In this remake — I mean “re-imagining” of the shocking cult horror classic directed by Tobe Hooper, in 1973 five teens on their way to a rock concert find themselves on a deserted road where they pick up a hitchhiker (Laura German) who seems to have been in a traumatic ordeal, when they attempt to comprehend her condition, she commits suicide. The teens attempt to seek help at a large house and wind up entering a horrifying nightmare none of them can escape. Though the film has its flaws it also has a lot of good stuff in it; the filmmakers attempt to stick this so close to the original that comedian John Larroquette who narrated the original, returns to narrate this one; it’s a great tribute. One of the biggest aspects of the original film was the shock of finding that Larroquette (who is a comedian and starred in “Night Court”) narrated such a horrifying film, and the filmmakers don’t skimp out on the fans.
The cast is really good and manages to serve their purpose, Eric Balfour who plays Biel’s boyfriend Kemper, is actually very good and manages to help move the film along, Erica Leerhsen and Mike Vogel as Andy and Pepper serve their purposes as characters, there’s not much emphasis on them, but they stay long enough in the film to leave a mark, Jonathan Tucker as the geeky Morgan is a great character and we actually feel sympathetic when he receives the torture first hand, Jessica Biel is very memorable (and gorgeous!) as Erin and is a stronger character than the previous leading lady in the original film (damn feminists). She walks around in skimpy clothes throughout the film but it doesn’t diminish the quality of her character because she’s someone we can root for, and manages to pull off the emotional scenes to a hilt. Her most effective and heartbreaking scene is when she desperately attempts to save a friend but sees no recourse other than to finish him after he begs her to kill him.
She then proceeds and belts out a horrifying shriek as their blood rains on her body. It’s a great scene and managed to break my heart. There is more emphasis on both the teens and hillbilly family. What tends to make the teens deaths more effective is the fact that we discover things about them after they die. In one scene where leather face is done killing a victim, he discovers an engagement ring in their pockets making it sadder. That’s one of the best qualities of this film is that we care about these characters that are suffering this nightmare they can’t possibly escape. We feel sad when they die, and that’s something horror films are missing these days. What the first film didn’t have is that we never learned about the hillbilly family of inbred freaks, but the story manages to expose more of their members and history. We get to see Leather face without his skin mask and discover why he cuts people’s faces off, we learn about the family’s last name, and discover the different members to the point where we almost feel sorry for them… almost.
R. Lee Ermy who was truly bad-ass in “Full Metal Jacket” chews the scenery with his role as Sheriff Hoyt who taunts and teases the teens who are suffering this nightmare. There was none of that in the original, and it’s a great addition. There’s a lot of great stuff in this film that does manage to draw some gasps and cringes; the suicide scene from the girl is great, and the scene where Leather face runs around chasing the teens with the character Erin’s boyfriend Kemper’s face as a mask is truly shocking, and there’s even a hilarious cameo of movie critic Harry Knowles from “Ain’t-it-cool” news as a severed head on a silver platter. A new word that the studios have invented for a film that was released and then remade is “re-imagining” or “re-vision” (two words I’ve grown to hate); it’s the pretentious synonym for “remake” and “sequel”. For some reason the studios assume that they can’t say remake thinking it would somehow diminish the quality of the film, when in fact they don’t realize that you can call it anything you want, regardless, it’s still a shoddy remake. I wonder why filmmakers can’t remake a terrible horror film into a better one rather than remaking classic films.
When remakes enter a sentence I often find myself muttering: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It’s an adage that applies very well to this retread. There’s no reason to remake the original film which, I wasn’t a fan of, but appreciated its sheer shock value and reputation. Like Gus Van Sant who re-made “Psycho”, there’s no real reason to remake this other than to cash in. Director Marcus Nispel whose previous film credits include music videos for Janet Jackson, show that he can’t make films as well as Tobe Hooper. The mood and atmosphere for this film has completely changed and transformed. Where as the original film was gritty, hazy and resembled a nightmare, this film is dark, murky, dirty, and completely off set with the story. At times it was hard to differentiate the characters because the settings and surroundings are so dark and gloomy, it becomes difficult to understand what you’re witnessing before your eyes. If that’s not bad enough, the director and producers completely water the violence down and diminish the shock value that the original mastered morphing from a snuff film to a average violence (if there’s such a term).
Where we once saw leather face club a guy over the head with a hammer, watching the guy drop like a bag of dirt and spasm violently, now it’s a scene that’s rather scarce and not as shocking. Where we once saw a girl get dropped violently on a meat hook as she screamed bloody murder, it’s replaced by a guy getting slowly hung on a meat hook as he whimpers and groans. Where we once saw the intense, horrifying and mind-numbing family dinner scene with the original leading lady screaming for fifteen minutes non-stop, it’s replaced by leather face chasing the leading lady into a meat factory and stalk her non-stop. It’s regular, average, and nothing original. Also, there’s much more emphases on the hillbilly family which tends to make them more human rather than raving lunatics, including leather face who is revealed to have an extreme skin deformity which is the reason why he removes people’s faces and wears them as a mask; this somehow humanizes his character aside from his previous incarnation in which he was just a raving lunatic who had a fetish for wearing human skin.
He’s not Frankenstein, they’re not misunderstood, I don’t want to know these people, I don’t want to feel sorry for them; I want to fear them, I want to have them in my nightmares. You figure a remake would somehow add some sort of new aspect to the genre, but this poor mediocre remake brings nothing and adds nothing to an already classic film. Like Gus Van Sant remaking “Psyo” Marcus Nispel shows no plausible reason to remake this genre classic, and the film doesn’t put up much of an argument. There’s a lot of aspects injected into the movie that feel tacked on like the plot with the little hillbilly boy who helps the survivors escape, and the meat factory scene. If that’s not the killer, the climax becomes your standard teen slasher finisher seeming so routine and rushed that it left me angry. The original left me with my jaw hanging down, this mediocre remake left me dissatisfied; However, this is a tolerable watch, but check out the original for a real head spinner, this just ends up becoming a pale imitation.