The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Cast:
Jordana Brewster as Chrissie
Taylor Handley as Dean
Diora Baird as Bailey
Matthew Bomer as Eric
Lee Tergesen as Holden
R. Lee Ermey as Sheriff Hoyt
Andrew Bryniarski as Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface
Terrence Evans as Monty
Kathy Lamkin as Tea Lady
Marietta Marich as Luda Mae
Cyia Batten as Alex
Lew Temple as Sheriff Winston

Review:
You’ve heard the story before – a group of kids/young adults traveling across the country find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and suddenly enter some nightmare world ruled by a sadistic madman.

The original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was, and remains, a highlight of the indie slasher films and the various films that have come after owe it as large a debt as “Psycho.” After some success re-introducing Leatherface and his clan in the 2003 remake, Michael Bay and his partners have returned to the Hewitt family to show how they came to be, beginning with Leatherface’s incredibly over-the-top birth (he crawls from his dead mother’s womb, horribly malformed) that threatens to derail the film from the get go.

That’s about as much of an origin as you get, as the film quickly moves into familiar territory with the required group of kids – a couple of young soldiers heading off to Vietnam, and their girlfriends seeing them off – showing up to be assaulted. A little bit of thought and time is given to why they do what they do, but not too much. The obvious seems to be just that they’re crazy and they’ve suddenly reached a point in their lives where they can let it out and not worry (too much) about what the outside world (that has largely abandoned them) thinks about it. There’s probably something in there about the loss of contact and importance for small town America as the country grew more urbanized following World War II and what has been seen as the dehumanization of America as a result, but that’s probably reaching a bit.

It’s actually closer to the original “Chainsaw” than its immediate predecessor, but it still relies on more on physical torture (and accompanying audience squeamishness) than the psychological terror that made the original – or any genuinely scary movie – so effective.

The filmmakers put maybe more of the film’s weight on Ermey’s shoulders, as the crazed family leader, Sheriff Hoyt, than it should. Ermey is good at this particular type of wild-man stuff, but the producers seem to be betting on Sheriff Hoyt having reached a level of slasher film legerdemain that doesn’t seem warranted considering the character has only appeared in one other film three years ago. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” succeeds because of Leatherface, it always has, but he seems largely marginalized for the first half of “The Beginning” to make room for Ermey’s scenery chewing, which isn’t particularly satisfying.

“The Beginning” does, however, benefit substantially from having much better characters to torture than the 2003 version. In particular the two brothers Dean (Taylor Handley) and Eric (Matt Bomer) heading off to war are well handled and actually make the audience care about what they’re going through. They’re introduced in the clumsy manner that has become part and parcel of the genre but don’t let that throw you, there are some genuinely decent character moments there. The girls (Jordana Brewster and Diora Baird) don’t fair quite as well, spending most of their time watching horrible things happen to other people.

Actually a better remake than the previous “Chainsaw,” “The Beginning” is enjoyable enough but doesn’t really live up to its billing and often suffers from a lack of Leatherface. All in all though, not bad.

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