Film Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Many have regarded 2003�s remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Review) as one of the worst ideas in the long, sad history of bad ideas in the Hollywood horror community.  It was a classic, it was perfection, what reason was there to remake it?  Well, truth be told the hoopla wound up being over nothing, as the remake turned out to be a competent, if not overly spectacular, port of the original.  It had some nice ideas and a few good set-pieces, but a few bad steps and some serious pacing issues really hampered down what may have otherwise been a fantastic film.  Still, it made money, and when a movie within our genre makes money, sequels are inevitable.  However, the great minds behind this poorly-thought-out remake decided to take a different approach.  Given how they killed one of the major villains and cut the hand off another at the end of the remake, why not make a prequel so we can show them at the height of their glory?  Hell, why not show how this whole mess started?  So goes the basic premise of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.  Looking to show the origins of the Hewitt family and how they

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

became the way they did, this film had a large amount of promise behind it.  However, instead of capitalizing on what they could have done with the story, they focused far too much on explaining things that needn�t be explained and constant, unending sadism, which ultimately makes for an average film at best.

Texas.  August, 1939.  A morbidly obese woman working at a meat-processing plant falls ill on the line and collapses to the dirty, grotesque floor.  She screams out, rolling around in blood and god only knows what other kinds of filth reside on this poor excuse for a floor, while the few people working around her seem disinterested at best.  Still, her manager comes down and realizes that this woman is in labor.  The effort has killed her, and when the man sees the monstrosity that now lay between her legs, he understands why.  So, like any kind soul, he chucks the baby into the garbage out back to be discovered by a starving vagrant woman known only as Mama Hewitt.  She takes the baby back home and decides to raise him as her own�

Flash forward thirty years.  The meat plant has been closed due to gross violations of health codes, putting the entire towns populace out of work.  The monstrous Thomas Hewitt (wrapping his face in scraps of cloth due to his deformity) refuses to leave.  Instead of being forced out, he comes back to the facility after it is closed and murders his manager with a sledgehammer.  Taking a chainsaw with him, he wanders down the road.  When the sheriff comes to Thomas� house, his uncle (R. Lee Ermy) murders the police officer and takes his car and uniform, and with that they remain the towns only residents.

On the other side of the state, four friends are partaking in one last road trip.  Eric (Matthew Bomer) is about to go back to his second tour of duty in Vietnam, while he is escorting his best friend Dean (Taylor Handley) to the base to make good on his draft card, along with their respective girlfriends Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and  Bailey (Diora Baird).  However, Dean doesn�t want to go, and decides on crossing the border into Mexico as soon as the opportunity arises so he won�t have to die in some pointless war.  Just as their own problems come to a head, they are robbed by a roving biker who forces them into crashing their jeep on some back Texas road.  As if that weren�t bad enough, just moments after the crash a police car becomes visible on the horizon, and the sheriff in this town proves to be the last one you�d want to see�

So, that�s it for exposition, but how is this all as a movie?  Well, it has it�s pluses and its minuses.

On the plus side of the coin, R. Lee Ermy, Andrew Bryniarski and the KNB effects crew are all back, which is a good combination in any way, shape or form.  Ermy is back in full force as his vicious and brutal Sheriff Hoyt, and almost every scene he takes center stage in is downright terrifying.  He could be reading the phone book and be one of the scariest sons of bitches around, yet give him a scene where he�s beating a draft dodger mercilessly while forcing him to do pushups and he becomes the stuff that nightmares are made of.

Taking the reins of Leatherface once more, Bryniarski proves that he is the only person outside of Gunnar Hansen worthy to lift our favorite power tool.  As a character he is allowed more depth and more time to create his own mannerisms, and since we get to see more of his face and eyes in this film than before, he is allowed a better chance to emote and show the mental processes that are in force behind this serial-killer in the making.  And of course, no matter what weapon he�s wielding, be it cleaver, hook, hammer or saw, he wields it like a pro and shows that he belongs among the slasher pantheon.  They did good not to show his full face in this film (the 2003 remake�s biggest mistake), and in the iconic scene where he first puts on a human face that�s not his own, the power and energy of it is still there.

And KNB, well, like I always say they can do no wrong.  The grislier and gorier it is the more at home they seem, and this film gives them plenty of opportunities to do just that.  Limbs are lopped off every which way, people are crushed, impaled, stabbed, slashed and cut to ribbons by the titular weapon, and as good as ever KNB makes it as terrifying and visceral as it should be.

However, not all is well in America�s heartland, as these three qualities remain perhaps the best of the film.  The rest of it has some serious problems.

First off comes the inherent problems from this being a prequel.  We know that the family remains uncaught until the film that is to follow it, so we know that none of them in turn are going to die.  At the same time, given that any survivor would have most certainly blabbed about the whereabouts of this cannibalistic family of rednecks, it�s also pretty easy to surmise from the very beginning that none of the kids we are introduced are going to survive.  This, coupled with the fact that the actors hardly put themselves in a spot where you�re really willing to care about them, pretty much drains any suspense out of the film.  You know who lives, you know who dies, and you haven�t even seen the film yet.  That ain�t particularly fun my friends.

Next up we have the script, which is full of its share of holes and overexposure.  Now, exposition is typically a good thing, but there are a lot of things out there that are better left unexplained.  Characters like Leatherface are best left when they�re not explained, as they remain a powerful force of nature all the same.  However, not only is Leatherface�s entire past, present and future explained, it�s explained over and over again!  No, we don�t need to know that he was teased as a kid, we don�t need to know where and how he was born, he�s a monster plain and simple!  Humanizing such a powerful and malevolent force as our favorite people�s-skin-wearing-power-tool-loving serial killer takes away quite a bit of the fear that�s there.  Still, on the exposure front, the explanation behind why the family are cannibals is handled quite well and in a manner that makes a surprising amount of sense.

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it�s a film that seems to revel in its own inherent brutality and sadism far, far, faaaaaaaaaaaaaaar too much for it to actually be scary.  The scariest and truly most grotesque films are not those that show you everything so much so fast, no, it�s the films that show restraint that are truly frightening.  Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre �74 used almost no blood and were absolutely terrifying.  Even the more recent Hostel used its gore effects and brutality sparingly, and when they happened they were outright horrific.  However, this film seems to think that too much of a good thing obviously makes a great thing, which is not the right approach and it shows.  Sadism�s the popular thing in movies these days?  Let�s give them a lot of it!  TCM: The Beginning uses so much constant violence, torture and sadism that after a while it frankly becomes boring.  The first time someone gets shot or stabbed, it�s frightening.  After the thirteenth or fourteenth time it happens, not so much.  It�s more along the lines of watching someone get tortured, wondering if they�re going to get out, watching them get tortured again, wondering if they�re going to get out, and watching them get tortured some more but in a different place.  Seriously, after a while it becomes rather boring.

And while I�m still griping, how the hell can a person survive having their foot stuck in a bear trap without breaking any bones?

In the end, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning has its fair share of high points, but more than its fair share of low points too.  It�s predictable, incredibly short (clocking in at less than 90 minutes), occasionally boring and explains far too much of what doesn�t need to be explained.  I wouldn�t say don�t see it, but at the same time it�s hard to recommend a film when you�d call it mediocre at best.

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