Rats, rotting pigs’ heads, hanging flesh, bottled testicles, a fetid slaughterhouse in which dripping water melds into oozing effusions of bodily gunk: The gruesomely unnecessary remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is such a smorgasbord of slimy grunge that to call the movie gross wouldn’t do it justice – it’s downright sticky. The original ”Chainsaw,” made on a shoestring in 1974, is often thought of as the ultimate bash of midnight mayhem, but with the exception of ”Psycho,” it’s the only modern horror movie I can think of that’s as elegant as it is relentless. The director, Tobe Hooper, shot it with a drive-in version of Hitchcock’s cunning, and Leatherface, his industrial phallus of a chain saw buzzing, was such a potent image of homicidal dementia that the movie, without actually serving up much gore, had the quality of a nightmare that unfolded, with living terror, before your eyes.
In the new version, elegance is gone, but the relentlessness has been amped to the max, as if part of a perverse experiment to prove that more could be less. The hitchhiker who gets picked up, early on, by a van full of horny, cruising innocents has been transformed from a leering redneck who slices his hand with a knife into a glassy-eyed rampage survivor who shoots herself in the mouth, coating the back of the van with blood and brains. The director, music-video veteran Marcus Nispel, can’t seem to get enough of that splattery mess, and his obsession with it sums up the difference in tone: This is a remake that turns every kill into an opportunity for overkill.
R. Lee Ermey, as a crazed sheriff, has been given far too many scenes, but the star of the show remains Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), who, in the film’s single moment of morbid originality, faces down willowy Jessica Biel while wearing the face of her boyfriend. For all the arbitrariness of the staging, the garishly murky atmosphere of hyped hysteria, Leatherface can still inspire a primal tremor or two. But just because he’s an expert at getting under people’s skins doesn’t mean that the movie will get under yours.