20 years later, it’s time to admit 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a great horror movie remake

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003
(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Whether it’s Halloween, Saw, or A Nightmare on Elm Street, horror fans remain very protective of their favorite franchises. And rightly so, but this means any new additions have a lot to prove and therefore usually fall flat way before their release due to high expectations from audiences. In this case, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TTCM) franchise is no different.

The Texas Chainsaw series has to be one of the weaker franchises in the genre, with nine movies in total that all contradict one another in terms of the timeline and Leatherface’s origins. But there is one remake, a diamond in the rough, if you will, that seems to fall through the gaps. Despite receiving harsh criticism from fans and critics alike at the time of its release, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 still remains one of the best horror remakes ever made. 

Now, we know that is a big statement, but as its 20th anniversary passes we look back at how the early '00s reimagining succeeded in being a great remake, undeserving of all the bad press and two-star reviews. 

 Changing up the storyline

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Released in 1974, Tobe Hooper’s original low-budget, gory, and depraved The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was truly shocking for its time, earning a massive cult following and making it hard for any unwitting predecessor to measure up. 

But, in 2003, director Marcus Nispel managed to deliver an even darker reboot. Similar to the original, the story follows Erin (Jessica Biel), her boyfriend, and three others as they make their way through rural Texas. En route, they encounter a Leatherface escapee who ultimately leads them to a violent and cannibalistic family. One by one, the teens are picked off by the chainsaw-wielding maniac we have all come to know very well. Differing from the original, the 2003 version changes not only Leatherface’s family name but the family members themselves, introducing villainous female characters and allies. 

Despite having Hooper himself on the writing team, Nispel’s Massacre changed up the storyline, which, at the time, angered a lot of die-hard TTCM fans. But hindsight is 2020, as now we can see that this was the right thing to do. One thing we know for sure in horror is if it’s not broken, don't bother fixing it, so why would Nispel even attempt to completely remake Hooper’s more or less perfect original? In the '70s flick, Hooper chose to allude to the violence and left a lot of the gore to the imagination – such as the death of Sally’s friend Pam, for example. In the 2003 version, the writers chose to throw everything to the wall, creating the most violent and vicious Leatherface yet. 

 The perfect example of backwoods horror

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

It’s not just the characters or the level of gore that were explored further. Nispel’s remake also took a closer look at TTCM’s very own subgenre, 'backwoods horror'. Kicking off in the '70s with movies such as Deliverance, the original TTCM, and The Hills Have Eyes, backwoods horror focuses on the socio-political divide between urban and rural ways of living, often depicting the farm-folk as barbaric, violent, and unruly who view the city dwellers as ignorant, privileged, and ungrateful – easy pickings. The theme kicked back up again in the early '00s with Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, Wrong Turn, and, of course, the TCM remake. 

Nispel’s reimagining is the perfect example of backwoods horror and embodies everything we love about the subgenre, from the isolated rustic family who believe they are protecting themselves by doing what they deem as right, to the young, naive city slickers who are blamed for the way society treats those who live in underprivileged areas. This exploration of sociological issues makes the family’s intentions, however immoral and disgraceful they are, a tiny bit more understandable. 

Unlike the original (sorry, not sorry), the 2003 entry explores Leatherface’s past on a deeper level – we hear from his family that he has been tormented his whole life because of a skin disease that left his face disfigured and therefore felt that no one other than his flesh and blood will ever care about him. In this respect, we can see another side to the crazed cannibalistic family that we didn't before.  

 Ahead of its time 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

In a lot of ways, TTCM was the remake that walked so that all of the others could run. Back in the early '00s, 'remake' sounded like a dirty word, but with the birth of Platinum Dunes film and television production company, which went on to release a number of horror reimaginings starting with TTCM 2003, remakes were made trendy. Fast forward to 2023 and cinemas worldwide are being flooded with retellings and sequels from The Exorcist: Believer to the upcoming Crow remake. Although critics slated TTCM 2003 when it came out, it is often credited alongside Platinum Dunes with kick-starting the remake craze in horror films for most of the '00s, meaning its bad reception could be put down to franchise fans holding a little bit too tightly onto the original.

And it’s not only the reimagination factor that makes this movie way ahead of its time. Taking traditional backwoods horror and bringing it into the 21st Century with an independent and liberated final girl (with an iconic outfit, of course) such as Biel’s Erin is a pattern we see to this day with Mia Goth’s Maxine in X. Of course, you could argue that Sally Hardesty is the original final girl, but Erin really packed a punch in this movie from the way she spoke, stood up to those around her, and took it upon herself to try to save others – we just know the TikTok girlies today would go wild for her. With the success of Ti West’s X, we can only imagine the numbers TTCM 2003 would pull in if it were released today. 

All in all, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 is a decent piece of horror that had some very big boots to fill in terms of its family franchise. Let's face it, the movie was wrongly slashed by critics at its release, and due to its popularity today, shown by its 4-and-a-half-star rating on Amazon Prime, it was way ahead of its time and if it was released today it would be a lot better received. With a sparkling Y2K cast, a touch of reinvention, and an exploration of backwoods horror, we can safely say that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 is one of, if not the best, Horror movie remakes of all time. And with that, I rest my case. 

Hungry for more horror franchise fun? Check out our list of the 15 best horror movie sequels that will have you screaming this Halloween.

Editorial Associate, GamesRadar+

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering TV and film for SFX and Total Film online. I have a Bachelors Degree in Media Production and Journalism and a Masters in Fashion Journalism from UAL. In the past I have written for local UK and US newspaper outlets such as the Portland Tribune and York Mix and worked in communications, before focusing on film and entertainment writing. I am a HUGE horror fan and in 2022 I created my very own single issue feminist horror magazine.