Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, The

Reviewed By William Goss
Posted 10/06/06 18:52:17

"Leatherface, The Dull Blade"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

The scariest thing about 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning' is just how boring it manages to be, not simply as a generic horror flick, but as the prequel to the remake of a genre landmark. However, it does next to nothing that wasn’t already accomplished to better effect in its 2003 predecessor, let alone that film’s own source. Just because this may the first time audiences have seen a “prehash” like this doesn’t mean that they still haven’t seen it all before.

1969: A rural Texas slaughterhouse shuts down and misunderstood brute Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) doesn’t take too kindly to a pink slip. Later that day, the local law enforcement officer doesn’t take too kindly to a shotgun shell, and Mr. Hewitt decides to become Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey) in his stead. Having developed a taste for cannibalism as a Korean POW, Hoyt then ensures his family that they will never starve, and sure enough, who gets waylaid but four young adults: a surefire soldier heading back for another tour (Matthew Bomer) and his girlfriend (Jordana Brewster), and the soldier’s brother (Taylor Handley), intent on absconding to Mexico with his girlfriend (Diora Baird) in an effort to dodge the draft.

Automobile + Biker + Cow = Dinnertime for the Hewitt clan.

The first 25 minutes consists of plenty of war whining and those pesky loud noises intended to substitute for actual scares, while the next 35 minutes have our pending corpses encountering obese hillbillies, elderly urination, and other forms of torture. No self-respecting slasher should be more bore than gore, but sure enough, it is only an hour into the barely-ninety-minute film, soon after the obligatory “RUN, BITCH!” moment, that director Jonathan Liebesman (ugh, Darkness Falls) and writer Sheldon Turner (um, The Longest Yard) see fit to start knocking off the leads, and the resulting momentum gathers from a combination of greater gore and waning patience.

For those so picky, the gooey goodness isn’t all that impressive. Most assaults make for plenty of flailing, yelling, and squirting, all to distract viewers from that fact that the violence skimps on money shots until the climactic confrontations. Tobe Hooper did a lot with a little violence back in 1974, but if you’re going to go with a lot of violence, go all the way, because depravity is in no short supply these days. (Oh, and for future reference: redneck cannibals humming lullabies is more hokey and irritating any more than it ever was creepy. Knock it off.) The gore is lackluster, the pacing languid, and the whole shebang is utterly devoid of a single scene demonstrating effective atmosphere or suspense (then again, we pretty much know who lives and dies before buying a ticket, so why bother?).

The most arguable asset to this film, if anything, is its consistency to its 2003 predecessor, even if only halfheartedly maintained and occasionally wanting. After all, there is no real need – and just about no other way – to tell a recycled story besides the way it always has been. Liebesman apes TCM ’03 helmer Marcus Nispel enough to maintain his slickly dirty direction, although no small thanks is owed to cinematographer Lukas Ettlin (he previously collaborated with Liebesman on straight-to-video semi-sequel Rings, which similarly resembled Gore Verbinski’s preceding work on The Ring; sure enough, Ettlin did not partake in Liebesman’s painful Darkness Falls, so perhaps the reins have been in the wrong hands…).

[Nitpick: the ’03 remake insisted on drastically backlighting the Hewitt abode in every nightly exterior shot to distracting effect. Either Liebesman didn’t notice, couldn’t afford it, or felt that their spotlight had yet to be installed by this point in the TCM timeline. At least he got something right.]

The victims all manage to be unreasonably photogenic nobodies, even when covered in dirt, sweat, and blood, with Brewster being quite possibly the best-looking bad actress in the industry, proving bland even for a scream queen (it doesn’t help that her one defiant dinner table bit is about as feeble as she is). Bryniarski returns to his role as the main maniac with all the subtlety and tact that one expected from a chainsaw-wielding hulk who wears other people’s faces, and it ultimately becomes Ermey’s show as the foul-mouthed father who gets as much time as, if not more than, his boy does. Only half of his crude tirades actually come across as threatening or amusing, but it sure is nice to see him chewing out soldiers again. The Full Metal Jacket redux scenes fare better than a pair of Apocalypse Now references, not to mentioned the subsequent irony when The Doors' “The End” comes to mind.

Oh, right, before I forget: that one part of the title, 'The Beginning.' So far as the origin story goes, we’re offered a lame prologue in which Leatherface’s mother dies whilst giving birth to the legendary psycho on a slaughterhouse floor. From there, it’s just a dimly lit and rather protracted montage of expositional keywords, random squishy matter, and the occasional trickle of blood during the opening credits to pass as the total backstory of one of the genre’s most memorable individuals. The tagline invites audiences to “Witness The Birth of Fear,” but one need not make it to the end of 'The Beginning' to realize that, in this case, fear was stillborn.

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