The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

2 stars


19th October 2006

A while ago I was asked to review a book that deconstructed the Western genre, pulling apart classics like the Leone films to see what made them tick. One such chapter attempted to de-mystify Clint's 'Man With No Name' from the Dollars trilogy, giving him a political agenda and transposing all of these social values and ideologies on his character so as to shed more light on him. Let me ask you this: where's the fun in deconstructing the Man With No Name? Isn't the appeal because you don't know who he his or what his motivations are? I mention this because when I heard that Michael Bay's production company - the guys behind the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake - were planning a prequel, the exact same thoughts ran through my head. Does anyone really need to know Leatherface's background? The reason he's such a kickass character is because he's the ultimate 'what you see is what you get' bad guy; there's not much more to him than a big dude swinging a chainsaw around, surely? Apparently not; there's a back story to tell, and when there's a back story to tell, then there's money to be made.

Thankfully, there are no scenes of the young Thomas Hewitt being bullied at school and no shots where we see the youngster clench his fists in rage; all we have in the ways of flashbacks is his birth on the floor of an abattoir, and one quick childhood photo montage later, we're whisked away to 1969. In a way, it's something of a cop out, because this isn't an origin story so to speak and it certainly isn't 'the beginning' of the story as it claims. Basically, what we have here is an excuse for another Leatherface adventure, masquerading under the pretence of a prequel. When we first see Leatherface proper, he's clearly already two shanks short of a lamb roast, a 'big dumb animal' working at the slaughterhouse with a Mankind-esque mask covering his deformed face. Casa del Hewitt isn't quite your bog-standard family home, either; led by R. Lee Ermey's barking mad 'sheriff', it doesn't take long to realise that the family are cannibals and have been chowing on homo sapien for a while. Four young flesh-bags gamely line up like hogs to the slaughter - the lovely Jordana Brewster plus three other faceless nobodies (pun intentional) - and end up being invited to dinner.

There's very little in the way of blood and gore in Tobe Hooper's 1974 original - the reason it left you feeling a complete wreck was Marilyn Burns' almost continuous screaming. However, it's clear that this prequel is aimed at a very different market - people today don't want a film with 'Chainsaw' in the title to be lacking in the violence department. Well kids, you're in luck, because there's some seriously stinky headcheese on offer here, including casual dismemberment, hot teens getting stuck like pigs and one scene, which will likely be watched through the gaps in your fingers, where one unlucky chap's arms are scraped at and peeled away like the elephant's leg in your local kebab house (best give Mr. Patel's a miss on your way home). It's all completely gratuitous and at times, a little much - there's precious little reason behind for the gore other than to satisfy the audience's bloodlust. The original managed to chomp on your nerves and still showed you very little gore, but in our attention deficit age, I guess we need gallons of blood and rogue limbs to even make us bat an eyelid.

For the most part, Leatherface is just a killing machine, showing no remorse, personality or humanity whatsoever. He's become another Jason, another Freddy, another predictable movie bad guy - having the family call him 'Tommy' doesn't make him three-dimensional. There was one single occasion where I actually felt a chill. While slaughtering a fallen biker with his trusty hedge-trimmer, there's a shot where you see the light hit Leatherface's eye and there's genuine insanity behind his mask, a crazed psycho that lost his mind long ago and is struggling to hold it together. It's just a second long, and probably unintentional on the behalf of the filmmakers but it's the closest the prequel comes to channelling the style of the original.

Elsewhere, it's business as usual. Sharp jump cuts and loud 'Bong!' sound effects will have you kidding yourself that you're frightened. The teens on the Hewitt menu are nothing more than chainsaw fodder, and you'll be glad when they're despatched in suitably grisly fashion. There are several 'Bitch get out the room!' moments where you'll be yelling at the screen in despair, cursing the screenwriters for writing such fucking dozy characters. I don't know about you, but if was being held captive by a family of batshit crazy cannibals that were about to eat me, I don't think I could muster up the energy to roll out a snappy one-liner. I certainly wouldn't make my captor do ironic push-ups if I had the opportunity to kill him, nor would I run into a slaughterhouse when making my exit. Oh, and I'd definitely check the back seat of my car for 7-foot chainsaw-wielding bastards before driving off. Seriously, are we, as a race, not past this kind of movie ending? They teach this sort of stuff in books.

Fairly obviously, this has more in common with the remake than it does with the original - the scares are mostly all cheap shots (hands in windows, baddies hiding round corners etc.) and the movie seems a lot more interested in where its next corpse is coming from rather than making any attempt at characterisation. But, in a strange way, it seems futile to hope for anything more from this calibre of movie. Personally, I've grown accustomed to seeing my favourite horror franchises butt-fucked into the dirt by money-hungry producers, and this is no better and no worse than any other film of its type - it's reliant on gore, predictable and poorly acted (Ermey aside), but the bar has been lowered so far in recent years, it's difficult to get too angered by it. It was never going to top the original, and that's a glass ceiling that won't break no matter how hard you swing a chainsaw at it.

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