R. Lee Ermey - Charlie Hewitt/Sheriff Hoyt
Jordana Brewster - Chrissie
Taylor Handley - Dean Hill
Matt Bomer - Eric Hill
Diora Baird - Bailey
Andrew Bryniarski - Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface
Lee Tergesen - Holden
Marietta Marich - Luda Mae
Genre - Horror/Slasher/Remake/Prequel
Running Time - 89 Minutes
There's no denying that Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, is one of the most influential and greatest horror films ever made. There was something so raw, so gritty, and so realistic about the film that it genuinely shocked and terrified people upon release - and I'm sure even to this day. The TCM franchise is probably the most interesting one in horror. The Tobe Hooper directed THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 took the horror out of the film, giving the story more of a black comedic feel that, only until the last few years, has been appreciated by horror fans. Back in 1986, however, the sequel bombed. Then New Line Cinema bought the rights to distribute the film, leading to a return-to-horror-roots LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III in 1990. An underrated film starring DAWN OF THE DEAD's Ken Foree and then-unknown Viggo Mortensen, it also didn't gain an audience until the home video market. In 1994, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEW GENERATION was released to limited released. Starring then-unknowns Renee Zelwegger and Matthew McConaughey, it was a horrible attempt at a remake and is still reviled today [hell, Zelwegger and McConaughey refuse to acknowlege its existence].
Many believed that the franchise was over, until Michael Bay and his newly created Platinum Dunes production company picked up the rights to create a remake for a younger generation. Starring Jessica Biel, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was released in 2003 to a great box office response. While many horror fans, myself included, questioned the purpose of this remake, it turned out to be pretty good as its own film. It would never compare to the original, but as sort of a 'lost sequel', it works pretty effectively.
With the success of the remake, Platinum Dunes decided to answer fan questions about how Leatherface and his family turned out to be cannibalistic murderers. So in 2006, the prequel to the remake called THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING was released. It didn't light the box office on fire like the previous remake had, but it did okay business and did really well on DVD.
Having just finished the SAW franchise [until a new one eventually rolls out - "Final" my ass], I figured I would finish the TCM franchise off as well [until Twisted Pictures take on the characters is released in a couple of years in 3D]. I hadn't watched THE BEGINNING since its theatrical release in 2006, where I wasn't all that impressed by it really. Now watching the Unrated Cut on DVD over four years later, I enjoyed it more than I had remembered. But is the film any good? Let's chew into some sweet flesh and find out.
In 1939, a deformed looking baby is born and thrown in the garbage to die. A young Luda Mae (Allison Marich/Marietta Marich) hears the baby crying and takes him home with her. Years later, Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) has grown up working in the same factory his mother used to work at. Unfortunately, the factory is closing down and doesn't want Thomas to hang around. Not really feeling this, Thomas leaves after murdering the factory owner with a sledgehammer. A sheriff is on Thomas' trail, only to be killed by Thomas' father (R. Lee Ermey), later assuming the sheriff's role as Sheriff Hoyt to protect his family and start running a slaughterhouse filled with human meat.
Meanwhile, Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and Bailey (Diora Baird) are riding along their boyfriends, brothers Eric (Matt Bomer) and Dean (Taylor Handley), who are on their way to enlist in the Vietnam War, despite Dean not wanting to go. After the group is harassed by a biker gang, they end up in a car crash that separates Chrissie from the rest of the group. Sheriff Hoyt ends up finding them, taking them hostage and torturing them in humiliating and vicious ways. It's up to Chrissie to save her friends, not knowing that she's only a pawn in the legend of Thomas Hewitt's evolution into the infamous Leatherface.
Even though the film is a little over four years old, I still find it hard to think that anyone asked for a prequel to the remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. I didn't need to know why Thomas Hewitt became Leatherface. I didn't need to know why Sheriff Hoyt was so crooked and that he wasn't a Sheriff to begin with. I didn't need to know who the first victims of this family were. The lack of knowledge and background actually keeps the mystery and fear alive in these type of films. But we're in a day and age where audiences want to know and learn everything, so I'm not surprised this film was made and released. That being said, THE BEGINNING is actually a pretty decent modern horror flick that does a lot of things right, even if it does end up being pointless at the end.
The screenplay by Sheldon Turner, with input by David J. Schow [who wrote LEATHERFACE], does what it needs to do and does it quite well. This is helped by the fact that the script features likeable characters that we actually care about watching. Turner and Schow do a very smart thing and let the audience watch these four young innocent adults go from arguing over enlisting in Vietnam to getting tortured by the Hewitt family that's probably close to being as bad as serving in that very war. I felt the young adults in the remake were pretty bland for the most part because they were very typical of what you would find in a film like this. THE BEGINNING allows these characters to be interesting because they all have internal issues that allows conflict to not just happen with their antagonists, but with each other. Eric and Dean argue about serving Vietnam, especially Dean feeling he's being forced into it because of Eric. When Sheriff Hoyt learns that Dean is a draft dodger, Eric protects him by assuming his place. There's also the boys' relationships with their girlfriends. There's also Chrissie, knowing she really has no chance surviving this ordeal, risking her life to save her friends when she could just escape and never look back. The protagonists have more layers than one would expect in a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE film, but it definitely works in the film's favor. You really feel for these kids and root for their survival, even though you know they all have to die in order for the story and the other films in the series to make sense.
