by Steve Habrat
Tobe Hooper’s grubby 1974 horror outing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre ranks as one of the scariest films I have ever seen. Hands down. It is downright terrifying and manages to make us queasy even though it has very little gore to speak of. In 2003, Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes decided that they were going to remake the film, a decision that would open the remake floodgates and shower the film market with a slew of senseless horror remakes that absolutely no horror fan was begging for. With music video director Marcus Nispel behind the camera, Bay unleashed his sleek and gory update that comes at you like a speeding demon. Truth be told, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 is not that bad of a film. It’s actually sort of fun and it has plenty of personality and style. It has a must see opening sequence shot in shaky black and white, a crime reel that is chillingly authentic as John Larroquette somberly explains the back-story. It opens the movie with a bang. What comes next is a fairly mundane but excessively flashy exercise in teen slashers elevated by the presence of R. Lee Ermey and, surprisingly, Jessica Biel. It’s the excess and Nispel’s reluctance to leave anything to the imagination that ultimately keeps The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 from reaching the levels of terror that the original does. Oh, and cannibalism would have helped too.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre begins on August 18th, 1973, with five teenagers, Erin (Played by Jessica Biel), her boyfriend Kemper (Played by Eric Balfour), Andy (Played by Mike Vogel), Morgan (Played by Jonathan Tucker), and Pepper (Played by Erica Leerhsen) passing through Texas on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. While making their way along the desolate highway, they happen upon a distraught hitchhiker (Played by Lauren German), who quickly climbs into their van, rambles about a “bad man,” and then shoots herself in the head. Terrified, the group stops off at the nearest gas station to call the sheriff. The sheriff convinces the group to meet him at a local abandoned mill, where he will come and pick up the body. The group waits for hours but the sheriff is a no show so Erin and Kemper decide to travel to a nearby farmhouse to try to contact the sheriff again. The home seems to belong to a cranky amputee named Monty (Played by Terrence Evans) but as Erin and Kemper linger at the home, they begin to suspect that Monty may not be the only person lurking around the decrepit home. Their suspicions are confirmed when they are chased down by Leatherface (Played by Andrew Bryniarski), a gigantic psychopath who enjoys dispatching his victims with a chain saw and then removing their faces so he can wear them as masks.
Since Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes insisted that this film exist, I can at least give it credit for the fact that it isn’t a shot for shot remake of the brilliant Hooper original. It is bold enough to play around with the premise and up the number of nutcases from four to seven, making the whole film seem a bit more dangerous. While upping the number of psychos is a positive, Nispel and Bay do everything in their power to strip Leatherface of the horror he once possessed. And, lets face it, it takes a lot to make a psycho with a chain saw only slightly creepy but apparently Nispel and Bay were up to the challenge. Looking like your crazy uncle in an expensive Halloween costume, Leatherface looks like he is wearing a rubber zombie mask that tried to smile but couldn’t. Only once do we see him wear another face and there doesn’t seem to be any of the eerie cross-dressing that the character liked in the original. It would have been nice to see him in that famous suit with a woman’s face covering his own but I guess you can’t always get what you want. Nispel and Bay also give him a new origin story, one that just comes off as silly. Things really got shaky when old Leatherface decides to peel off his mask and show us what it underneath that rotting flesh. I’ll tell you this much, it isn’t very spooky and actually sort of laughable.
While Nispel and Bay certain screwed up the monster, they fair better with just about everyone else. I still think that Biel does a great job as Erin and she rightfully earns our sympathy, especially as things really get bad. She’s no Marilyn Burns but she is alright in my book. Balfour is also pretty strong as Kemper, a guy just trying to do the right thing for his girlfriend. Another standout amongst the group of teens is Tucker’s shaggy pothead Morgan, who always has just a little too much to say when he shouldn’t. Out of all the teens, I actually liked him the best. Leerhsen and Vogel are okay but they never really grab us like Biel, Balfour, and Tucker. Then we have the merry Hewitt family, led by R. Lee Ermey’s deranged Sheriff Hoyt, a mean son of a bitch who drools chewing tobacco and giggles at the suffering teens. He is here in full force blasting hilariously sick and twisted one-liners right into the faces of his victims. Marietta Marich is also pretty terrifying as the matriarch of the Hewitt family, Luda Mae Hewitt. She rules the family with a rusted fist, demanding that Leatherface lumbers into the family room and get one of the sobbing victims out of her sight. It is such a cold and cruel scene, one that ends with one character suggesting that their victim should stay for dinner, one of the better nods to the original film.
