This movie from 2003 definitely breaks the typical remake mold, and is one that completely contradicts my stance on remaking classics, particularly when it comes to horror. As much as I love and respect the original, I found this to be a completely fresh retelling of the story, and one that holds a lot of memories for me. Why, you ask, do I not only not mind this remake, but actually dig it quite a bit? Well, a few reasons for starters.
- I don’t mind that the female protagonist’s name is Erin. Her original counterpart, Sally, had a more older sounding name, and though I don’t have any problem with that (it’s my mom’s name, after all), I felt that Erin was a similar girl-next-door, not too fancy, not too common name for our heroine. Though it still takes place in the seventies, subtle changes aren’t always horrible.
- We get to see a lot more blood and gore. Not that every film needs it, but seeing it isn’t always bad, and with this movie, it added to its creep factor, instead of detracting from it. In the original, we didn’t see any real gore, though most people consider it such a brutal film. The thing is – it’s all implied, we never really “see” anything too intense. The perception is enough for the original, especially considering how gritty the picture quality is.
- I love how Erin and Kemper are in a very committed relationship, making it even more sick and twisted when he is killed and Leatherface wears his face. Also, after he is killed, we see the engagement ring fall out of his pocket, the one Erin had coyly been bugging him about. This makes the audience much more invested in the characters.
- I didn’t mind the change from checking on relative’s graves to going to Mexico to buy marijuana and heading to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. This is completely believable. I also loved the whole hitchhiker suicide aspect. I was totally not expecting it, and it really blew my mind, ha, no pun intended. The other hitchhiker, Pepper, was also a refreshing change, as she must now fight for her life with a bunch of people she barely knows. It’s a far cry from that crazy loon in the original, slicing his own hand open, talking about slaughterhouses and head cheese.
- Another thing I like is that the characters all fit. Though they have certain stereotypical qualities in the quintessential group of friends, they do have distinct personalities. The differences between them really start to come out when they’re faced with a completely unexpected situation. Not to mention, the actors are all beautiful, and I do generally love anything with Jonathan Tucker and Eric Balfour in it. They’re amazing actors, and completely underrated I might add.
- The filmmakers left in the creepy camera flash-bulb sound from the original, and retained the same date, August 18, 1973. I like consistency. I also didn’t mind that they gave Leatherface a real name – Thomas Hewitt. They still call him Leatherface, so it doesn’t take away from anything, and it really creates the illusion of this highly fucked up, dysfunctional family.
- Sheriff Hoyt + R. Lee Ermey? Enough said.
Now that I’ve explained some of the reasons I love this remake, let’s jump right in!
We begin with an opening montage detailing “an account which befell five youths” in 1973, complete with grainy, black and white film. We see the police department collecting evidence, and walking through crime scenes. After a loud shriek offscreen, we are introduced to the five youths, on the road, making their way from Mexico after an excursion, to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.
Erin, played by the spunky Jessica Biel, is in a relationship with Kemper (Eric Balfour). Their friends Morgan (Jonathan Tucker) and Andy (Mike Vogel) are in the back of the van, while Andy makes out ferociously with hitchhiker, Pepper (Erica Leerhsen). All are sweaty, fashionable, and of course, attractive. But they all fit! For some strange reason, all the elements of a good movie came together in this remake that hardcore fans (including myself) just knew was destined to fail. But, it didn’t! They aren’t going to check on any family graves that may have been disturbed, but we got to know more about the characters than in the original, which I always feel helps build a rapport with the audience, making them much more invested in their eventual fate.
Morgan informs Andy and Pepper about the number of young adults that become infected with STD’s every year, prompting a slight uncomfortable feeling in the new couple. Erin refuses to smoke any of the weed they’re passing around because she is nauseous. Turns out, all the good bud they’re smoking came from the trip to Mexico, causing Erin no small amount of pissed-off-ness. After making up, Erin and Kemper kiss, which nearly causes them to run off the road because there is a strange young woman walking in the middle of the road. They stop, and the girls ask if they can help. She’s dirty, pale, and seems to be in some sort of catatonic state. Ya know, the perfect person to give a lift to.
