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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Screenplay: Sheldon Turner (story by Sheldon Turner and David J. Schow)
Stars: Jordana Brewster (Chrissie), Taylor Handley (Dean), Diora Baird (Bailey), Matthew Bomer (Eric), Lee Tergesen (Holden), R. Lee Ermey (Sheriff Hoyt), Andrew Bryniarski (Thomas Hewitt / Leatherface), Terrence Evans (Monty), Kathy Lamkin (Tea Lady), Marietta Marich (Luda Mae), Cyia Batten (Alex), Lew Temple (Sheriff Winston)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2006
Country: U.S.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning The tag line for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is "Witness the birth of fear," which is technically what we do in the opening minutes when a woman gives birth to the mutant baby who will grow up to be Leatherface on the grungy floor of a dirty slaughterhouse. He is summarily abandoned in a dumpster and later found by a member of the twisted Hewitt clan, who rears him as her own.

Anyone looking for more details regarding the nightmare-myth of the First Family of Cannibalistic Inbreds--the film does promise "The Beginning," after all--will be sorely disappointed. Yes, you get to see whose facial skin Leatherface saws off to make his famous mask, but even that feels gratingly anticlimactic; his stitched-together visage was actually a lot creepier when it was anonymous.

As a prequel to the 2003 remake of Tobe Hooper's perennial low-budget '70s horror classic, which itself was followed by three sequels of widely varying quality, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is a real disappointment. Director Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls) does little more than rehash the same scenarios envisioned in Marcus Nispel's remake, along with the same gangrene color scheme and lavish attention to gooey detail. The Beginning offers nothing unique, interesting, or even shocking; its moments of bone-rattling gore have a going-through-the-motions quality that undermines their sadistic intentions.

The majority of the film is set in 1969, a scant four years before the events in the original. Leatherface's childhood takes place entirely during the Seven-ish opening credits, and by the time the movie proper begins, he is already a hulking psychopath lumbering away in a slaughterhouse that is being closed, thus marking the last death rattle of the tiny Texas town the Hewitt clan calls home. Led by the twisted patriarch Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey), the Hewitts refuse to leave. They take up cannibalism as a forced dietary alternative, and the ho-hum manner in which this most ancient of taboos is broached signals just how disinterested the filmmakers are in exploring any of the disturbing undercurrents of their story.

Enter now a foursome of attractive twentysomethings--fresh meat, as it were--to give the Hewitts something to do. Here, screenwriter Sheldon Turner (The Longest Yard) comes close to developing an intriguing idea by raising the specter of Vietnam, which ties the film to its unruly historical era much better than the 2003 remake did. The two guys, who are brothers, have been drafted and are on one last road trip before enlisting. Actually, the older brother, Eric (Matthew Bomer), is re-enlisting after having already served a tour of duty, and the younger brother, Dean (Taylor Handley), wants to escape to Mexico to avoid the draft. Along for the ride are their girlfriends, Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and Bailey (Taylor Handley), who are conveniently color-coded with their boyfriends by their hair so we don't get them mixed up.

Suffice it say that they run across the Hewitts and wind up their prisoners and eventual victims, with all kinds of nasty torture and frustrating near escapes. The fact that Eric is a Vietnam vet would seem to offer a potentially interesting dynamic, with possibly some kind of warped connection between his sufferings in the jungle and his sufferings in the Hewitt basement, but nothing ever develops. Everything in the film resides entirely on the greasy surface. There are bear traps and chainsaws and huge scissors and meat hooks and every other sharp instrument you might imagine to inflict bodily damage. Throats are slit, legs sawn off, and arms flayed, all with striking stylistic panache that registers as little more than hash marks on a check-off list.

And, ultimately, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning lacks tension and suspense because, by virtue of the first film, we know exactly how it will turn out. Certain characters, namely all the nasty Hewitt kin, have to survive in order to be around four years later, and other characters, namely all the young kids, have to die because otherwise they could lead the authorities to the Hewitts' decaying Southern gothic mansion (which is, by the way, the only thing the 2003 remake improved on). Thus, lacking anything resembling subtext and anything resembling genuine suspense, The Beginning is little more than just another hackneyed rehash of increasingly diminishing returns.

Overall Rating: (1.5)

Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

All images copyright © 2006 New Line Cinema


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