While cannibalism is only hinted at here and there, it is largely absent from this entry in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. If you didn’t know it played a big role in the original, you’d have no idea it was even present in this one. Nispel does take great care in constructing the Hewitt home, a massive, decaying structure gloriously backlit when the sun sinks from the sky. Some of my favorite images in the film are the ones where Nispel’s camera peeks out of the trees and stares cautiously at the house, almost like it is going to spring to life and attack. The set design on the inside of the home is even more painstaking and ornate as the camera pans over rotting corpses, demonic dolls nailed to the wall, and leaky pipes that could very well be oozing blood. While some of the chases are sort of fun and that scene with one character getting his leg cut clean off by Leatherface’s roaring chain saw are nifty, you can help but find yourself longing for that grainy cinematography and that hazy, late summer atmosphere that drips with death and decay. I longed for a scene that would disturb me like the original’s twitching death, where a character that was just clubbed over the head with a mallet thrashed and twitched as his brains oozed from his head wound. I wished for the dinner party scene, the one where Marilyn Burns shrieked in terror as the Sawyer clan tormented her over a plate of human BBQ. And the film didn’t end with that terrifying image of Leatherface doing his “dance of death” in blazing Texas sun. There is nothing razor sharp like that here. Looks like Bay and Nispel removed the chain from this one.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
It may be blasphemous as a die-hard fan of horror to say this but I’ve never particularly cared for Freddy Kruger. I know, I know, how can I dislike one of the most iconic slashers every projected on the big screen? I guess I saw Wes Craven’sA Nightmare on Elm Street at an older age and Freddy Kruger just came off as a clown in a Christmas sweater. I was so used to seeing campy versions of him that I was never really able to get swept up in the love of the character. Considering Leatherface, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees had all undergone the remake treatment, Freddy Kruger was expected to be next monster off the horror remake assembly line. Infinitely better than the Friday the 13th remake but still an artificial bore, A Nightmare on Elm Street does find Freddy Kruger shedding his comedic aura and retreating to the ominous shadows that spit him out and I couldn’t be happier about that. It was great to see someone other than Robert Englund step in as the iconic burn victim and put a fresh spin on the character, something that was greatly needed. Handed over to music video director Samuel Bayer, he works hard to earn the respect of Craven and the fans of the original but the problem is that Michael Bay is on board as a producer and it is incredibly obvious considering the lack of mood and abundance of rubbery special effects.
A Nightmare on Elm Street begins in the Springwood Diner where Kris (Played by Katie Cassidy) meets up with her sleep-deprived boyfriend Dean (Played by Kellan Lutz), waitress Nancy (Played by Rooney Mara), mutual friend Quentin (Played by Kyle Gallner), and Kris’s ex-boyfriend Jesse (Played by Thomas Dekker). It turns out that Dean is afraid to go to sleep because when he does, he dreams of a horrifically burned psychopath who launches gruesome attacks against him. After Dean appears to cut his own throat, the teenagers begin to investigate the ramblings of their deceases friend. As their search continues, they discover that they all may have known each other longer than they thought. They also uncover information about a deceased gardener named Freddy Kruger (Played by Jackie Earle Haley), who was believed to be a pedophile. As this information comes to light, Kris, Nancy, Jesse, and Quentin begin to suffer from the same bizarre dreams that Dean complained about. These dreams are particularly horrific for Nancy, who was always Freddy’s favorite. While more and more teens die of unusual circumstances, Nancy and Quentin race to figure out a way to pull Freddy from the dream world and into the real one so that they can destroy him.
While director Bayer and Bay do very little to rework Craven’c classic story, they do tinker with Freddy’s back-story, which has him a full-on pedophile rather than a child killer with a knife-glove. This swap does make your skin crawl when he creeps out of his hissing boiler room toward one of his victims. Funny enough, Freddy’s favored boiler room was something that could have undergone a bit of a change. It worked okay in the original film but it would have been cool to see Freddy’s lair undergo a bit of a change to match the character’s back-story and appearance. As far as looks go, Freddy certainly looks horrific even if he is largely kept in the shadows for much of the movie. I have to give the filmmakers credit for keeping the monster largely in the dark because that does ratchet up the spooks but when Haley is reveled in the hellish glow of his boiler room, the effects applied to his face look sort of obvious and, dare I say, cheap. The rest of the dream world that takes hold when the characters doze off look familiar, like music video sets reused with buckets of fake blood thrown around. Bayer tries to make them creepier by throwing in little girls who jump rope, play hopscotch, and chant, “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you!” Frankly, I found these scenes to feel more staged than surreal.
