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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning Jonathan Liebesman 2006

It Seems to Me I've Heard This Saw Before...

For those of you who simply couldn’t sleep at night without knowing the exact details behind Tommy Hewitt’s evolution into the lumbering butcher known as Leatherface, your prayers have been answered: New Line has delivered an official prequel to the 5-film series (if you include the 2003 remake) that arguably kickstarted the American slasher boom before tailspinning into one of the most crackpot series in horror history (yes, Matthew McConaughey – I’m talking to you). But as the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it: and in the case of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, what we get is a rather pedestrian bookend to the bloody tale. Don’t get me wrong – the movie’s nasty as all hell and on the whole far better than most recent American horror flicks. But considering the sadistic, visually stunning, and utterly harrowing mindfuck that preceded it, the bar for The Beginning was set pretty high, and it never really gets its chin over it.

The story begins with promise, as a nameless slaughterhouse worker (the lone employee, by the looks of it – strange that the eventual closing of the plant is supposed to devastate the town, when it doesn’t really seem like anyone worked there in the first place) gives birth to a deformed baby on the floor of the packing plant. What, do they not have proms in Texas? The baby is found in a dumpster by a shoeless garbage-picker, who takes the baby home. We are then guided through an opening-credit headline time warp (you know the type) that details how the town fell to ruin and the boy grew up hiding his face from the world.

Soon enough, Tommy is in his early teens (and about the size of a small rhino) and the slaughterhouse is closing for good. Tommy doesn’t seem to appreciate the fact that he’s going to be losing his job, evidenced by the way he brutally kills the foreman with a sledgehammer on his last day – talk about a bad exit interview! Where most disgruntled layoffs steal a few pencils, Tommy takes a chainsaw and goes home. Meanwhile, Tommy’s uncle (R. Lee Ermey) is visited by the Sheriff, whom he quickly blows away with a shotgun, conveniently earning himself the alter-ego that we met in the first film (it’s also convenient that this is the very last law enforcement officer in the area – that is, until the ridiculous ending, but that’s another story). So now loony uncle is Sheriff Hoyt, Tommy is murdering people, and the time would be just right for a truckload of Hot Horny Teens to come barreling down the highway.

And of course, barrel along they do. Hottie Eric (Matthew Boner – sorry, Matthew Bomer) and his pretty but kind of worthless girlfriend Chrissie (Jordana Brewster of The Faculty and D.E.B.S.) are spending some Q.T. together before he reenlists to go back to Vietnam with his little brother Dean (Taylor Handley). Problem is, Dean doesn’t want to go – he’d rather stay here with his pretty but totally worthless girlfriend Bailey (Diora Baird). Dean burns his draft card just as the 4 are attacked by a shotgun-wielding loony bitch on a motorcycle (yes, we seriously go all Road Warrior here for a minute) and they get into a spectacularly ugly accident involving a cow. Oh, in case you haven’t picked up on it, this movie is not for fucking vegetarians.

From this point we enter familiar territory – so familiar, in fact, that at points entire scenes and exact shots are borrowed from the Jessica Biel-starring remake. And let’s just get this out of the way right now: Jordana Brewster is NO Jessica Biel. She’s just not that believable, and she’s missing that grittiness that made Biel’s Erin one of my favorite all-time Final Girls. Chrissie is… well, she’s a Chrissie. You know, the one in Three’s Company that would be the first to wind up on a skewer if they did a Halloween episode. Am I wrong to want my Final Girl to be more of a Janet? Seriously, neither of these chicks is worth writing home about – it’s your standard squeal and cry and squint routine. That said, Chrissie does exhibit a bit more intelligence than usual, and even Bailey pulls off a coup or two after her capture – but still, neither is overly likeable.

The boys, on the other hand, are DELICIOUS. One dark, one fair, two great tastes that would no doubt taste great together. They’re also both legitimately pretty good actors, as well – and of course given the fact that they have a sibling struggle and the Vietnam draft to worry about, they have oodles more material to work with than their rather vacuous partners do. Boner is simply one of the flat-out most beautiful men to hit screens in a long time – so it’s no surprise that when Leatherface gets him on the slab, he can’t stop stroking his cheeks and admiring his comely visage. Of course, my admiration of the fella’s finer features differs from Leatherface’s in one important way: while I just want to lick the guy’s face, Tommy Hewitt wants to wear it. I mean really, I do have my limits, people.

