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New Line Home Cinema presents
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Platinum Series (2003)

"For them, an idyllic summer afternoon became a nightmare."
- narrator (John Larroquette)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: March 28, 2004

Stars: Jessica Biel
Other Stars: R. Lee Ermey, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, Andrew Bryniarski, David Dorfman, Lauren German, John Larroquette
Director: Marcus Nispel

MPAA Rating: R for strong horror violence,gore; language, drug content
Run Time: 01h:38m:11s
Release Date: March 30, 2004
UPC: 794043703126
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+A-A- A-

DVD Review

As I'm sure many genre fans were, when I first heard of the proposed remake of Tobe Hooper's undisputed 1974 horror classic, I was understandably a bit apprehensive. For some, this was tantamount to rewriting the bible, or worse yet, having Greedo shoot first.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that like a long-lasting urban legend, a horror film may sometimes need to be periodically revamped for a new generation, It doesn't diminish or replace the original, and sometimes it can actually enhance it (this is directed at you, Gus Psycho Van Sant); it just juggles the visual dynamics and crams the whole thing into a glossier box.

Music video director Marcus Nispel was put in charge of directing this new version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and he wisely called in his old friend Daniel Pearl as cinematographer, which is fitting since Pearl was D.P. on Hooper's original. That creative connection between old and new gave Nispel's film an air of legitimacy, and made the whole thing immediately more fan friendly, even if major parts of the story were dramatically changed. Big man that I am, I decided to put my unwaning reverence for the original aside and attempt to absorb the gory goodness of the remake on its own merits, despite the fact that it was produced by Hollywood explosion-king Michael Bay.

The film is set in the summer of 1973, and centers on five teens crammed in a van heading across hot and dusty rural Texas on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, after returning from a trip to Mexico. Smart, logical Erin (Jessica Biel), her mechanic boyfriend Kemper (Eric Balfour), quiet Morgan (Jonathan Tucker), say-the-wrong-thing-guy Andy (Mike Vogel), and horny tagalong Pepper (Erica Leerhsen) make the mistake of their lives by picking up a nearly catatonic young woman (Lauren German) along the roadside after almost running her down. That's where the trouble starts for this bunch, and a tragic event forces the teens to seek help from the local sheriff, played here with despicable nastiness by R. Lee Ermey, and of course in the process end up in the relentless clutches of one of horror filmdom's most iconic villains, Leatherface (played with brash glee by Andrew Bryniarski) and his extended family of psychos.

Those going in expecting a literal shot-for-shot remake will be no doubt surprised, as Nispel and screenwriter Scott Kosar have altered quite a bit of the original story while still keeping plenty of chainsaw mayhem. Downplaying the gas station/human barbecue angle is an example, as is forsaking the perfectly demented hitchhiker played by Edwin Neal from Hooper's film, in favor of a troubled young girl with something deadly hidden up her skirt. There's no new version of the infamous dinner table sequence with the wacky Leatherface clan, either (i.e., no Grandpa with a hammer), and there are noticeably far more females and children in the brood this time around, too.

What's here, however, is good, gory horror entertainment regardless, with an actual backstory that is marginally more fleshed out, including a couple of subplots, than in Hooper's original. While this is essentially an excuse for the wholesale slaughter of innocent victims, the characters here get more screentime pre-bloodshed, and they're less one-dimensional than in the first film. This is still a horror film, mind you, and so this isn't a character study by any means, but we get a few more humanistic nuggets (especially between Biel and Balfour). Believe it or not, Kosar even somehow throws in a couple of scenes that make ol' Leatherface someone to perhaps be pitied, however briefly. Visually, the set design rivals, and, in some cases, out does the first film, and the desolate house of horrors is every bit as disturbing, with its heaping, cluttered mounds of bone, meat and, assorted human souvenirs.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: New Line has issued The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a damn fine 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The look of the film is intentionally desaturated, shot at a high contrast rate and then bleached, which gives a lot of the interiors a wonderfully creepy sepia tone. Image detail and shadow delineation (so pivotal in this film, which spends an inordinate amount of time in dark, shadowy places) is excellent, and the transfer here is just about perfect, with the rendering of this palette of dirty, faded colors looking spot on. Some minor shimmer is evident, but hardly a distraction.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: ¡Ay carumba! This release is a veritable thing of beauty in the audio department. Sporting a pair of equally dandy Dolby Digital Surround EX and DTS 6.1 ES tracks, New Line has really stepped up and delivered an impressive audio presentation on what was essentially a low-budget film. Both tracks are very, very aggressive, utilizing the rear channels to great effect with some especially well-placed discrete cues, and when combined with a subtle directional imaging, really enhance the viewing experience. Comparisons between the two give a slight edge to the DTS, in terms of a cleaner, slightly more pronounced sub channel. Dialogue (ie: screaming) never distorts or crackles.