Surprisingly, the performances are much better than in the previous Platinum Dunes offering. I certainly think that the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Kruger was inspired and he does attack the role with his fangs bared. He ditches the countless one-liners and instead growls loudly over the soundtrack. The flashback sequence that finds him without all the prosthetics and CGI is effectively creepy, mostly because anything dealing with pedophilia is creepy. Then there is Rooney Mara as Nancy, a promising up-and-comer that seems well aware that she is better than the movie she is in. The filmmakers twist Nancy into an angsty teenager who hides away in her room with headphones crammed into her ears and huddles over her paintings she enjoys doing. It seems like Bayer had a hard time trying to work her in front and center in the film, as she almost seems secondary to Kris in the opening sequence. About a half hour in, Mara is the star of this bloodbath, which in turn perks the film up. Cassidy and Dekker are forgettable as disposable teens there simply to die by Freddy’s favored glove. Gallner puts in 110% as Quentin, an equally angsty teenager who has feelings for the arty Nancy.
Considering A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 is largely drawing from the original film’s storyline, the film lacks any real surprises, which is immensely disappointing. While Bayner certainly has plenty of gore to go around, I found some of the violence to be watered down a bit, a shocker because I figured that the filmmakers would fall back on it. There still is no question that the concept is bright but failure to take it in a new direction stalls the film almost instantly. Let’s be honest here, Bay is certainly not the most creative in the story department. Predictability hangs low over our heads as characters we figure are going to get the knife do and twists we figure are coming fail to get the gasp they are hoping for. Then there is the ending, which I was less than impressed with. It consists of Freddy tossing Nancy around a room while he utters repulsive lines of dialogue her way. Having a monster lick the face of the freaked out heroine can only make us squirm so many times before it seems recycled. Much like Friday the 13th, Bayner tacks on a GOTCHA! moment before fleeing off into the end credits, but it feels like a cheap shot jolt. Overall, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 is a lousy film because it never gets off the ground. It feels like it was shot on Hollywood sets with tasteless CGI painted over it to make it more interesting. It never scares us although it does repulse us with its subject matter in a few places. It only grabs a recommendation for Haley’s commanding performance.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
I think everyone remembers where they were when they learned that there was going to be a remake of John Carpenter’s 1978 flawless horror classic Halloween. I remember I was at my best friends house playing around on his laptop when we happened upon the news. We were in shock, unable to process the fact that there was going to be a remake of one of the scariest films of all time. While half not surprised that Hollywood was going to tinker with a great thing, it still made me sick to my stomach because I figured they would hand the film over to some John Doe director who would screw it up royally. My anger turned to intrigue when I learned that the film was being written, produced, and directed by shock rocker turned filmmaker Rob Zombie. Rob Zombie! While I was a fan of the 2005 splatter flick The Devil’s Rejects, I was so-so with his day-glow Texas Chain Saw Massacre wannabe House of 1000 Corpses. Well, opening weekend came and me and my chums piled into a car and headed to the local theater to check out Zombie’s remake and I must say, we were all fairly impressed with what we saw. Just as nasty, mean, and brutal as I figured it would be, Zombie’s Halloween was actually a surprisingly eerie slasher film that was equally parts new and familiar at the same time, striking just the right balance. It also helps that Zombie populated his dingy remake with a slew of familiar B-horror faces that would make most gore hounds grin from ear to ear. But the most astonishing thing of all remains the fact that the film isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. Whew!
Halloween 2007 introduces us to young Michael Myers (Played by Daeg Faerch), a ruthlessly bullied boy who already suffers from deranged tendencies. Michael shacks up with his stripper mother Deborah (Played by Sheri Moon Zombie), her deadbeat boyfriend Ronnie (Played by William Forsythe), his older sister Judith (Played by Hanna R. Hall), and his baby sister, only finding affection from his loving mother. On Halloween night, Michael finally snaps from his relentless torment and brutally murders a school bully, Ronnie, Judith, and Judith’s boyfriend Steve. With no recollection of the murders, Michael is taken into custody and sent to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium where is put under the care of kindly Dr. Samuel Loomis (Played by Malcolm McDowell). As the years pass, Michael becomes more and more fixated on papier-mâché masks that he makes in his cell. Dr. Loomis begins to suspect that Michael uses the masks to hide from both himself and the world. Fifteen years pass and Michael (Played by Tyler Mane), now a hulking adult, has stopped speaking to everyone. On the night before Halloween, Michael escapes from his cell and begins making his way back to Haddonfield to find his baby sister, now named Laurie Strode (Played by Scout-Taylor Compton). As Dr. Loomis rushes to contact the authorities, the body count rises as Michael ruthlessly searches for the only person he loves.
