Sunday, February 15, 2009

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2009: Friday The 13th

Director Marcus Nispel, producer Michael Bay, director of photography Daniel Pearl, and composer Steve Jablonsky, the team behind the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake...

...have reassembled for the latest (and third) installment in Platinum Dunes' The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.

For reasons unknown, the words "chainsaw" and "massacre" have been eliminated from the title of this one. It's simply called

How this differs marginally from the previous entries is that the villain's name is "Jason" (a name that does ring a bell)...

and the setting is a place called "Camp Crystal Lake". That also rings a bell with me, though it looked unfamiliar.

After two gory prologues...

a new bunch of victims, who are the direct clones of the victims from the Texas remake (see below), are introduced.

They're on the way to spend a weekend at the house of a an arrogant, mean-spirited blond guy who looks a lot like Michael Bay when he was younger.

As producer, Bay may have signed off on this guy's good looks, but I can't fathom why he'd sign off on the guy's personality; what if people starting confusing him? I'm going to put it down to Mr. Bay being a good sport. He's been busy making Transfromers 2 - Rise of the Machines, anyway, so I don't imagine he's had much time to micromanage how his likeness is being represented out there in filmland.

Anyway, these folks meet a non-blond guy who's looking for his sister; she was one of the girls we saw in the gory prologue. The Bay look-alike takes an immediate dislike to this guy because his girlfriend shows him some kindness.

Eventually, the group arrives at the Bay lookalike's vacation house, paralleling the arrival of the Marilyn Burns-led group at the house her relative owned in the first and greatest Texas Chainsaw ('74). The main differences between the houses are the furnishings -- one used human bones, the other used expensive hardwoods and mountains of cash.

As in the original Texas and the first remake (Nispel's), the groups split off. One couple goes searching for the old holiday camp, mirroring Kirk and Pam's search for fuel in the original. The remains of the group decide to hang around the house, just as Sally and Franklin opted to stay behind in the van while everybody else was being readied for slaughter.

In the original Texas, Kirk and Pam discover an old generator chugging and popping away in a scary old shed, raising their hopes of finding fuel. Well, in this Texas installment, curiously titled Friday the 13th, there is also a generator that chugs and pops and is surrounded by the same type of production design -- abandoned machinery, some canoes, assorted bric-a-brac, and the obligatory, dusty dolls.

As expected, you get clobbered for being a sticky beak in these movies, so when the first clobbering comes, you're not terribly surprised. If this were a Platinum Dunes remake of Merchant-Ivory's Heat and Dust, you would be.

The villain of this Chainsaw entry does not, in fact, carry a chainsaw. He wears a hockey mask, but he doesn't play hockey, either. What he does and does well, however, is protect his precious piece of turf. He's more territorial than a haunted house of cats. Everybody who stumbles onto his turf, which includes a large lake, gets chopped and viciously gored. Even a topless water skier is not safe from this nutter's passive/aggressive territorialism. In a nifty sequence, the driver of the boat pulling the skier is shot through the head with an arrow. The skier is then struck by the out of control boat. As she swims to shore to get a spot of first aid, our villain appears.

As you can see, he's not carrying a first aid kid.

When said skier manages to swim to a relatively safe haven, she gets skewered through the head instead of much-needed medical assistance.

Films like this teach us not to expect favors from anybody.

Although the villain of this Chainsaw re-do doesn't have a chainsaw collection, he does reside in the same, familiar, subterranean den that Leatherface favored in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 ('86), which was cleverly hidden beneath an old theme park.

In this outing, it's hidden beneath an old Summer camp.

When this den of torture and captivity was introduced, my vague memories of another place called Camp Crystal Lake totally faded because I knew instinctively that there were no underground chambers there. That place barely passed the building codes for a bare-bones Summer camp, let alone an underground labyrinth!

Leatherfaces old and new have always been drawn to vile, subterranean refuges that remind them of their original home, an old house that was littered with trash and bones, body parts, skulls, and assorted balls and chains. It even had a swing outside that cameras could dolly under.

