARSKI), is after them, chainsaw in hand.

From that point on, the group must do what they can to survive and avoid becoming part of the killer's collection of bodies and body parts.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Although they all ultimately get the same job done, there's just something disturbing about how certain lethal weapons do their deeds. For instance, while both penetrate the body, there's something more disconcerting about an arrow compared to a bullet. The same holds true when comparing a knife to, say, a chainsaw.

Both cut and result in fatal blood loss, but the thought of how a chainsaw interacts with flesh and bone is what makes it the creepier and more gruesome choice. Director Tobe Hooper seems to know that about viewer reaction when he made the definitive film about using chainsaws for something other than cutting trees, 1974's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

Considering that little if anything like it had ever hit the big screen, this early and decidedly low-budget serial killer flick unnerved and sickened audiences. Thus, it became a huge hit and inspired many copycat efforts. Go figure. Since then, so many movies about serial killers - including several sequels to the original - have come and gone that much of the shock value has diminished (and/or we've become desensitized to such material).

Thus, it seems peculiar that someone decided to green-light a bigger-budgeted remake of the original film. It's not odd from a financial standpoint since horror films are on a rampage of recent at the box office and this one comes with built-in name recognition. The point is that the story now seems blasť in comparison to everything that's been made in the intervening 30 years.

Inspired but not beholden to the original or the true life material about serial killer Ed Gein (who didn't use a chainsaw but did influence the first film like "Psycho" before it and "The Silence of the Lambs" afterwards), the novice filmmaking team of scribe Scott Kosar and music video turned feature director Marcus Nispel have set out to capture the spirit of the first film.

In that sense, and if you really love simplified serial killer flicks, I suppose you could say that this effort is a success. Stripped down to just the bare essentials, the plot sets up a group of young people who pick up a suicidal hitchhiker.

That leads to repeated run-ins with a sadistic sheriff, played way over the top, slightly tongue in cheek style by R. Lee Ermey ("Willard," "Full Metal Jacket"), the facially deformed, chainsaw wielding killer and a bunch of in-breeders apparently exported from West Virginia to Texas. From that point on, and in usual serial killer fashion, the kids are picked off one by one until the big, climatic showdown.

At least the original film had a bit of a novelty factor going for it, and its low budget required a bit more imagination on the part of the filmmakers. The fact that we've seen this sort of story done so many times since then - sometimes better, sometimes not - means that its effectiveness in generating thrills and chills is greatly diminished.

There are no surprises, scant depth or anything worthwhile to the offering. As far as it being scary, if you're under ten years of age, have a low tolerance level for such mayhem or have never seen such a picture, I supposed it might scare the pants off you. On the other hand, I found none of it frightening and very little of it even remotely suspenseful. In short, the "been there, seen that" factor wipes away any potential of fright.

Beyond Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski ("Scooby-Doo," "Rollerball") portrays the killer but suffers the same fate of those playing Jason ("Friday the 13th) or Mike Myers ("Halloween"). Being mute and facially emotionless (with only one scene showing us the real face - with prosthetics) certainly inhibits any sort of acting range.

As far as the potential victims, Jessica Biel ("The Rules of Attraction," "Summer Catch"), Jonathan Tucker ("The Deep End," "The Virgin Suicides"), Erica Leershen ("Anything Else," "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2"), Mike Vogel ("Grind") and Eric Balfour ("Secondhand Lions," "Can't Hardly Wait") all appropriately know how to run, hide, look scared and die quite well. Of course, they're not asked to do much more than that, and the fact that we don't care about any of them - except by default - means the story is even less effective in engaging the viewer.

Similar to yet different from the original, the film exists solely as a mean of making a quick buck off a horror genre legend. The remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 13, 2003 / Posted October 17, 2003

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