- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Before Freddy, Michael and Jason, there was Leatherface, the killer who propelled 1974’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” into horror movie lore.

Updating that grainy classic makes as much sense as remaking “Psycho” shot for shot, but that never stopped a studio that saw a chance to make a fast buck.

No, it shouldn’t have worked — but tell that to the audiences that are going to spend the last 40 minutes of the new “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” shriveling in their seats.

Director Marcus Nispel, a television commercial and music video veteran making his film debut, displays a delicious sense of both timing and suspense in nearly every shot. He’s aided and abetted by cinematographer Daniel Pearl, who performed the same duty on the 1974 original and finds new ways here to evoke a claustrophobic sense of doom.

The film begins in mock documentary style, the sanctimonious narration provided by the same actor who set up the original, John Larroquette.

Yes, that John Larroquette.

Four attractive travelers and a hitchhiker stumble into a macabre Texas family led by a man-giant who wears the skins of his prey. The group turns to the local sheriff (R. Lee Ermey, more vicious here than in “Full Metal Jacket”) for help, only to learn of his family ties.

The new “Massacre” is too literal-minded in its depiction of every last bloody detail. The low-budget original suggested far more than it showed, one of its great strengths.

The new film boasts an engaging cast, including Jessica Biel (“7th Heaven”). Managing to look voluptuous while fleeing and, later, battling Leatherface mano a mano, Miss Biel could be Hollywood’s next “scream queen.”

Audience skepticism about any attempt to update the one-of-a-kind original is understandable — but look past those preconceptions. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” can stand beside 1982’s “The Thing” as the rare horror remake that can stand on its own.

***

WHAT: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”

RATING: R (Frequent nudity, excessive gore, drug use, violent murder images and strong language)

CREDITS: Directed by Marcus Nispel. Screenplay by Scott Kosar, based on a screenplay by Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper. Produced by Michael Bay and Mike Fleiss. Cinematography by Daniel Pearl.

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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