She agrees and gets in the van, thus starting one of the coolest, and most unexpected scenes in horror’s recent memory. She begins prattling on incoherently about a bad man, and how she just wants to go home. As she notices where they’re going, she freaks out and tells them she can’t go back there. Kemper slams on the breaks, and they all stare at her. She tells them they’re all going to die, and she pulls out a gun from somewhere I don’t need to know, and proceeds to put it in her mouth and blow her brains out. Granted, I don’t want to see someone commit suicide, but this part was completely unexpected, and was a far cry from that fucking nutcase in the original who sets pictures on fire and has pictures of himself killing cows. I can always do without that. Anyway, the group freaks out, understandably, and after calming themselves a bit, decide to go into town and try to find the police. They end up at a little grotesque convenience store, and are greeted somewhat coldly by an older woman who calls the police for them.
She tells them to go by the Old Crawford Mill to make their report, to which Kemper replies, “We’re not gonna drive around this town with a dead girl in the back of our van!”, and Morgan chimes in with, “I’m sorry, but how often do girls just blow their heads off in this shit hole town?” She tells them they can do what they want, so they drive off to find the freaking mill. I like to think I’m a pretty decent person, but if any town didn’t immediately show up with a policeman to the scene of a suicide in my car, I’d be thinking about gettin’ the hell out of dodge. Anyway, they wait and wait, wasting precious driving time in the guys’ opinion, when they hear a noise. They go inside and find a little boy, with buck teeth, who is very dirty and disheveled. Erin asks him his name (Jedidiah, played by the creepy little kid from The Ring), and where the Sheriff lives. He says he’s at home getting drunk, and that the road doesn’t go that far.
Erin and Kemper take off in that direction, hoping to either meet the Sheriff or use someone’s phone. They encounter a giant farmhouse, though it looks more like a huge institution, and meet a legless man with a cute dog. He tells them that only Erin can go inside and use the phone, after informing her that the Sheriff doesn’t live there. With all these circles they are going in, I’d still be tempted to peace out. Erin uses the phone, and the legless man calls out to her for help. He’s stuck on the bathroom floor, but really, this is only a ploy to touch her ass and distract her while Leatherface kills Kemper with a sledgehammer. Meanwhile, back at the van, the “Sheriff” shows up, played by R. Lee Ermey himself. Really? This is pure brilliance. He’s a potty-mouthed, unethical, rude law enforcement officer, who actually makes the other kids help him wrap up the dead body with cellophane and put it in his trunk. Erin meets back up with them after he leaves, and thinks Kemper came back there to wait, but no one can find him. Now completely confused, the group goes out into the field where there a bunch of abandoned cars. They discover some glass jars with photos in them; photos of the suicidal hitchhiker and her family. Worried about Kemper, Erin and Andy go back to the house, because she just knows something fishy is going on.
Back at the house, Leatherface begins hoisting Kemper’s body up, and we see a little black box fall out of his pocket. It’s the tear-cut diamond ring that Erin had wanted so much. Awww…okay, sorry, but I think that part is really sad. Outside, Erin distracts the legless man while Andy wanders around inside, looking for Kemper. He knocks something down, causing a loud ruckus, prompting the man to go back inside. Now confronted, he begins banging his cane on the floor. This alerts Leatherface, who bursts through the door, while Erin and Andy take off running and screaming. Andy takes the back route, winding through the hanging, laundered bedsheets, and he falls upon the chainsaw’s blade, severing his leg just above the knee.
