Texas Chainsaw Massacre
© 2003 New Line Cinema.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003): Expectation vs. Reality

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is not only a competent remake, but definitely more complex than some people realize. In fact, even if you’re not a huge fan of Marcus Nispel’s version, you may still wish to give it another chance. What makes it decent? Aside from the standard gore, there are some really interesting contrasts between the character’s expectations versus reality. While this is pretty common in horror, it seems that aspect really dominates here. In fact, let’s not simply focus on the plot points here but some underlying themes.

The Beginning of the Unraveling

The film starts out with a predictable group of young adults (Jessica Biel as Erin, Jonathan Tucker as Morgan, Erica Leerhsen as Pepper, Mike Vogel as Andy and Eric Balfour as Kemper) heading to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. At first, Lynyrd Skynyrd seems almost coincidental here, as just a nod to the time period. However, if you think about it, that band represents almost an idealized version of the South. They are commercially successful, have a neat and clean sound, and they have a rather calculated approach to the images and messages they give out. They could almost go hand-in-hand with ideals like Southern hospitality and family tradition.

This is of course instantly contradicted by the ensuing scenes, which are kicked off by a hitchhiker (Lauren German) who ultimately sours their entire trip. Gone is the concert, and very soon they also ditch the marijuana they had on board. In fact, the very idea of a road trip pretty much instantly gets demolished by demoralization. Then along comes Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey) who totally screws them up. Police are supposed to represent law, order, possibly even safety, right? Well, it’s definitely not always that way, either in this film or in reality.

The Crazy Sheriff

R. Lee Ermey
R. Lee Ermey and Jonathan Tucker in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003).
© 2003 New Line Cinema.

Sheriff Hoyt is never a “Southern gentleman.” Really, he doesn’t even seem like an authentic Sheriff. Nevertheless, he definitely conveys localized power, driving fear pretty deeply (and quickly) into the hearts of our young travelers. In fact, by the time Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) steps into the frame, it almost seems unnecessary, as the Sheriff is scary enough. In any case, Leatherface quickly does away with any uplifting expectations our characters had of their trip, which devolves into the standard “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” torture session. There is an interesting question, though: What if the Sheriff had been the main villain? It could have even been a better movie that way, even if not a “Texas Chainsaw” venture.

If you look into the backstory (or mythology) of the character, you’ll learn that he gained cannibalistic drives as a POW of the Korean War, and was one of the main reasons for his foster family’s darkness. In other words, the character represents the darkest side of the American experience — or the human experience. He has an instant, profound dislike of the outsiders and makes little effort to conceal his darkest impulses from them. It definitely ratchets up the tension, as well as the twisted humor.

Families and Hard Times: Expectation vs. Reality

While this “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” only somewhat introduces the Hewitt family, there’s a creepy sense that they could be normal, and perhaps even were, further down the line. However, something along the way sent them far off the rails. Much like the original Sawyer “Chainsaw” family, it’s implied that, in a roundabout way, they’re drastic results of people who underwent hard times. While it may sound ridiculous at first, there can be truth to this. As a conventional example, the survivors in the film “Alive” end up resorting to cannibalism, simply to survive their plane crash. There’s also the famous legend of the Donner party, American pioneers who resorted to cannibalism to survive when stranded snowbound in the Sierra Nevada. Also, the UK tabloid The Sun has an article titled “Harrowing pics show starving Russians selling human body parts as MEAT during 1920s famine as desperate families become cannibals to survive.”

So, actually, such horrors can be very, very real (and you may wish to avoid looking at the Russian photos in question, especially when below them there are awkward photos of celebrities). This also partly explains the Sheriff’s bitterness, and also the anger of the original TCM family. These are obviously people have been through it (so to speak), have faced horrifying realities, don’t trust outsiders and in fact love the idea of victimizing people who encroach on their territory. Again, there are parallels between this fictionalized version and hatred of outsiders in the real world. Basically, you can pick a limitless number of examples of actual groups who hate and fear others, and who are willing to perpetuate a cycle of violence, sadism and petty hostilities.

What are your thoughts on “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake, and the franchise in general? Did we miss any key themes? Let us know in the comments!

About Wade Wainio

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