The Deadly Debate: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974 Vs. 2003

Let’s face facts: remakes are here to stay.  Sure, they’ve always existed in one form or another.  Sure sometimes the remake is actually better than the original, in cases like IMITATION OF LIFE and THE BLOB or WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (just kidding on that last one).  Yet remakes in the economically skittish modern-day Hollywood are sort of like going out with the town slut:  In any case you don’t expect much, but you do know what to expect.  It’s a chance for producers to cash in on an already recognizable name.  It also gives fanboys a chance to do a story they love with their own personal style a la Rob Zombie’s take on HALLOWEEN.  I asked my buddy Mike to help me dissect a few remakes in the next few weeks.  Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t, but in the end I think we both agree that most of the modern retreads have about as much heart and soul in them as a Justin Bieber song.  The first movie we discussed was the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974 version vs. the 2003 version, which is fitting considering its considered by many as the igniter in the modern horror-remake boom.

Devin: Love it or hate it, but the redux of Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003 proved 2 things: 1) Studios can use the word “reboot” to rehash a story, its characters, its structure and plot devices instead of creating an original story. 2) Eric Balfour isn’t the kiss of death actor some people relegate him to.  The original 1974 Tobe Hooper classic is still effective.  It’s visceral, documentary-like style gave it a raw and unsettling vision of a post-Manson, Vietnam-Watergate infested, early 70’s country versus concrete culture.  No matter how tight Jessica Biel’s jeans were in the reboot, nothing compares to a blood-soaked Marilyn Burns screaming for dear life after her invalid brother is sawed in half right in front of her.  While I appreciate the remake, and think it’s actually one of the few great ones, it also proves that nothing beats like the heart of the original.

Mike: First of all, I have to say, the “reboot” was actually a remake. The basic story and plot points were the same, but since it has been almost 40 years since the original was made, everything had to be new. A reboot would have been if they changed everything except for the base core of the plot. That being said, I fully agree on “reboots” being a mostly egotistical display of a frat boys belief that “I could totally make that movie way better than the original.  I’ll just shake the camera a bunch, make everything super dark, and add some of the most generic, talentless, popular music all them kids are listening to today. I’ll make much bank on that shit dog.”  I also include “remakes” in that category. For the most part, the original will ALWAYS and FOREVER be the superior product. The reason being that our MTV-saturated society believes that jarring camera work and almost unidentifiable darkness on-screen makes for a better film experience. That, and the fact that everything movie related nowadays has to have a “bangin soundtrack”. One of the things that made the original so good was the minimalism of it. The lack of a soundtrack enabled the viewer to be able to better imagine being there,  in the flesh experiencing the horror of the events. The lack of music made the audible thud of the hammer hitting the first victim’s head that much more enjoyable, if not extremely cringe-worthy. There is also the fact that our society has been so desensitized to things like the subject matter of the original. In the seventies, rural and sparsely populated areas of the south were similar to what remote areas of the Amazon are to us today. People didn’t know what was out there.  Viewing a film made in the gritty documentary style of the original struck a chord in the general populace of that time that thought  “Hey, what if that did happen? We don’t know if that’s true or not, and that scares me”. There was no Google to research that type of stuff and therefore it made the movie that much more believable and terrifying. I will give credit to the “remake’s” makers for making one of the best scenes in horror films and one that took, an albeit, extremely small step in showing they could actually make a good flick. The scene I speak of was the one where Jessica Biel was attempting to escape and found the car.  Upon attempting to get it started she turns on the headlights only to see the imposing figure of Leatherface standing hunched over with his butcher apron on, back turned to the vehicle. Upon the realization that he has been discovered he turns around. In slo-mo, we witness the horror as she sees him wearing the skinned flesh from the aforementioned Eric Balfour’s face. All while holding his trademark chainsaw. The sheer terror in that one scene almost made me want to believe this reboot to be worthy of holding the name of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, though that thought was quickly banished to the realm of “I can’t believe I just thought that. Am I a republican?” I would also like to say that I do agree that this one was one of the few better remakes/reboots, though I wouldn’t say it’s one of the great ones. I would very much enjoy watching it again in the comfort of my home, in the dark, on basic cable. At least it isn’t Zombies manifestation of a tired and clichéd “I can do better, but im basically gonna just do worse by repeating the same things but in a generic and more disturbing way” that was HALLOWEEN.