Erin makes her way back to the van to find Morgan and Pepper cleaning up the bloody mess from earlier, while Leatherface picks Andy up and carries him into the house. Erin only has a chance to tell them a little bit of the story through tears and panic, because the Sheriff shows back up. She tries to tell him, but because he sees a marijuana joint on the dashboard, he doesn’t want to hear it. He makes them all lay down in the dirt, while he searches through their identification. He tells them how much trouble they are in, though really, it can’t be that much for the small amount they had, which just goes to show how insane this freakin’ guy is.
The Sheriff still refuses to listen to Erin’s story, meanwhile, Leatherface strings Andy up on a meat hook, and wraps up his leg, err, lack thereof. He also begins crafting a new face out of Kemper’s old one….that’s just so sad. The Sheriff forces Morgan into the van to reenact what happened during the suicide, using the gun and all. Sick of this twisted game, he points the gun towards the Sheriff and pulls the trigger. But alas, no bullets. Now, he’s pissed and forces Morgan into his cruiser. After telling him where he and his friends were headed, the Sheriff tells Morgan he likes Skynyrd, too. He tells the Sheriff he can have the concert tickets. Taking this as bribery, the Sheriff bashes him in the mouth with a glass bottle, shattering it. He begins spitting out his own teeth, to which the Sheriff replies, “We got somethin’ else in common”, as he pulls out his own dentures. What a twisted fuck…..it’s brilliant!
Back at the van, Erin hotwires the car, a trick she learned in juvie, and takes off. Unfortunately, one of the tires flies off, and Leatherface appears. With his chainsaw roaring, he begins attacking the van, and attempting to get Erin and Pepper. As he jumps on the roof, Pepper escapes the van and takes off. Leatherface, despite being a huge, menacing fuck, leaps off as well, and tracks her down. He chainsaws her to death, as the feathers from her coat fly. As Leatherface turns, Erin recognizes her boyfriend’s face on the chainsaw-wielding psychopath. She looks horrified, and runs. As she is the heroine, we know, or at least hope, she is going to survive, and she runs to an old trailer. Inside, a dirty looking couple of women sit – one as frail as a kitten, the other as big as a barn. They both look not quite right, as if anything has in this town, and they try to comfort Erin. They tell her he’s a sweet boy, means no harm, and has a skin disease that has caused him to be bullied his whole life. She’s still freaking out, wondering why these women are defending the monster. They initially told her they didn’t have a phone, but she hears one ringing. After drinking some tea they gave her, she is now drugged, stumbling around. However, she makes her way to the back of the trailer where the phone is, and discovers the skinny one, Henrietta, comforting a baby. The same baby in the pictures of the dead girl’s family. Erin cries out that the baby isn’t hers, and that she’s stolen. Erin clumsily runs into the living room, and she falls down, out cold.
She wakes up back at the farmhouse, with the Sheriff pouring beer on her face. The Sheriff’s mother is the same woman who runs the convenience store, and is ironing his pants. Leatherface comes and grabs Erin, and throws her downstairs. Jedidiah screams at his mother not to hurt her, but she tells him to stay out there with “them dogs”. Downstairs, Erin falls into the water that has began to flood the nasty basement, and she discovers Andy, hanging on the meat hook. He is suffering to no end, and he asks her to put him out of his misery. She refuses at first, but finally complies with his wishes. She grabs a long knife from a table and plunges it into his stomach, as Erin cries out and screams. Blood is now pouring all over her, as she repeats, “I’m sorry, please forgive me”. I always found this scene to be really sad, but it’s also perfect for a film like this. Like I said, it’s compassion for the characters.
Erin finds Morgan, still alive, in a bathtub of nasty water, and helps him out. He is groggy, and limping horribly, but little Jedidiah appears and tells the pair to follow him. They run through a maze-like corridor, and they make their way up the ladder that leads to the outside. Leatherface is on their heels, and Jedidiah tries to bite him to slow him down. Erin and Morgan find themselves in an old, abandoned house, and they both hide. Of course, our favorite chainsaw murderer knows where they are. He grabs Erin through a rickety wall, and Morgan bursts from the closet, hands still tied, trying to protect her. Leatherface turns his efforts to Morgan and kills him. Poor Jonathan Tucker. From the way it looks, it wasn’t a pretty way to go – no one wants a chainsaw between their legs! Erin runs, and tries to stop a car on the road, who ignores her. She ends up at the local slaughterhouse. Of course, always a fun place to be. Uhh, not.
