The Texas Chainsaw
Massacre is a work of art.
I'm being serious.
For real, The Texas Chainsaw
Massacre is a work of art.
Tobe Hooper created a low-budget, ragtag
flick out of his private fears and,
in the tumultuous landscape of the seventies,
turned them into public
nightmares. Rather than create another Lifetime special, he
demons of his dysfunctional family with a chainsaw and a script for all
to see. And in doing so, created a means for audiences to exorcise their own social
fears through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Almost thirty years
later, the 2003 re-make was released as its complete
opposite. The re-make is a
bare-bones, apolitical, generic genre version of
the original, directed by Marcus
Nispel. Using the original script while
sparing a Gus Van Sant megalomaniac
frame-by-frame hero worship style like
the 1998 Psycho revamp, it provides
only a shell with none of the substance. Though it's frightening (in a generic jolt in
your seat, squirmy kind of
way) it’s a Hollywood-prettified, stereotypical slasher
How did we get here from there?
While Hooper did
compose a masterpiece, he also gets some of the credit for
delegitimizing it. His
main character, Leatherface, would lose his terror appeal long before he donned nylons
and lipstick in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation (1994). His
chainsaw would grind dull against B-grade carbon-copy steals, monotonous sequels, and the
endless parade of slasher sagas it inspired—Carpenter's 1978 morality tale,
Halloween, Sean Cunningham's 1980 morality tale, Friday the 13th and
Craven's inventive Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
Chainsaw-wielding hillbillies would become as much of a standard
Halloween fixture as a hockey mask, a razor glove, or a black cape and plastic fangs;
across America it would be a rowdy routine featured in every haunted house. For my
friends and I it was an award-winning formula—literally. Two years in a row, we
placed first in an annual park district haunted house competition—even though
power tools are far less frightening when they keep unplugging from the wall
socket. All of this, however, would create an overexposure that would spoil the
last of Leatherface's significance.
TCM 2 popped up as
Hooper's tongue-in-cheek self-reflection in 1986. As
the slasher momentum had
reached absurdity, he took first crack at a template Craven would later copy for his 1996
Scream. This sequel is equal parts comedy and horror, with Hooper essentially
chiding the Frankenstein monster he created. Even the poster for the movie is a joke—with
the butchering Brady Bunch posed in the tableau of John Hughes’ Breakfast Club.
By the third installment of the franchise, it’s clear that no one is even
anymore—it’s a splatter-fest of a bloodbath with the humor less introspective
than it is cheesy. Built with the hype that it would climax in the unmasking of a
hideously disfigured Leatherface (though who really cared at this point?), the film
even failed to deliver on this point (though it was later used in the 2003 re-make).
Chainsaw 4 (mentioned only for the sake of thoroughness) was made
before its cast, Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, were stars. Rumor has it the
film was bumped from wider distribution by aggressive PR flacks who were afraid it might
hurt their reputations, but it wouldn't have been much of a loss if the flacks had been
even more successful (a technique they should have plied to The Wedding Planner.)
All of this brings us back to the re-make, trying to muscle-in on the
with glitzy Hollywood teeny-boppers and re-create the cinematic brilliance
for new audiences. While Nispel's flick experienced commercial success, it
didn't even come close to capturing the texture, context, or content of the
original. A 2006 prequel is already slated for release—promising only to erode
the last of its potency.
Ironically, House of 1,000 Corpses,
shock rocker and splatter fanboy Rob
Zombie's horror homage, which was skewered in
horror circles for being a blatant
rip-off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
actually captured the sophisticated genius of the original, updating the social relevance
in a fashion the remake couldn't even touch.
It is this de-evolution
from artistic creation to commercial cartoon that has
done the most
damage—discrediting the merit of not just the original but also
the genre as a whole.
When I pitched an analysis of 1,000 Corpses as a socially aware, politically savvy
satire to the paper I'd interned for, the proposal was met with the strangest
combination of dumbfounded hostility. My comments set off a 15-minute debate that erupted
into a point-counterpoint argument
between two staff writers on violence in the media
spilling into the editorial
section and leaving my observations out
If you’ve missed Josh’s other installments, be sure to read: