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Movie Review

Jessica Biel (of 7th Heaven fame) thinks you'll "really care" about her character in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. She thinks her movie exudes depth ("There's a lot more to it than running around killing people. There really is"). She thinks you'll want to watch it more than once ("You're going to be grossed out, terrified, really disturbed, and I think you're going to want to see it again").

I don't think I've ever disagreed with anyone more than I do with Miss Jessica Biel.

Massacre lives up to its name in almost every way: its brutal story, its artistic deficiency, and its chilling psychological effect. In it, five young adults slip into a nightmarish reality when they pick up a hitchhiker on a lonely stretch of Texas road. The hitchhiker blows her brains out in their back seat, setting off a series of events that leaves all but one traveler dead. But they don't just die, they get butchered.

The killer is known only as "Leatherface," a moniker that references the masks (made of human skin) he wears to cover his deformities. His weapon of choice is, of course, a chain saw, which he brandishes with nimble glee. The results are gruesomely predictable. The sheer graphic intensity with which they are depicted is largely unexpected—even considering today's be-as-gross-as-you-can moviemaking atmosphere.

This story—inspired by real-life events—first appeared on theater screens in 1974. Referring to this manifestation which is not exactly a remake or a sequel, Biel gloats, "People will love it, hate it, and totally compare and contrast the two. But ours is more brutal." Now there's something I can agree with.

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Positive Elements

Erin urges her friends to stop and help an obviously traumatized girl walking beside the road. They do so. (Their reward is spiraling madness, torture and death.) When things start to head south, there's some argument about whether they're going to run for their lives or search for one of their missing pals, but in the end, they decide not to leave him behind. Erin risks her life to rescue a young child from the clutches of Leatherface's clan. Other selfless acts are lost as moviegoers quickly realize the stupidity of characters confronting whirling chain saw blades with their bare hands.

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

A couple makes out in the back of the van. Their friends watch, making jokes about them getting completely naked (there are also jokes about them getting STDs). Erin and another girl wear revealing tops (bare midriffs; cleavage). And the camera makes a point of concentrating on Erin's wet tank top during some of her more terrifying encounters with Leatherface. An old man grabs her bottom. The sheriff talks about enjoying necrophilic groping and taunts the youths with accusations that they raped the dead hitchhiker.

Violent Content

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote, "The new version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a contemptible film: vile, ugly and brutal. There is not a shred of a reason to see it. Those who defend it will have to dance through mental hoops of their own devising." Many centuries earlier, King David wrote in Psalm 11:5, "The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates." One certainly has to love violence to defend or enjoy The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

A suicide is the movie's first violent act, and I don't think it could have been handled more graphically (brain matter, bone and gore rains down as the camera follows the bullet through the girl's head). From there, things get progressively worse. The camera never blinks as people are cut into kindling with a chain saw. They're lifted up and rammed down on meat hooks, then left to futilely struggle to get off. They're skinned. They're run over. They're bludgeoned with blunt objects and sliced with sharp ones. Erin kills one of her friends (who is dangling from a meat hook) to end his torture. The sheriff sadistically forces one man to simulate the girl's suicide. Decaying body parts lie strewn around a wet basement lair. Leatherface is seen stitching skin together on an ancient sewing machine.

Crude or Profane Language

Close to 60 f- and s-words. God's name is combined with a profanity nearly 20 times. Jesus' name is abused. There is an obscene gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Before encountering Leatherface, Erin and her pals are driving back from Mexico where they purchased two pounds of marijuana. Her boyfriend seems intent on selling it upon arriving home. He and others in the group use it to get high along the way (even the driver tokes). The sheriff downs hard liquor while driving his squad car. He spits chewing tobacco. Erin is drugged with an unspecified concoction (beer is used to revive her).

Other Negative Elements

The terror the young people feel throughout their ordeal leads to frequent vomiting. A baby is kidnapped. Leatherface is shown to have come from a long line of deformed, inbred people who all lust after murder and destruction. In fact, his family functions as a human funnel, directing the unsuspecting toward their cruel demise.

Conclusion

The Motion Picture Association of America is officially asleep at the wheel. One week ago, I endured Kill Bill: Vol. 1, a stylized, artsy blood bath basking in decidedly unwarranted critical acclaim. Today it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a bleak, industrial strength blood bath inexplicably enjoying phenomenal box office buzz (it came in at number 1, pulling in nearly $30 million opening weekend). These two films easily deserved NC-17 ratings, so as to keep them out of mainstream theaters and out of the hands (minds) of teens and children. But the MPAA callously slapped both with an R. Did anyone on the ratings board actually see them?

Attentive entertainment analysts learn quickly not to waste superlative language on middle-of-the-road content. This isn't that. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre deserves every negative adjective I can conjure. It is a sadistic pornography of violence gruesome beyond proper description. It celebrates death. It glorifies brutality. It revels in insanity. It wraps itself in sin. It's squalid, wretched, debased, debauched, depraved, abhorrent, contemptible, loathsome, repulsive, revolting and repugnant.

It's hard for me to imagine witnessing anything worse than what's booted around the screen during Massacre's seemingly interminable 100 minutes. Where can movies possibly go from here in their insatiable quest for unqualified degradation? I'm sure I'll find out when the sequel arrives.

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