There are certain films that go on to change cinema when they’re released. They either inspire trends that result in a slew of copycats, or they end up showing a whole new way of making movies. And despite horror being seen as ‘lesser’ in some eyes, it’s a genre that tends to create films like this more often than others. Films such as Psycho, Alien, The Blair Witch Project, Ring, and Paranormal Activity all being held up as examples of movies that wowed and terrified audiences and inspired countless copies shows this trend off well. Another film that did that was 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a film that not only disturbed audiences worldwide, but may have helped to kick off the entire slasher genre.
Whilst it can be argued that the aforementioned Psycho showed off the first slasher, it’s a film that you could theoretically struggle to put into that genre as it doesn’t hit all of the tropes that have become associated with slashers (just think of the rules as outlined in Scream). The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, however, was the first to really do this. It featured a cast of predominantly teens and early-twenties characters who go somewhere they shouldn’t; the killer seems to appear and vanish out of nowhere; the killer takes damage and keeps on coming; and in the end the final girl manages to escape, even if she doesn’t stop the killer. In many ways films such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th all owe their origins to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and its iconic killer, Leatherface, might be the father of slasher killers.
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Because of the reverence that many have had towards the film, when it was announced in the early 2000s that Platinum Dunes, a production company newly created by action blockbuster director Michael Bay, was going to be making a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, people met the news with mostly negative reactions. Even the film’s director, Marcus Nispel, allegedly wasn’t keen on the idea, and didn’t want to make a remake of the first film out of respect to his long time director of photography, who worked on the original. Fans felt that the tone and the feel of the original was very much steeped in its time, and that a remake of the movie would lose a lot of this magic. There were also some worries that the connection to Michael Bay could lead to a horror film that was too glossy, and too over-the-top.
Initial plans for the film were for it to be told through flashbacks and act as a semi-sequel/remake to the first film, with the character of Sally Hardesty, once again played by original actress Marilyn Burns, telling interviewers the story about what happened to her and her friends. These plans were dropped for a more traditional approach, and instead it was decided that the story would feature a wholly new group of characters. The only real connection to the original movie present in the remake would end up being John Larroquette, who voiced the opening narration. Laroquette would return to narrate the 2003 remake, and the 2022 film Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows a group of five friends, Erin (Jessica Biel), her partner Kemper (Eric Balfour), Morgan (Jonathan Tucker), Andy (Mike Vogel), and Pepper (Erica Leerhsen), as they make their way through Texas after stopping into Mexico to pick up some weed. As they make their way through the Texas countryside they find a bloodied young woman walking along the side of the road and stop to help her out. She speaks about the ‘bad man’ for a while, making little sense, then pulls out a gun and shoots herself in the back of the van. The group stop for help at a gas station, hoping to contact the local sheriff (R. Lee Ermey).
As Erin and Kemper head off to try and find him at his nearby home, the others wait with the body in case he shows up. Unfortunately for the group, Erin and Kemper don’t find the sheriff, but instead stumble upon the home of a disabled man with no legs. As Erin is let inside the house to help him, Kemper is hit over the head by Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), who drags him away into the basement to be mutilated. Now the brutal killer has his sights set on the others, whilst the evil sheriff begins his own reign of torment over them.
The film takes two very different approaches to horror, neither of which were really used in the original film. Where the very first film had very little blood and gore, and the violence came in very short bursts, leaving much of it to the viewers imaginations, this time round the violence has been increased, and Leatherface is perhaps at his most brutal here. In addition to this, Sheriff Hoyt, played wonderfully by R. Lee Ermey is a figure of fear, and uses psychological torment on the teens. He uses his position of power to abuse them, going out of his way to make them afraid, tries twisting things to entrap them, and takes pleasure in what he does. Whilst Leatherface is a brutal killer who makes clothing from his victims there’s never really a sense that he’s getting off on what he does, and it’s more just something he does; Hoyt on the other hand takes a perverse pleasure in his actions and because of that may be the more sinister figure in the film.
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Other than the name, and Leatherface being in the film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre bears very little similarity to the film it’s trying to be. There are some shades of certain characters being in the film, such as the family of killers, but everyone has gone through a transformation, and has taken on slightly different roles. The film also expands upon this, and almost adds an entire community around the villains, who excuse and ignore their actions. Whilst it should be a good thing that the film is doing its own thing it does also lead to it being poorly compared to the original, which kept things much tighter.
Upon release the film did well financially, earning itself more than $100 million in the global box office, making it a success. Whilst critics gave the film mixed reviews, the fact that the film did well financially resulted in a prequel movie being made three years later. And, much like how the original movie inspired other horror films over the coming decade, the remake would inspire other studios to remake their own classic horror franchises over the following decade, including Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, House of Wax, My Bloody Valentine, The Wicker Man, and Friday the 13th. It would seem that no matter when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is released, it goes on to influence horror around it.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in the UK on 31st October 2003.