April 04, 2004

Texas Chainsaw Massacre - Old vs New

I've had the original version of this movie sitting on the shelf for awhile, purposely putting off watching it again until the remake was released. I wanted to see the original and the new to make a back-to-back comparison.

The original TCM remains one of the most disturbing films of all time. It's intense in ways that Hitchcock approached only at his very best. Considering its reputation, there is surprisingly little gore and only one murder by chainsaw. Where it gets you is the unsettling details in every scene and unrelenting suspense, because it just never lets up.

A major gripe with the original was "poor cinematography". It's pretty dark and murky much of the time, which adds to the atmosphere in my opinion. I also don't agree with the complaints about plot (or lack thereof). This movie doesn't tie up loose ends, and there's very little understandable motivation for the characters. Imagine the scariest book you've ever read, but the first and last chapters are missing. You get the distilled essence of terror, without any of the context that helps you to rationalize it. That multiplies the experience because things happen that are just on the edge of making sense.

The DVD contains several scenes that never made it to the theatrical release, including background and thoughts from the actors involved. There are plenty of other extra features too.

On to the remake. The story has been changed. It makes (a little) more sense than the original, but much of the urgency and sense of not knowing what was coming next was lost in the update. The movie just feels more modern, and that's not a good thing in this case.

The acting is better. The actual filmwork is better. The 'good guy' characters are more likable. The special effects and gore are more gruesome, and there's more blood splashing around. The lead female character, played by Jessica Biel, is a good looking lady, and she gives a fine performance.

But throughout the film the director went for the modern touches, like gore and sex jokes. Instead of suggesting, they went for explicit. Even the creepy little details that made the original so memorable seemed contrived in the remake, placed for effect instead of being the disturbing minutinae that set the scene.

So far, everything I've said about the remake are in comparison to the original. And don't get me wrong, the remake is a pretty good movie. It will scare the hell out of you. Some people will like the new version better because it is a more complete movie. My personal opinion is that the original is a scarier experience.

The remake DVD is pretty sparse in the special features department, offering the TV ads, the movie trailer, and a lame-ass music video.

UPDATE: I was reminded that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies were inspired by the real-life person Ed Gein (warning: link has some graphic photos). Despite what the movies claim, they are not true stories. Ed Gein was also the inspiration for Bloch's Psycho, later turned into the peerless classic film by Alfred Hitchcock. For more information on Gein and other mass and serial murderers, check out the Crime Library.

Posted by Ted at April 4, 2004 08:21 PM | TrackBack
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