The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning can be described as maliciously bloodthirsty, torturously cruel, and white-knuckle thrilling. But somewhere along the way it also manages to be overwhelmingly repetitive and drastically familiar. While it’s noticeably better than the 2003 remake regarding its thrills and raw violence, it still leaves a lot to be desired from such a notorious franchise and an even more iconic villain.
Dean (Taylor Handley) and Eric (Matthew Bomer) are off on a final road trip before they commit to Vietnam. Accompanying them are their gorgeous girlfriends Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and Bailey (Diora Baird). After stopping at a gas station where the two girls eye a burly biker couple, they continue on their way through rural Texas. When the biker chick suddenly reappears and begins chasing them, Dean pulls a gun from the glove compartment to scare her off. His efforts are in vain, however, as he ends up running into a steer crossing the road and rolls the vehicle. Fortunately for them, Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey) is not far away and escorts them back to his humble abode for a pleasant evening sup. From there the action (and nausea) ensues as the foursome struggle to free themselves from the merciless and cannibalistic Hewitt family.
While this film is abundant with other problems, it’s apparent that graphic new methods of killing people with chainsaws cannot sustain a film. Sequels are rarely better than the originals, prequels have even less of a chance, and remakes are usually not worth mentioning.
Beginning has the feel of both a prequel and a remake, so sadly it can’t hope to impress faithful fans of the original Tobe Hooper classic. The grittiness and dread that emanates from the original is something that can really never be redone. There is no way to watch the shower scene from Psycho for the first time after you’ve already seen it. Likewise the sheer gruesomeness and terror that Leatherface’s first appearance generated in Hooper’s original can never be duplicated. As with countless franchises such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the villain became so popular that movies had to be made just so they could continue using those impressive character designs. Screenplay and dialogue integrity were thrown to the wayside just as long as the evildoers could keep coming back. Since the villain is really the star of the film, most fans find themselves rooting for the antagonist; this presents a problem however, because the bad guys are usually difficult to relate to.
This is especially true in the case of Leatherface, because he lacks the usual wit and personality that someone like Freddy Krueger has inadvertently gained. In the original, Leatherface was a demented and confused childlike character, but in the remake and this prequel, those traits are replaced with a hulking juggernaut aura. His upbringing and childhood is revealed through a photograph montage during the opening credits of the film, but doesn’t reveal anything the average viewer hasn’t already pieced together by witnessing the original. Leatherface remains devoid of any likeable qualities, and serves as nothing more than a beastly pet for Sheriff Hoyt. The good sheriff manages to deliver several humorous lines, and the very brief comedy relief is a fresh and welcome change, even if it isn’t long enough for you to stop your heart palpitations.
In 2003 when Michael Bay was asked about the level of violence and gore that might be expected from the remake, he mentioned that since he was a member of a committee for directors against violence in films, the ridiculous amount of bloodshed the film could potentially contain would be limited to just what was necessary, and that the film would rely more on typical scare tactics like those in The Blair Witch Project or The Ring, which manage to be quite chilling even without excessive bloody violence. Who knows what might have changed his mind or influenced him since then, but the level of gratuitous violence has skyrocketed in Beginning. Sadistic torture, skinning, throat-cutting, sledge-hammering, and of course, the nonstop use of a chainsaw are all present and seemingly uninhibited. The camera fails to cut away from numerous gruesome scenes, and just when you think they may have left something to the imagination, they show it to you anyway. The greatest downfall to the torture and violence is the lack of redemption. When films subject you to such hideous events, and then fail to follow up with some means of satisfaction, you leave empty-handed and depressed. As thrilling as the first half of the movie proceeds, when you reach the inevitable conclusion, you’re negligently left with little contentment. Although there are no deliriously cliche chase scenes where someone stumbles and falls, the conclusion presents an unsatisfied and familiar ploy; one that you may envision somewhere in the back of your mind while watching the film, but quickly vanquish due to its obnoxiousness.
Any gore-hound who relishes in realistic, gratuitous and graphic violence will surely appreciate this film and the obvious advances in makeup, blood and splatter effects. However, if you’re one of those people who enjoy a bit of intelligence, intrigue and charm mixed into the horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning will not likely make the cut.
-Mike Massie, MoviePulse