As in, the 2003 remake produced by (aaargh!) Michael Bay (THE ROCK; ARMAGEDDON etc). The tell-tale sign is in the title itself - being the change from CHAIN SAW to the singular word CHAINSAW for this remake.

Based loosely on the real-life exploits of serial killer Ed Gein, I'd be appalled if anyone needed an introduction to the storyline here.

However, in a nutshell, the synopsis is as follows:

Five teens travelling through Texas in a camper van fall foul of a family of inbred cannibals - and in particular the imposing, chain saw-wielding Leatherface.

The wafer-thin Scooby Doo plot has been retained, and a few exterior scenes from the original are painstakingly recreated (the wide shot of the van driving along a deserted road on a humid summer's day; the mill churning away slowly). Daniel Pearl acted as director of photography on both versions of the movie, so there's little surprise there. Elsewhere, you'll notice that while Scott Kosar is credited at screenwriter, the names Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper also feature prominently on the titles. Even the guy who provided the opening narration in 1974 has been brought back to reprise his role thirty years later …

But were it that simple - if this were nothing but a carbon copy of Tobe Hooper's 1974 original - then not only would the thought of a remake be offensive, but utterly pointless too.

As it is, director Marcus Nispel's 'rethinking' of Hooper's iconic screamfest has much to offer in the way of fresh plot twists and interesting updates on tired themes.

For example, the original had the teens travelling to Texas to visit relatives' graves after hearing news reports of corpses being stolen from the local cemetery. Here, the teens are on their way across country with tickets for a hot Lynyrd Skynyrd gig.

The opening moments of Hooper's film depicted the youngsters picking up a clearly deranged hitch-hiker - then evicting him from their van shortly after he's scared the crap out of them and sliced his cutthroat blade across someone's arm. Nispel's teens instead pick up a dazed woman found wandering in the middle of the road, and offer to take her to a hospital. When she realises the direction they are headed in, however, the girl retrieves her gun from a very intimate place and blows her brains out!

So, with the teens horrified by this tragic turn of events in the opening moments of the film, as you can imagine TCM 2003 escalates into full-on horror fest a lot sooner than the first film did. The teens become aware of the fact their lives are in serious danger much quicker - but unfortunately are up against a whole host of unhelpful locals and the most politically incorrect sheriff you'd ever (not) want to meet!

Purists may be detracted from enjoying the film when they learn that Leatherface's mystique has been somewhat compromised - he is not only given a name and a motive for his dead skin masks here, but we even get to see his face (briefly) unmasked!

There are other significant changes to the plot that crop up along the way, but it would be unfair to give any of these away as many of them transpire in the film's latter half.

Suffice it to say though, Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) does rear his ugly head on occasion and if anything is more brutal here than he ever previously was.

The gore quotient has been upped for modern audiences (but don't expect splatter of Fulci proportions), though whether or not this is a good thing is debatable! For those who like the red stuff, you can look forward to a few quick-edit dismemberments, bloody bludgeonings and all manner of grisly set dιcor …

This movie is also more technically proficient than it's predecessor.

The cast here, for a start, are largely magnificent. Even if the script allows for minimum character development only, the actors do well with their limited material. Particularly strong is Erica Leershen (BLAIR WITCH 2: BOOK OF SHADOWS), who has that rare ability to get so ensconced in her role that you forget you're watching a film and genuinely feel tense for her.

R Lee Ermey (THE FRIGHTENERS; SE7EN, etc) basically reprises the drill sergeant role that made him famous in Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET. As Sheriff Hoyt he gets to chew the scenery and revel in being utterly despicable: at one point he explains to the incredulous teens how he likes to touch up female corpses - then puts his hand up between the thighs of the suicide victim, and remarks on how moist she is!

Jessica Biel (THE RULES OF ATTRACTION; the forthcoming BLADE 3: TRINITY) in the lead role of Erin, can sob and scream her heart out while managing to remain gorgeous at all times. And - as brilliant as Marilyn Burns was as the victimised Sally in the original - Biel's character is a lot more likeable.

The editing is slick, the camerawork adept, lighting etc very professional. If anything, the new version is TOO well-made to possibly compare with it's red raw forefather.