An understandably less robust 2.0 surround track is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Highwaymen, Willard, The Butterfly Effect, Ripley's Game
7 TV Spots/Teasers
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
Screenplay
2 Documentaries
Storyboard
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Marcus Nispel, Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Robert Shaye, Daniel Pearl, Greg Blair, Scott Gallagher, Tervor Jolly, Steve Jablonsky, Scott Kosar, Jessica Biel, Erica Leehrsen, Eric Balfour, Jonathan Tucker, Mike Vogel, Andrew Bryniarksi
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Music video
  2. Crime scene cards
Extras Review: New Line has once again lived up to their Platinum Series name, not just on the extras for this two-disc release, but for the packaging as well. To start, a nifty removable metal plate cover (suitable for framing, I suppose) gives the whole thing some heft, and when you remove the slipcase, the fold-out case unfurls horizontally, which really accomodates the supporting chainsaw artwork. Inserted into a sleeve is a blood-stained evidence envelope containing eight heavy-stock crime scene photos, with a stylishly grisly image on one side, and a completed evidence tag on the reverse. As per usual, New Line has done a beautiful job on the packaging all the way around.

In addition to housing the film, Disc 1 also contains a staggering three commentary tracks, though they are referred to as "essays", since they are not necessarily screen-specific, and seem to be edited-together conversations. Still, it is all about the content, and all three of these tracks are largely chock full of good info. Essay 1 covers production, and features director Marcus Nispel, producer Michael Bay, New Line co-chairman Robert Shaye, and executive producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller. Much of this info is covered in the accompanying documentary on Disc 2, but the input here is nicely structured, no doubt a plus in this essay format, and the participants seem concerned with only dishing out salient facts about things like the project's origins or how Bay became involved, as opposed to what often happens on less engaging screen-specific tracks ("here's so-and-so walking down the stairs").

For my money, Essay 2, entitled "Technical", is the best of the three, and features Nispel, cinematographer Daniel Pearl, production designer Greg Blair, art director Scott Gallagher, supervising sound editor Trevor Jolly, and composer Steve Jablonsky. A film like this is all about mood and tone, and hearing how the visual look was developed, or how sounds were tweaked to make them more frightening (mixing in bears and lions to the chainsaw roar) is fascinating stuff. Getting the inside scoop on the set dressing of Leatherface's humble abode could have easily been its own track.

Essay 3 concerns story, and features Nispel, Bay, Fuller, Form, screenwriter Scott Kosar, and cast members Jessica Biel, Erica Leehrsen, Eric Balfour, Jonathan Tucker, Mike Vogel, Andrew Bryniarski. While the least compelling of the three, it still has its moments, with the best bits coming from Nispel and screenwriter Scott Kosar. Much like the production essay, much of the content here can be gleaned from the enjoyable documentary on Disc 2.

The second disc contains all of the other extra goodies, including the cleverly titled Severed Parts (16m:30s), a collection of seven deleted scenes. Marcus Nispel offers a brief intro to each scene, explaining its original purpose and why it was eventually cut. Often deleted scenes are dull, but the inclusion of the original opening and ending, set in an asylum, are at the very least an interesting approach to a subplot that was wisely removed. If you like gore, step right up because nestled in the deleted scenes are some prolonged chainsaw- and handgun-induced violence that were chopped to keep the censors happy.

The big Kahuna here is Chainsaw Redux: Making A Massacre (01h:15m:40s), which for my money is probably one of the finest "making of" pieces I've seen in quite some time. Far from being an expanded EPK, this is an in-depth, full-length look at the film's history, production, writing process, editing (key for a film with so much gore), casting, visual effects, sound effects, and music. There is literally no element of the production that isn't covered in great detail, with all of the principals contributing amidst all manner of behind-the-scenes footage, and it even picks the brain of legendary bad movie fan Joe Bob Briggs. Holy crap, I wish more films would get this kind of royal treatment, because things like Chainsaw Redux remind us just how good the concept of DVD extras can be when they want to be. Excellent job!

For a bit of chilling real-life history, the nerve-rattling documentary Ed Gein: The Ghoul of Plainfield (24m:00s) traces the origins of the 1950s Plainfield, Wisconsin graverobbing/cannibal/serial killer nutjob who was the influence for Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Creepy, frightening, and depressing, this recounting of how a "mother turned a child into a monster" is built around a few gruesome photos, news footage, film clips, and a steady stream of valuable insight from Gein book author Harold Schechter (Deviant), David Skal (the superb The Monster Show), forensic psychologist Dr. John K. Russell, and Psycho screenwriter John Stefano.

Thrown in for good measure are the teaser trailer (the infamous Michael Bay "black screen, sound only" version), seven television spots, screen tests for Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, and Erica (The Screamer) Leerhsen, a properly creepy music video for the song Suffocate by metal noisemakers Motograder, as well as image galleries (broken down into Leatherface concept art and production concept art categories).

Disc 2 also promises the always iffy proposition of DVD-ROM content, in the form of Script-To-Screen and a Storyboard Viewer, but for some reason I couldn't access the material on my PC. Damn technology.

The disc is cut into 18 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English or Spanish.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Remaking a classic is always a questionable proposition, and 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has always been considered a genre landmark. This new version from Marcus Nispel didn't outright scare me like the original did, but I did enjoy it immensely. It is a horror film, pure and simple, and it delivers what it promises.

Jessica Biel and her fetching skin-tight t-shirt and jeans is a far cry, and marked improvement, from the hippy-dippy ordinary girl look of Marilyn Burns from Hooper's original, although Biel is not as adept of a screamer.

For added continuity, John Larroquette reprises his role as the stern-voiced narrator.

Highly recommended.

 


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