Devin:  I agree that TCM 2003 is more of a remake than a reboot.  I was pointing out how the term was coined with this film as a, not so cleaver, marketing device by the producers.  I completely agree that the minimalist nature of the original is what made that film so effective.  When I saw it when I was a kid- before Google- I thought it was real.  This is one of the few remakes/reboots/reinterpretations-whatever, that I feel lives up to the original product.  Hell, it was superior than all of the lame-ass, misguided sequels (don’t even get me started on TCM4).  What made this reboot successful was Mr. Marcus Nispel’s elegant direction.  I know elegant isn’t a word used with a slasher film, but Nispel’s background in art and design was front and center.  If you pause the movie at any scene, it’ll look like a perfect picture.  His use of background light against shadows and washed-out faded colors brought a certain beauty to the film.  Another aspect of the film I found successful was the casting.  These five characters were relatable and likable.  It doesn’t hurt that the actors gave them a bit more personality than what was probably written in the script. What can I say about R. Lee Emery?  The man is a maniacal genius in his portrayal as a backwoods, law breaking, mama’s boy killer.  He was hilarious and intimidating all at once in every scene. While nothing will ever replace the creep factor of the Hitchhiker in the ’74 original, I think Emery came to a close call.

Mike: Okay, so I will be honest- it has been awhile since I saw the remake so I had to go on YouTube and check out some clips. I have to agree with you about the “beauty” of the film.  It is very nice and has a vintage feel to it without being overly low quality. I did, however, have 2 problems.    The lighting of the movie, as in most of the current horror films of today, was just so underdone its hard to see whats going on most of the time. Also the shaky hyperness of the camera work. One of the reasons, in my opinion, the original was so good is everything felt natural and “real” including the light. Watching the remake only made me look at the screen with squinted eyes and the lights turned off. It wasn’t for effect, and to strengthen the overall feel of the movie, but instead, to eliminate any ambient light that further obscured the onscreen action in darkness. That being said I do disagree with the statement you make about pausing it and seeing a perfect picture. Why? Cause like I said previously the whole of the film suffers from the MTV generation treatment of shaky, jarring camera work and quick-moving edits. The film kinda has a split personality to it in the fact that most of it has that hard to see quick-moving camera work but then it has these scenes that are subtle and slow-paced. For instance, the Hitchhiker scene, which they kinda butchered in my opinion, has the terrified girl crying about a bad man before pulling a snub nosed pistol from her……how do I say it…….hoo hoo? Ah fuck it, her pussy, and then saying to the other passengers “you’re all going to die” (which I will say this much and forgive me if im the only one who thinks this, but that is one of the most clichéd and played out horror movie lines of all time) and proceeding to blow her brains out. The whole scene is shot with the aforementioned shaky jarring camera work with quick jumps from the girls face to her hands, to the other passengers faces, to a side view of the girl hunched over, to a modest close up of her thighs as she pulls the gun out, and so on and so on. The problem with this style is in horror movies it is used to make the viewer unsettled but all it does is make you crazy and confused. At least that’s what it does to me. Which brings us to the other side of that multiple personality I spoke of. The scene shifts from that jarring camera work to a close up of Eric Balfour, in the driver’s seat, and Jessica Biel, in the passenger seat, screaming in horror over what they witnessed just now.  The camera begins to pan back slowly, showing the other passengers terrified response and continues to travel in reverse, even THROUGH THE FRESHLY MADE WHOLE IN THE GIRLS SKULL and through the back, blown out window of the vehicle and then lingers on the truck with the screams in the BG. That scene was a beautifully shot scene and could have only been made better without the music they had in it. As a reference to your belief of the “quality” of the cast, the screams and reactions of said cast in that one scene screamed of actors just calling it in, especially Jessica Biel and the fact they all just kinda sit there screaming and staring in shock with looks of wonderment on there faces for a while before even attempting to get away from the bloodshed. Don’t get me wrong here, I did enjoy the casting of this movie as I absolutely love looking at a hot and sweaty Jessica Biel and I kinda like Eric Balfour as an actor but I disagree that they made any impact on the quality of this movie other than just being eye candy that can scream well.

