Cabin Fever helmer Eli Roth said it best: “You don’t fuck with the Holy Grail.” Especially when the guys doing the “fucking” are bloatbuster helmer Michael Bay and Marcus Nispel, a pop-promo slickster who’s never made a feature film. You can see it now – the lone female survivor stumbling into a blood-red dawn, a flock of helicopters arriving to napalm Leatherface’s house. In slo-mo.
Not so. Happily, this “re-imagining” of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is not the abomination everyone expected. It is, in fact, pretty damn good, especially if you can screw up your willpower to remove Nispel’s take from the long shadow cast by Hooper’s tooled-up masterpiece.
Beginning with a “found footage” premise ripped from Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project, we’re treated to scenes from the police walkthrough of a grisly crime scene. The gravelly voiceover – spoken by John Larroquette, who also intoned the original’s famous opening – tells us it was recorded on 20 August 1973… And then we’re watching events, live, on 18 August, five kids trundling through Texas in a Scooby-Doo van. Picking up a near-catatonic hitcher is the start of their messy undoing, her wailed warning, “You’re all gonna die” proving sorely accurate when they stumble upon a family of redneck sickos…
Purists will find plenty to rankle, from major plot changes and numerous new characters to cheap “stinger” scares and lashings of gore (the original was a splatter-free splatterfest). And while their contempt for the glossed-up visuals will be tempered by the fact they’re provided by original DoP Daniel Pearl, who actually convinced Nispel to discard the first movie’s snuff-o-vision, they won’t be so forgiving of Steve Jablonsky’s bland score replacing Hooper’s demented, discordant noisemongering.
The most bizarre crime in the annals of Chainsaw 2003, however, is the mystifying decision to demystify Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), the filmmakers granting him a `humanising’ backstory and constantly ushering us backstage to watch him go about his gruesome handiwork. Even worse, he’s stripped of his mask literally as well as figuratively – and halfway through the movie at that.
Yet for all its splutters, stutters and stalls, Chainsaw eventually revs up and bites right to the bone, Nispel relentlessly terrorising the audience as the big man sets his sights on Jessica Biel’s Erin. Bruised, bloodied and bawling, she sets off through the brambles as Marilyn Burns’ Sally once did – and then the movie races down a chase-track all of its own, full of hair-bristling, unexpected twists and turns. Here, at least, it becomes a well-oiled fright machine, delivering suspense with its grue in a manner that Cabin Fever never quite managed. Now who said anything about not fucking with the Holy Grail?
Far from perfect, but newcomers will be soiling themselves and horror fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Fingers crossed for Suspiria and Dawn Of The Dead…