Erin hides in the meat freezer with all the poor dead cow’s bodies. She’s inside a ribcage when Leatherface cuts right through it. She runs again and makes her way to the locker room. She hides in one of the lockers, with a brilliant idea. She’s put a little pig in the locker right next to her, so she can attack Leatherface as he inspects the noise. She’s wielding a meat cleaver, and calls him over to where she is. Distracted by the pig, Erin rushes out and hacks off Leatherface’s arm. Screaming, writhing, and bleeding, he falls to the floor, and Erin makes her way outside, where it’s raining heavily. She flags down a huge semi-truck, and hops in. She begins to freak when she sees that the driver is going back the same way they all were trying to leave. Erin grabs the wheel, begging him not to stop driving. He pulls over, at the same little convenience store, and goes for help. With another idea, she leaps out of the truck and hides by one of the windows. When the Sheriff, his mother, and Henrietta all go outside with the truck driver, Erin sneaks in and steals the baby.
As the Sheriff walks over to the big rig where he thinks Erin is, she is hotwiring his own car, whereby seconds later, she plows right into him. By now, we are all cheering! Not only that, she backs over him, puts it in drive, and runs him over again! Rock on! As Erin drives off, we catch a few glimpses of the toddler, sitting in the passenger seat. How sweet that Erin didn’t forget this little child, but I had a feeling she would come back for her after finding out she was stolen. Leatherface appears once more, grazing the car with his chainsaw, glaring menacingly into the camera as it fades to black. Lastly, we see the continuing footage from the beginning of the film, when the police officers are investigating the flooded basement. We hear a loud squealing noise, as Leatherface pops out of an adjoining room, knocking the officer to the floor. Apparently, two officers died because the crime scene was not secure. The narrator ends by telling us that these images are the only known ones to exist of “Thomas Hewitt, the man they call Leatherface. The case today remains open”.
So, is it safe to say that most of us would agree that this is a pretty fantastic movie, considering it is a remake of a timeless classic? I hope so. Honestly, I’ll admit, I thought it was a shitty idea when I first heard about it, but I am happy to say that I was pleasantly and unexpectedly surprised. I think all of us didn’t even give this the time of day when it was announced, but it has now become everything a good remake should be. If you’re going to remake a classic (which I still despise the idea of), at least make it like this, okay?? There is really only one thing that bugged me about it. Taking into account the prequel that came out in 2006, which took place four years before the events of this film, I blatantly noticed that the slaughterhouse was being shut down for health reasons and that the town’s residents, including Hewitt, were to be out of a job. This is the family’s reasoning for eating humans and becoming insane serial killers. If the slaughterhouse was shut down (yay!) four years earlier, why, when Erin hides there, are there still live animals running around, looking quite healthy, and fresh meat hanging in the locker? Either this is some incredible and scary meat, the residents still use it for their own purposes, or the prequel didn’t even think about continuity at all. Whatever the reason, I suppose it doesn’t really matter, because the rest of the movie is so good, it just always bugged the hell out of me.
Really, that’s just about my only complaint. I stated earlier my reasons for loving this remake, and I stand by them. Nothing in this movie detracted from the original, if anything, it only added to it. We got more in-depth characters, which is always a plus for me, and Jessica Biel’s Erin really held her shit together compared to Marilyn Burns’ Sally of the original. Not that I have a personal preference – they both did a hell of a job with their respective acting chops. This movie, to me, is just really fresh, and honestly, it’s hard not to like it, despite your stance on remakes. If I like it, you can, too!