Platinum Dunes, the company director Michael Bay formed to produce remakes of iconic horror pics such as The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Friday the 13th, recently announced that there would be no more Chainsaw pics after the first two.

They should have been more precise and said: " more Chainsaw pics with the Chainsaw branding."

Tobe Hooper's '73 original is one of my favorite horror pics of all time.

I am also a fan of Marcus Nispel's remake, and enjoyed it because it's a different beast altogether.

Although it outstays its welcome by a half hour and discards the entire dinner table scene, it was unrepentantly brutal and gaudy, and I appreciated its embrace of the grotesque and the addition of R. Lee Ermey's perverted Sheriff Hoyt character.

The wheelchair-ridden, legless Old Monty, played with gleeful deviance by Terrence Evans, really rocked my boat, too.

Deep down, I celebrated a Hollywood film that was so damn filthy.

Friday The 13th is not as dark as Nispel's first Texas attempt...

... and Daniel Pearl's photography is not quite as stylized. Still, the night exteriors are gorgeously lit (think the beautiful night photography of Joe Giannone's Madman, but with more money)...

...and the stalking sequences are handsomely staged.

One kill involving ax fodder suspended in a sack above a roaring fire felt like an echo of a very similar kill in Jack Ketchum's monumental Off Season (Ballantine Books, 80; Leisure Books, 2006).

The sexual deviance is pulled back here to jokes involving drinking female urine and a silly scene in which one of the ax fodders licks the paper vagina of a centerfold.

Unlike the recent My Bloody Valentine remake, the pacing is swift and the performances are perfectly adequate.

No explanation is offered as to the fate of the person who beheaded Jason's mother, but one can assume that Jason made his feelings known to her.

Replicating the stunning epilog of the original Friday The 13th was never going to be easy. Here, Nispel hardly even tries. Jason's leap from the lake is positively pathetic.

Just prior to this, however, we get a little horror lyricism as the killer's hockey mask floats to the bottom of the lake.

Clearly, the team behind Friday The 13th love their Texas Chainsaw Massacre a bit too much.

Don't we all?


  1. Do you think movie makers repeat the same movie over and over because they think "Well, it worked last time, why mess with it?" Or do you think it comes from some sort of fundamental lack of interest in the source material?

    Recently the TV show 'Psych' had a Friday the 13 tribute episode that was a better remake. I have to think it comes from just liking the original enough to do it justice.

  2. In the case of the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake, I'd say the makers found little inspiration in the original and more inspiration in TEXAS CHAINSAW's traditional elements.

    Lack of interest in the source and plenty of interest in the paycheck contributes to less than sincere remakes, too.

    Ultimately, a remake is unoriginal by definition.

  3. hahahahaha ~ I loved your spin on this review, and you are correct in a whole lot of ways! :-)

  4. I raise my hand and admit I did enjoy this film too much. But then again, this is my favorite manifestation of Jason so what's the harm?

  5. I don't like the idea of remaking the movies I love, but am always drawn to them anyway (with the exception of Halloween - I still haven't seen that one). I think most fans of the orginals don't want the remakes but can't stay away once they are made, which is why they do so well.

    I didn't realize all the similarities between the Texas remake and the Friday one (which, in my opinion, could have easily been a sequel given the lack of dedication to the orginal movie) until you wrote about them. I think at the time of watching the Friday remake I was wondering why I had spent twenty bucks on a ticket and snacks when I should have waited a few months for video.

    I wish they would start coming up with some new scary slasher villians.

  6. The list of needless remakes is now vast. I have to take it all with a grain of salt--after all, movies are just another business and I suppose if they are entertaining the product has done its job. On the other hand, I was pretty disappointed that news of the planned Suspiria remake was shitcanned turned out to be false. I know I don't have to go and see the damn thing but it's disheartening nonetheless.

    I watched this Friday remake last night and it wasn't horrible. It certainly is as formulaic as you describe. Having a budget that was probably bigger than most of the original Paramount series combined didn't make it any more fun or charming. Still, it was an okay popcorn horror flick and delivered everything that the Friday branding inherently promises, namely tits and grue.