On a side note, R. Lee Ermey played the sheriff/father of the family and i fully agree 100% that he was perfect in that role. He is an awesome actor and always brings an edge to anything he plays. The hitchhiker in the remake was, like I said, a victim of Leatherface that had escaped and not the crazy psychotic brother from the original. That in and of itself, in my honest opinion, completely ruined it for me early on. I do not agree that it lives up to the original in any way. It did have some small positive achievements but they were completely overshadowed by the hyper camera work and over darkened lighting. I enjoyed it, and like I said, I would watch it again.  I just wouldn’t place it anywhere near the original’s pedestal. Watching the remake only made me look at it as what it was, a big budget retread of an already solid movie.

Devin: I didn’t think the movie was shaky.  I thought the direction was of the movie was fairly controlled.  Also, if I had a hoo-hoo, I’d keep my pistol in there too.  TCM 2004 is a good redux.  It, of course, doesn’t compare to the original because… it’s the original.  However, for a reinterpretation of a story I think the Jessica Biel- infested movie is game.  The biggest complaint I’ve heard was that in the original, Leatherface was a scared, socially awkward child-like man.  In the redo, they made him a monster.  Whatever.  Both worked in their elements for me.  I feel the original is stronger in that it’s effective and the redo is strong for elevated the aesthetic of the material but doesn’t come close to the terror of the original.

Mike: Oh, don’t get me wrong, keeping a pistol in a hoo-hoo is a brilliant idea, but what I didn’t mean  that the camera was “shaky” but rather it was quick edits. Flashes of things over and over which is what most of today’s movies are. I understand the principle behind the style and technique, especially for horror movies and action, I just think maybe more slow jumps would be effective. Instead of showing the faces of all actors present in a scene one by one and at three different angles as well as the profile of the vehicle or building, the landscape, a squirrel eating nuts, and some random flashes of color, all within the span of 3 seconds, why not linger on the faces for a bit longer so we can better relate to the emotions present in the scene. Like I said, I understand the idea behind it, it just bothers me that every movie nowadays uses said technique instead of trusting the viewer to be immersed instead of jarring them with quick edits. I love the first one for its subtlety and rawness and I like the remake for the grittiness of the content and flashes of slow-moving brilliance.

Devin: What scares an audience in 1974 is a lot different from what scares an audience in 2003.  You didn’t need a lot of the bells and whistles in 1974 such as the manic editing, shaky camera and pistols in the hoo-hoo to be effective.  The original TCM is, by far, the superior of the two.  Having said that, the 2003 reboot is still powerful in its attempt to show the nightmare of the characters on that fateful day.  I think the remake was better than expected, but unfortunately can’t match the original in your face terror.

TCM 1974:**** out of 4

TCM 2003:***1/2 out of 4

Mike: I agree wholeheartedly that what scares today is not the same as back then. I also believe that we as a society have become desensitized so much that there isn’t that much that will scare us. Instead we have devolved into mindless automatons that only get enjoyment out of frantic action and don’t immerse ourselves in the narrative. If by chance someone today “took a risk” and made something in the same vein as what was made back then I believe people would be exponentially more moved by the end result. This is the reason I think Paranormal Activity did so well and was so effective. It wasnt too frantic and instead relied on subtlety and buildup. Yes the original is the better of the 2 products. Yes the remake was a solid and better than anticipated final product. I just feel like they missed the boat by succumbing to what is “popular” instead of hitting it out of the park and actually taking that risk. If they had, my score would have been much higher.

TCM 1974:**** out of 4

TCM 2003:**1/2 out of 4



  1. This came out better than I had hoped. I had a lotta fun and can’t wait for the next one. I will do my best to not be so long winded next time. lol.


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