We are finally getting into the diverging timelines and reboots of this franchise with the 2003 re-imagining of the original film. It’s interesting to note that this is actually the first time that a major horror franchise would get a full reboot. While there had been modern updatings of old films, this was the first time they took an established franchise and just scrubbed it clean. Obviously, it would not be the last as this really seemed to open the floodgates on the modern horror reboot frenzy. That said, I think this one managed to get a lot of things right and feel different while still keeping nods to the original.
Our story takes place in 1973, with a van full of sweaty teens on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Dallas. They find a girl wandering along the side of the road and pick up the damsel in distress. Unlike, the original, this isn’t a member of the murder family but an escaped victim. When she sees they are headed in the direction she just came from she freaks out and pulls a gun out of her hammer-space crotch and kills herself rather than go back. Freaked out and with a dead body in their van, the group finds a roadside gas station/BBQ/general store and tries to phone for help. I will give you one guess on whether or not that help arrives.
One of the biggest departures from the original movies that you get here is that the tone is much different. Gone is the dark humor and absurdity that permeated the previous films and it is replaced by a much meaner, unrelenting tone. The family, now renamed once again from Sawyers to Slaughters and now the Hewitts, has much less goofy business with each other and instead all seem entirely vicious. Those couple characters that aren’t mean spirited are equally creepy in their own way. I do miss the almost childlike portrayal of Leatherface, though. Now he seems to move and attack more like a Jason Voorhees murder machine rather than the troubled man-child he usually is. Oh, he also gets a new name to be thrown on the pile. Leatherface, Bubba, Junior, Leather, and now Thomas.
I can’t complain about the acting for this too much, though, as our main, non-Leatherface antagonist is Sherriff Hoyt played to perfection by R. Lee Ermy. He is the one that gets closest to hitting that level of dark humor from the originals but manages to keep things extremely tense. Jessica Biel plays final girl Erin in this and is probably the weakest point but still entirely fine. It helps that while she does her multiple Chainsaw Chase scenes, the whole thing looks gorgeous. There is some spectacular shots of the surrounding woods and the Hewitt house itself looks super imposing and unique. Another mark in this movie’s favor is that they are the first to skip out on the heretofore obligatory dinner scene. Instead we actually see a for real slaughterhouse, which is nice since this series continually mentions them.
In all, I definitely enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. I know that there are those that prefer the grimy, guerilla filmmaking feel of the original and it’s humorous interludes. Personally, however, I think the shift to a more serious horror feeling is to the franchise’s benefit.
Score: 3.5 out of 5