Film

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

One by one, the kids wander inside the Terrible Place, and all but one can't escape.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Director: Marcus Nispel
Cast: Jessica Biel, R. Lee Ermey, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, David Dorfman, Eric Balfour, Andrew Bryniarski, Mike Vogel
MPAA rating: R
Studio: New Line
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-10-17
I think we shoot a lot of stuff and then 20 years later, we find out what it meant.
-- Tobe Hooper, The American Nightmare (2000)

The images are indelible: a monster wears a mask made of human faces; an old man sucks blood from a screaming girl's finger; a girl runs in circles around the very house she's trying to escape. And of course, the chainsaw -- roaring, raised high, cutting through limbs, torsos, doors. In 1974, the release of Texas Chainsaw Massacre changed the ways viewers thought about horror. Shot for $140,000 with a manifestly amateurish cast, Tobe Hooper's first feature went on to make over $30 million in the U.S. alone. A favorite of academics -- who see in it critiques of the Vietnam War, patriarchy, frontier myths, and consumer capitalism -- Texas Chainsaw Massacre has inspired frequent homages, descendants, copies, sequels, and remakes.

The latest of the last is, like the first, set in sweltering August 1973. It begins, again, with John Larroquette's voiceover attesting to the film's basis in a "true story" (as well as the first film, as he also narrated that one). Under this solemn narration runs "confirmation" of the truth claim, in the form of a police "crime scene" film (a seeming nod to The Blair Witch Project). A deputy points out the scratch marks and blood stains on the stairwell leading to the dank and drippy basement of the "Hewitt house," offered up in scritchy sepia footage, handheld and too close. All bad.

The dated footage gives way to the moment it apparently documents -- circa-'70s blondish color (the new movie is shot, beautifully, by original TCM cinematographer Daniel Pearl): five kids in a van, headed from Mexico to Dallas by way of Nowhere, Texas. The group consists of straight-ahead thinker Andy (Mike Vogel), his recent lovechild pickup Pepper (Erica Leerhsen), annoying Morgan (Jonathan Tucker), baseball-capped driver Kemper (Eric Balfour), and his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Biel who, with this role, can consider her much-publicized campaign to beat down her goody-girl Seventh Heaven typecasting done.)

As before, the kids are smoking dope, sweating, and making out, ostensibly dooming them, morally, until they meet the Hewitts, that is, Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) and family, who set any standard morality on its ear. This meeting is orchestrated slightly differently this time, as the van kids pick up not Leatherface's whacked out brother, but a delirious escaped victim (Laura German). On seeing that the van is headed back in the direction she came from, the girl promptly shoots herself (granting the film its most sensationally crowd-pleasing image). Unsure how to handle the body and trusting the locals -- including the predictably sadistic Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey) -- the vansters are slowly sucked into one disastrous encounter after another.

The most dreadful of these, of course, involve Leatherface, notoriously produced by inbreeding and born into a family of cannibals (the slaughterhouse reappears, all dark corners and lockers and sides of beef). The ghastly cretin is incapable of speech and wholly relentless in his pursuit of fleshly collectibles. His home -- shot here so that it stands tall and stark, against shadows and clouds -- is the ultimate Terrible Place, adorned with human bones, peepholes, chickens and pigs, and doll parts. This time, the threat of a next generation (and a next after that) looms, in the form of the feral child Jedidiah (David Dorfman): if only he can come to sympathy, instead of self-satiation. If only he can come to see the victims as images of himself.

One by one, the kids wander inside the Terrible Place, and all but one can't escape. Last Girl Erin becomes, like Sally (the excruciating and amazing Marilyn Burns) before her, a mirror image of the brutal, canny fiend she battles throughout. Though she must also endure a couple of overwrought, big-music moments (such as a superfluous mercy killing, only underlining what you already know her, that she is capable of great violence and great courage), Erin is more overtly tough than Sally, even borrowing a moment from TCM2's more tomboyish Stretch (Caroline Williams).

The first feature by music video director Marcus Nispel (George Michael, Lil' Kim [the fabulous "No Time"], Bryan Adams), the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre venerates the first film and its fans (going so far as to include a victim cameo by Harry Knowles), but also, disturbingly and appropriately, accommodates its own moment. This even as it's plainly cashing in on a brand name, crassly putting its $13 million budget (courtesy of Michael Bay producing) onscreen in makeup and digital effects, and blatantly borrowing from any number of more inventive films.

Hooper's movie famously reflected frustrations and fears of the early 1970s, in its low-budget severity and visual chaos. Scholar Robin Wood has argued that Hooper's movie took on "the authentic quality of a nightmare," such that it represented a sense of endless loss and disorder, inevitable political and moral calamity (Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan [1986]). This relation to context made the movie resonate, linked it to other films doing similar work (Wes Craven's Last House on the Left [1972] and even earlier, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead [1969]), and viewers looking to be creeped out gave it legs, for years.

With most all expectations set against it, 2003's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, also speaks to its moment. Yes, it's part of a resurgence of the genre -- gross-out horror inflicted on young, mostly unknown bodies, less snappily ironic than the Scream movies, but no less deft in its dark comedy. Worse, and more difficult to know now, it also points out its own context, the torrents of horrors that take place daily around the world and on television. It is its own nightmare -- recycling the past in a frightful present.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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