Anway, Chrissie was separated from her friends at the scene of the accident and after seeing that they are being tortured by the Hewitts, she steals away for help. She comes across a surly biker (Lee Tergesen, best known by you fudge-packers as Beecher from Oz), who has about two lines of dialogue but is lucky enough to be the first chainsaw victim, in what is actually a wonderfully nasty scene. Chrissie crawls around the house trying to free her friends and failing miserably, and she’s finally captured herself and subjected to the series’ umpteenth “dinner table” scene, which to me is about as welcome as a regular prostate exam. And no, I’m not into that kind of thing. See, the dinner table scene is about the most overdone and least effective element of the whole TCM artillery – Marcus Nispel was actually smart enough to leave it out of the remake entirely, which was one of the best decisions he could have made. There’s nothing like screeching the action to a halt so a bunch of character actors can out-crazy each other for 10 minutes – god, how annoying. Here it’s actually blessedly short and to-the-point, and before long we move on to the chase to the slaughterhouse (again, in a scene straight out of the remake) and what I guess is an appropriate ending, but not one that’s satisfying in any regard. And that’s all I’m gonna say about it, except that you should remember that this is a prequel and that you really shouldn’t be surprised.

Overall, this is a competent, gorgeously filmed and admirably bloody horror movie, but that’s about it. I for one was hoping for something a little more challenging, a little more unique and boundary-pushing – but it’s almost a remake of a remake with a 3-minute prologue tacked onto the beginning. You learn nothing more about Leatherface as a person or a child – he’s a big dumb retard from start to finish, and it’s never even remotely a possibility that he’s not the killing machine that we already know. Isn’t this film supposed to be about “the birth of fear”? Was I wrong to expect that they were referring to a psychological “birth” rather than the literal spash of corn syrup that hits the floor in the opening scene? Because while that was fun and all, it wasn’t enough. Weren’t we supposed to see how this poor deformed retarded kid was turned into a monster? Here he snaps when the slaughterhouse is shuttered with no provocation whatsoever, and within a matter of days is a carefree master butcher – that’s just lazy.

But it’s interesting, because despite the marketing’s efforts to convince us otherwise, this movie isn’t even about Leatherface – it’s about Hoyt. Hoyt has double the screen time of anyone else and it’s made painfully, redundantly clear that he’s the mastermind behind turning Tommy into a killing machine and getting the rest of the family to go along with it. He was even a cannibal before the others (he ate men in Korea) and royally fucks up his brother Monty for no apparent reason – this is definitely the Hoyt show. And you know what? I really don’t care to see that. I love R. Lee Ermey and all, but I’ve never been a fan of wisecracking bad guys who are neither funny nor menacing – in the remake his character was played straight and vicious – here he all but does a soft-shoe. It’s the same thing that killed the tension in Wolf Creek, and here it turns what could have been an unbelievably intense experience into an admittedly bloody but otherwise fairly standard middle-of-the-road, safe horror flick.

And really, we’re talking about chainsaws here – how brilliant was Tobe Hooper for picking a murder weapon whose sound is that of the very fabric of the universe being shredded to pieces? That saw is the franchise’s golden goose, but here the base terror that the chainsaw promises is pushed aside in favor of some tired hammy acting and clichéd would-be creepy details (morbidly obese women, rednecks, rotting meat). Hide not thine chainsaw under a bushel, Jonathan Liebesman! Actually, you can put Jordana Brewster under there instead.

In the end, The Beginning is a better-than-average horror release in terms of blood and general intensity, but still a pale shadow of its blasting-out-of-the-gate predecessor. While I was glad not to see Leatherface in drag and Renee Zellweger nailed to a chair (wait… I might want to take that back…), I was still hoping for something more.

Rating (out of 5):