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FILM ARTICLE & ESSAY
Past and Present
Comparing the Original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre classic and its 2003 Remake
by Darisa Diaz Past and Present Image

Remember way back when, when I was terrified of seeing the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre because I’d barely survived the remake? Michael Sheridan, Tail Slate’s very own creator, wasn’t going to let me off that easy. He insisted I watch both films, then compare and contrast and oh, yea, live to tell the tale.

Well, I finally got the balls (not literally) to see the original. I swear, though I canít remember who it was, that someone told me 1974ís Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a classic. When I think of classics, I think of Psycho or Hitchcockís The Birds. These are movies that, though made back in the day (in other words before I was born), still manage to scare the living bejeezus out of me.

Go ahead, correct me if Iím wrong, but after watching the 1974 film, I canít help but wonder if it was a comedy. Come on, you never know? Maybe everyone was really supposed to laugh it off. Please donít tell me anyone was ever scared of this film! I certainly wasnít and I canít make it through Wes Cravenís A Nightmare on Elm Street without having a nightmare of my own.

Unlike the fast-paced remake, the original tends to meander geared to an audience that wasnít yet battling the throes of ADD. As the original meandered, I found my attention waning. The original spends a good part of the film focusing on the van ride. The riders ó who we never learn much about ó make pit stops that donít have anything to do with the story at hand. In other words, it wanders aimlessly for too long.

I prepped myself for the hitchhiker scene in the original with some deep breathing. The female hitchhiker in the remake scared me so much it had me shaking throughout the entire film. The 1974 male hitchhiker mostly disgusted me. Weíre supposed to be horrified by his unseemliness and general weirdness. He doesnít blow his brains out of the back of the van (unfortunately) because as it turns out, heís really in on everything. This hitchhiker returns at the end to help his brothers torture this versionís sunny-haired heroine.

Marilyn BurnsUsing the word heroine to describe Sally in the original is a stretch. Unlike 2003ís Erin, Sally (Marilyn Burns) has not discovered womenís lib and the ability to whip out a can of whoop ass. Not nearly as physically fit as Jessica Bielís Erin in the film, Marilyn Burns spends a good part of the movie stumbling and annoying the hell out of me. Although sheís got the decidedly more powerful set of lungs, she runs likeÖ I donít want to say ďa girlĒ because that doesnít even cover it. She flails her arms as if sheís trying to escape a giant arachnidís cobweb for the duration of the entire movie!

Jessica BielOh, by the way, I canít help but discuss the wardrobe. So many comments have been made about Jessica Bielís tiny, tummy bearing tank in the remake. Iím not a big fan of Jessica Biel or her abs. I was glad when she disappeared from 7th Heaven and I havenít watched her career closely, nor have I cared to. In the remake, she might as well be wearing a turtleneck sweater compared to the girlies in the original.

No, I did not need close-ups of short shorts and backless tops or the puckered nips of a braless Sally.

All in all, as a heroine, Sally is embarrassing. We donít sympathize with her or any of the characters because the film isnít layered enough to allow for us to get to know them. In the remake, weíre devastated when Leatherface discovers a diamond ring on the body of Erinís boyfriend. Erin never quite gets the proposal she was hoping to land. Sally and her band of hippies are just bland, increasingly infuriating crybabies. Franklin, Sallyís wheelchair-bound brother, is equal parts mentally unsound and childish. I voted him as the first to be killed off but alas, I didnít get my wish.

Leatherfaceís entrance in the remake is carefully staged. Before he enters on the scene, the cast of characters meet the crazy hitchhiker, the even crazier sheriff and the landscape gets seedier, grittier and still more terrifying. In the original, thereís none of this careful pacing. When Leatherface finally shows up, it seems random and mostly, hilarious. His first victim flails (whatís with all the flailing?) once or twice and then weíre rid of them both.

Leatherface circa 1974 isnít very scary. Heís ungainly and Iím pretty sure this baby-voiced fiend prefers to dance with his chainsaw more than he likes to kill anyone with it. In both films, heís really just the muscle. Someoneís always pulling the strings. In the original, itís a trio of trippy brothers and in the 2003 version itís an even more warped town.

Now, the trippy brothers are actually a bit scarier than Leatherface but Iíd love to get them into a room with the remakeís sheriff. One of the brothers swats Sally with a (oooh, frightening) broom at one point in the film. I donít think theyíd get away with that with the remakeís sheriff. I think theyíd pee in their pants first.

Possibly the scariest thing in the original is Grandpa. Part mass murderer, part vampire, old-as-death Grandpa dallies in being an immobile totem pole to the three brothers who like to suck Sallyís blood for dinner. What theÖ! At the very least, Grandpa made me wrinkle my nose.

Alright, maybe he wasnít so scary after all. He was sort of a laugh riot. I think I respected him most of all because he didnít have to do any of that flailing or running.

Ah, the running. The running is a very important part of any chase scene. The chase scenes in the original are downright side-splitting. The victim is always about a foot ahead of the killer making you wonder how the heck the killer never catches up. Maybe none of them had New York Sports Club memberships? Definitely something they should look into.

Oh, the disappointment, the utter boredom.

Leatherface Original1974ís campy Texas Chainsaw Massacre made me sympathize with Leatherface when it should have been forcing me to experience some spine tingling chills. Whatís a girl to do? Well, for one, Iím going to reconsider trash talking the remakes of good ole classics before taking a look at both sides of the story. Iíd expect that youíll do the same.

With the proliferation of remakes these days, we took a look at how one recent remake ó Texas Chainsaw Massace ó compared directly to its predecessor. And according to our writer, wonders if the original was actually a horror, or a comedy.

Darisa Diaz is a native New Yorker with an obsession for film who will watch anything (bad or good) for the sheer thrill of being entertained. She currently works as a freelancer writer and juggles various "admin" jobs to pay the bills. She has also labored long hours at CosmoGIRL! and Seventeen magazine.

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