THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"I RESPECTFULLY DISAGREE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE"
What follows is the second part of a collaboration with Sean Ewington of 2dreviews, in which we select a movie we disagree on and discuss our ideas thoughtfully and respectfully. To read Sean's initial post – and his counter to the one you are about to read – click here.
I empathize with your plight, Sean. My parents were fairly permissive with what I watched as a kid, with the exception being movies that were violent/scary. For that reason, I was extremely sensitive about horror for a long time. I still remember walking out of Fatal Attraction at the age of 19 because I couldn't take the intensity of it. Only when I got into my late 20s did I really start to embrace horror as a genre – and develop some strong feelings about what works for me and what doesn't.
Wes Craven once said, “The first monster that an audience has to be scared of is the filmmaker. They have to feel in the presence of someone not confined by the normal rules of propriety and decency.” Tobe Hooper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre exemplified that spirit. It was a scrappy, cobbled-together production with unrecognizable actors as victims and a willingness to blindside the audience with its portrayal of depravity. The 2003 remake, by its very nature, goes completely opposite the spirit of which Craven spoke. This is a “product” - a moderately-budgeted production, released by a major corporation with the intent to sell as many tickets as possible. It is cast not with unknowns, but with faces that are at least semi-recognizable. Whereas the original had an authentically grungy look that added to the horror, the remake is almost beautiful in its grunginess. You can feel the set design. That's fatal in a picture like this.
Your point about horror movies being scariest right when they throw their first punch is an excellent one. I still remember the chill I got seeing Leatherface drag a woman into a blood-stained back room and then violently slam the door, leaving us to wonder what would happen to her behind it. I don't think the remake has anything comparable to offer. It feels to me like a safe, Hollywood version of a story that was designed to be the exact opposite of that.
I have problems with the cast, too. I've never found Jessica Biel compelling on screen, but she's practically Meryl Streep compared to fellow castmates Eric Balfour and Jonathan Tucker. You mention finding R. Lee Ermey to be effective. While I generally like Ermey, I can't say his performance here had nearly the same impact on me. We've seen him do variations on the tough-as-nails routine in other films. And since we know he's a proud, real-life veteran, it was hard for me to take him seriously as a psychopath. The attempts to act crazy rang false for me.
Of course, horror movies are a lot like comedies. What makes me laugh hysterically might not make you laugh at all. What scares you might not scare me in the least. I judge horror movies by the standard Wes Craven outlined, and that's why the remade Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a miss for me. Watching it, I didn't feel that I was in the hands of a monster. I felt like the filmmakers were adhering to the normal rules of propriety and decency. In a movie about a chainsaw-wielding, flesh-skinning psychopath, the last thing I wanted to feel was safe.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com!