The argument has been made that Zombie misunderstood what made the original Halloween such a terrifying experience. It was the fact that we didn’t know anything about Michael or why he is killing anyone who crosses his path. Over the years, he has become known as the “Shape,” the Boogieman walking among us in complete silence. With Halloween 2007, Zombie is forced to dive into Michael’s background and in the process; he explains literally every single aspect of the character. We learn why he wears that legendary mask, what made him snap, that he demonstrated psychotic behavior before he went on his killing spree, and that he is pretty close with that old Dr. Loomis. All of this is complimented with heaping amounts of gore and profane dialogue that does get a bit ludicrous at times. Trust me, I’m no prude but at points you can’t help but picture Zombie hunched over a computer straining to think of the most repulsive dialogue he can. He certainly succeeds. Even though Zombie explains everything, I argue that he had no choice but to explain away the character. What else was he going to do? Hardcore Halloween fans would have grumbled if he would have done a shot for shot remake and thankfully, he didn’t resort to that. I give Zombie credit for daring to try something new with the character and taking a peak behind that legendary mask rather than doing what has already been done. I can certainly say that he does make Halloween his own to an extent because he leaves the ending relatively the same.
The acting of Halloween 2007 ends up being a mixed trick or treat bag of sugary sweets and bitter sours. Sheri Moon Zombie is better at the big-hearted mommy than I ever thought she’d be. She is sort of hit or miss with me but here she proves that she possesses some dramatic depth even if she is forced to spit out cliché lines of dialogue. I really enjoyed her bickering and fighting with Forsythe’s abusive boyfriend Ronnie. He was a real piece of work but he doesn’t stick around long. Faerch is so-so as little Michael, a little too forced but he is creepy when he finally slips into madness. Tyler Mane plays Michael Myers exactly how you would expect him to. He cocks his head from side to side but he stabs, hacks, and slashes just a little more violently than he did in the 1978 original. McDowell was a welcome presence as Dr. Loomis, an interesting choice to play Michael’s psychiatrist. McDowell gives it his all and he comes out with the best performance in the film. Then there is Scout Taylor-Compton as the slightly annoying Laurie Strode, a buttoned up teen with a dark edge according the skulls on her black hoodie. There isn’t really anything that particularly stands out about her and that is precisely her problem. She does prove to audiences that she is a hell of a screamer and her cries of terror could wake the dead. Kristina Klebe and Danielle Harris are on board as Lynda and Annie, Laurie’s friends who lack the fizzy magnetism that they had in the original film but they provide a little eye candy. Brad Dourif is second to McDowell as the skeptical Sheriff Lee Brackett and boy, does he come close to stealing the film from the good doctor. For fans of B-horror, keep a look for cameos from Ken Foree, Udo Kier, Danny Trejo, Clint Howard, Sid Haig, and Sybil Danning, to name a few.
Zombie also makes the wise choice of including the iconic Halloween score, sped up and layered with a few more electronics by Tyler Bates. He adds a few new little synthesizer warbles here and there while paying tribute to the little electronic jolts that Carpenter threw into his film. Zombie applies (unsurprisingly) a grainy and aged look to the film with costumes and sets that are reminiscent of the late 70’s and early 80’s with a gloss of modern caked on. Where the original Halloween sees little to no gore at all throughout its runtime, Zombie brings buckets full of blood and guts to his hillbillies-from-Hell party. I will warn you that the film is exceptionally brutal and grotesque so be prepared and plan accordingly. While I do feel Zombie’s exhausting explanations do take away from some of the horror, I still have to give him credit for staying true to the original film’s story while also daring to add on a fairly engaging prequel. Is the film perfect? Oh no, it certainly isn’t. If someone asked me if I wanted to watch Zombie’s film or Carpenter’s, I’d go with Carpenter’s classic in a heartbeat. Overall, Halloween 2007 could have been much worse but it actually turns out to be a pretty entertaining slasher film with a filthy, razor-sharp edge. I’ll take this ugly beast any day over most other tired and hollow remakes.
Halloween 2007 is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Charles Beall
I don’t like Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho, yet I respect it. We can bitch and moan about the sanctity of remaking a classic and the hollowed ground Van Sant trampled on, but that won’t get us anywhere. Psycho ’98 is an experiment, pure and simple, as to whether or not a great film can be remade shot-for-shot (albeit with a few teaks) and it still have the same impact, Van Sant has proved that it cannot. His experiment was a success.
I find it hard to review this Psycho; it has the same plot as the original and has the same, well, everything. In a necessary documentary on the DVD, Van Sant states that he looks at the screenplay of Psycho as any other classic written work that can be performed, much like a Shakespeare play. The actors are all different, and I give him kudos for thinking out of the typecast. However, we the audience are at an unfair advantage (and are unfair to judge Van Sant) because the original is so engrained in our minds that it is literally impossible not to compare this film with the original.
So there you have it- I don’t know what to say about this Psycho. As a film, it doesn’t work because we know and love the original; it is comparing apples to oranges. But, you have to respect the experiment that Van Sant performed. It is interesting, and quite indeed fascinating, but it just does not work.
Grade: D+ (but an A for effort!)
Tomorrow, we wrap up the Psycho franchise with a made-for-TV movie that I do not find fit to wipe my ass with: Bates Motel.