The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
By: Rod Williams on November 22, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Jordana Brewster, R Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Diora Baird, Taylor Handley, Matthew Bomer
Screenplay: Sheldon Turner
Country: USA
Australian Release Date: November 16, 2006
Distributor: Roadshow
Running Time: 91 minutes
A prologue set in 1939 gets things rolling when You Know Who enters the world like some kind of redneck Antichrist. Since we never meet the father, his birth brings to mind a grotesque parody of the immaculate conception: substitute a manger and straw for a dumpster and newspaper. Roll opening credits, then jump to 1969. Leatherface is now 30 years old (probably still a virgin) and plying his wares as a butcher for Lee Meats, the same abattoir his ill-fated mother worked at. Obviously a mental retard, the ungainly Leatherface hides his facial disfigurement behind a black, homemade leather muzzle. Fetching. Just by looking at him, you know he'd have body odour from Hell and lousy taste in music – not exactly anyone's first choice for Employee of the Month. Anyway, one stinking day down at the slaughterhouse, Leatherface overreacts to some bad news from his cranky boss. This sparks latent homicidal urges that have been doing a slow burn across years of workplace harassment. Thus Leatherface comes of age (cue the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey). However, compared to his sadistic foster father, Leatherface is just a confused, mixed up kid – albeit one with a foul temper and good hand-eye coordination. Impersonating the local sheriff, the psychopath now called Sheriff Hoyt abducts and terrorizes two young Viet Nam recruits (actually brothers) and their nubile hippy girlfriends. He escorts them back to the crumbling homestead, where they are introduced to Uncle Charlie's Texan Sawney Bean family. In the basement, Sheriff Hoyt explains to Leatherface "Meat is meat, bone is bone" during the last act of moral indecision for the rest of his life. When Leatherface aka Tommy picks up the meat cleaver and goes to work on his first human carcass, his little piggy eyes twinkle. It's all down hill from there, especially when he upgrades the hatchet for a chainsaw.

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls) and written by Sheldon Turner (The Longest Yard) from a story by Turner and horrorpunk scribe David Schow, TCM: The Beginning has enough manic intensity to carry itself for 90 minutes, despite its prequel-to-a-remake mongrel pedigree. The film is squarely part of the recent cycle of vicious horror fare that includes Wolf Creek, the Saw trilogy, Hostel, and agreeable retreads of Dawn of the Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and The Hills Have Eyes. This movement has shown the studios something that horror fanatics knew all along: uncompromising brutality and gore is profitable. Well, duh. And when the filmmaker's intentions are honest, as they were with some of the titles just mentioned (Saw III's brain surgery scene was pure art), the potential box-office earnings can be staggering. TCM: The Beginning falls somewhere at the lower end of this continuum.

The character of Leatherface, who is referred to as Tommy in this pre-skinmask outing, has been reduced to a clockwork monster programmed by Michael Bay and New Line to keep the franchise going. While the 2003 remake, however blasphemous, had a built-in curiosity factor, TCM: The Beginning offers no worthy innovations beyond documenting Leatherface's parentage and childhood, all of which happens before the opening credits have barely finished! After that, woven into the story, is a predictable shopping list of obligatory Leatherface firsts: his first kill (check), his first human butchering (check), his first 'dead skin mask' (check), and his discovery of the chainsaw as a labour-saving device (check). When you boil it all down, the real problem is that this is a prequel to a remake, not the original 1974 classic. Curiously, the filmmakers opted to show the origins of the sole continuing character from the Tobe Hooper movies, the iconic Leatherface. Like the comic book series, this film should have been called Leatherface: The Beginning. Nothing is revealed about the past lives of his new cannibal family the Hewitts, causing this film to fall short of its mandate to explore the whole "beginning" premise. Then again, what else could we expect from a cash-in?

But, as mentioned, there is plenty of violence on offer. The main catalyst for the bloodshed is R. Lee Ermey. The single masterstroke by the filmmakers was letting him off his leash to chew scenery like he had just come off a hunger strike. There is utterly no hint of pulling punches or hesitation in his OTT performance as the inbred rapist murderer, 'Sheriff' Hoyt, who kills people as casually as someone else would swat a fly. Here he goes on a veritable rampage. The innocent victims this time are played by Jordana Brewster (The Faculty) as Chrissie, Taylor Handley (The Standard) as Dean, Diora Baird (Wedding Crashers) as Bailey, and Matt Bomer (Flight Plan) as Eric. As far as horror film fodder goes, there's nothing to distinguish these kids from hundreds of similar roles in celluloid antiquity. Leatherface is once again played by the hulking Andrew Bryniarski (Scooby Doo), although Gunnar Hansen will always be the one and only pig-squealing, chainsaw-dancing maniac. The rest of the cast is filled out by familiar faces from the 2003 remake (Kathy Lamkin as the Tea Lady, Marietta Marich as Luda Mae) and some new supporting thespians, who may or may not survive. Also, there's no sign of cinematographer Daniel Pearl this time around. For what it's worth, John Larroquette does another solemn voice-over. Ah, Michael Bay: the compleat artiste.

The gruesome yet seemingly censored gore effects were handled by KNB and various other make-up pros. Speculation about what was cut out has been clogging up Internet message boards since the unrated American DVD was announced by New Line. Watch the movie and you'll see where some obvious compromises could have been made (hint: any time a chainsaw is used). Even for this potentially shortened version, which runs for 90 mins 37 secs, the Aussie classification board slapped TCM: The Beginning with an R 18+ rating, presumably because of the off-screen rape, the relentless sadism, and a rather messy birth sequence (umbilical cord sighted). There's also some kinky sexual content but it's strictly clothes-on footage. When will local distributors start demanding uncut prints of American horror movies? Nobody would pay $15 for a book with missing pages. The same goes for a fucking movie.

All up, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is a noisy, kinetic time waster that offers a few novel death scenes and a down-beat vibe. However, you'll need to park your brain to enjoy it – this is not Saw: The Beginning, or even The Exorcist: The Beginning for that matter. The last two acts, for instance, follow the Fight for SurvivalTM horror movie blueprint to a fault (i.e. get captured, escape, fight back, repeat). Fans of Tobe Hooper's TCM movies should appreciate two homage sequences, and having good night vision is essential, because most of the action takes place in semi-darkness. Let's hope that the original creators of TCM, who're attached to the movie as producers, are finally getting some cash flow from this intellectual property.

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