As a stand-alone film, TCM 2003 takes itself a lot more seriously than the likes of JEEPERS CREEPERS, CABIN FEVER, WRONG TURN etc, and is consequently much more gratifying. Largely free of directorial showmanship (which was a worry, considering Nispel's background in music video - including Faith No More's "A Small Victory" ... remember that?!) the film is thankfully directed in a straightforward manner, and graced with a script devoid of the self-effacing humour we appear to be subjected to weekly in modern day 'horror' films.

In fact, as a stand-alone film this is a really good slice of no-brainer entertainment with plenty of shocks, a few tense scenes and a commitment to have it's audience rooted to the screen.

As for pitfalls? Well, why remake one of the most unrelenting horror yarns of recent times?! Hooper's film tapped into a strange chemistry that just can't be (and isn't) equalled. TCM 2003 does admittedly go for the jugular in it's own way, but it's nothing in comparison to it's infamous blueprint.

And there are a couple of VERY implausible scenes here that run the serious risk of ruining your appreciation of an otherwise excellent film. For example, the extended chase through a succession of bed linen hanging to dry outside the cannibals' family home - how many fucking beds to they have?! Oh, and the victim who has their leg hacked off by chain saw, is later impaled on a meat hook, yet manages to hang around (yeah, pun intended!) with nary a grimace on their face and stay alive for far too long …!

Whatever. I am huge fan of the original, and a complete cynic when it comes to all these new Hollywood "horror" pictures. But this, well I've seen it three times and it gets better with each viewing. I enjoyed it immensely.

Visually, the presentation cannot be faulted. Okay, the packaging says the film is 2.35:1, but it's not - it's 1.85:1, anamorphic. The print could not possibly be any sharper, clearer or cleaner. But as this film is less than a couple of years old, we'd expect nothing less?!

The audio on the main feature is amazing. Available in both Dolby 5.1 or DTS, both are well-balanced and satisfyingly loud in all the right places. Dialogue comes through clear, and for me the 5.1 track has the edge bass-wise. Removable English subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing, and are very easy to read.

Menus on Disc 1 (yep, a 2 disc Special Edition!) are animated and pretty cool. The film has chapters.

The only extra features on disc 1 are three audio commentary tracks - production commentary, technical commentary and story commentary. Pretty self-explanatory, methinks. All are fluent in execution, but ultimately prove as heavy-going (do you really want this much info?!). Appreciated though, and interesting in their own right.

Disc 2 is a stunner.

A photo gallery offers 14 stills detailing the design of the new-look Leatherface, including his evolution from rough sketch to a series of clay models.

The alternate opening and closing scenes are initially engaging (set in an asylum), but ultimately it can be seen why they were dismissed. They don't resolve anything.

TV Spots, art gallery, deleted scenes all follow …. all of which are cool in their own right.

Cast screen tests are brief, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The real pearls here are the documentaries - almost worth the buying price alone!

TCM REDUX is a 70 minute docu on the revision of a genre cult classic, which offers a brilliant in-depth insight into the remake's production - and is a much more worthwhile investment of your time than the 3 commentaries if truth be told.

Offering a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage, it encourages an appreciation of the commitment involved from all concerned. Although the clips from the original only serve to remind us that this has all been done before, but better …

As a trivial sidenote - it's quite unnerving to see the high count of people with bald heads and facial hair involved with the new TCM!!

ED GEIN - THE GHOUL OF PLAINFIELD is another substantial documentary, this time based around the factual case that inspired this film as well as DERANGED, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PSYCHO etc. Pretty interesting stuff, especially when it moves from Gein's case and onto each film's interpretation of his gruesome quirks …

Finally, you get SEVERED PARTS. Another documentary, this time based around the deleted/alternate scenes - including some extra gore footage which is cool to see. Director Nispel talks us through each scene with genuine fondness. A good little extra.

Housed in a black Amaray style keepcase. The disc is Region 2 PAL encoded.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2003 is a flawed but enjoyable slice of modern horror, capable of rising above the bulk of teen fodder we've had inflicted upon us in recent years. It's certainly nowhere near as bad as Entertainment In Video's DVD cover implies!

Comparisons to the original are inescapable - but if you can, I would encourage you to disconnect yourself from Hooper's version and approach this with an open mind. Turn that lovely surround track up loud and find a jumpy female to watch it with - you may just find yourself having a whale of a time!!

Review by Stu Willis

Released by
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras : see main review