Another thing is that the film focuses more on the Hewitt family than on anyone else. From Thomas Hewitt's birth to his evolution as Leatherface, we see how this bullied, facially disfigured behemoth of a man snapped into a blood hungry killer. Unlike the before mentioned LEATHERFACE film, which barely had the title character in the damn movie, THE BEGINNING is more fitting of the third film's title. We see how Leatherface got so good in slaughtering people. We see his first time crafting and putting on a face made of human flesh. We see his first time turning on that chainsaw and killing people with it. Even though we don't need to witness these events, the prequel wouldn't work without them.
To be honest, THE BEGINNING doesn't really belong totally to Leatherface. In fact, I feel the film is more of a centerpiece for Sheriff Hoyt's character. He's a despicable human being, but in a twisted way, has every reason to be. He lives in a nothing town with no money to provide for his family besides the factory Leatherface works at. And once the factory closes down, Hoyt realizes they need to eat human flesh in order to survive. He does that by killing the only Sheriff in town and assuming the role. And even though he shouldn't, he takes pleasure in torturing his "food" before he eats it. He ties victims to each leg of the table while people eat and chat over it. He beats people like he's a sadistic drill sergeant. He's even a bastard to his own family. The man is vulgar yet funny, which is definitely what members of Leatherface's family should be. Unfortunately, Luda Mae [who's the 'conscience' of the family] and Monty don't get much characterization, but watching Leatherface and Sheriff Hoyt do their thing makes up for it.
Unfortunately, the script doesn't do anything with the unoriginal premise of four teenagers getting slaughtered by Leatherface and his family. While I understand that it's a homage to the original film, it's looking a bit tired by the sixth installment. It doesn't help that imitators, like WRONG TURN, use the exact same premise and tell the exact same story only with more boring characters and villains. Luckily, it's a formula that works really well. Still, it would have been nice to see some sort of twist done with it, but it's just the same old, same old. It's too predictable at this point, making one think that if they just see the original 1974 film, they've seen all the others.
Also, the ending of the film really bugs me because it's not only predictable, but it's implausible as well. I won't spoil it for those who have an interest in watching this movie, but it involves that urban legend and classic horror trope where the killer is hiding in the backseat of the car while the victim is driving the car. The problem with this is that the victim is so ahead of the killer by the time she enters the car, it makes you wonder when did he suddenly teleport to the backseat. Also, how can no one see a giant guy with a chainsaw hiding in the backseat of a small car? I get that it has to end in a bleak manner, but the way it was done could have been more thought out and presented better.
THE BEGINNING's strength comes into the brutality and display of gore. This, by far, is the goriest and most brutal TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE film. Eric and Dean get chained up in a barn like prisoners of war. Eric gets wrapped with plastic around his face while he hangs, until Hoyt stabs a mouth hole. Hoyt beats Dean with a stick while he does push ups. Bailey gets a hook to the back after she was dragged in the dirt. Skin is peeled off, revealing the insides of an arm and a face. People get shot in the head and to the torso. People get chainsawed in half or impaled by it through the stomach. Legs are chopped off. This film, especially in the last twenty minutes, does not let up when it comes to blood and gore. It makes all the other installments before it seem PG-13. This film pretty much lives up to its name.
Director Jonathan Liesbesman, who directed the very flawed 2003's DARKNESS FALLS, wasn't considered the right fit before the movie's release. But he proves nay-sayers wrong by giving THE BEGINNING a cruel, gritty, and brooding feel that has been missing since LEATHERFACE back in 1990. I always felt the 2003 Marcus Nispel directed remake was a bit too polished and clean for a TCM film, but Liesbesman remedies that by sticking to the franchise's roots. It has a 70s vibe look and feel with a modern twist, with a harsh, but beautiful cinematography and nice scenes with tension. Even the jump scares worked most of the time, even though some were really cheap. It's just a nice looking film that has a great pace and a cool mood. I think this film is better directed than the remake for sure.
The acting is really good in this prequel as well. Without a doubt, this film belongs to R. Lee Ermey of FULL METAL JACKET fame. He's a cussing, crazy, and evil tour-de-force - stealing every scene he's in by chewing up the scenery. I would love to see him back in the next installment. Andrew Bryniarski returns as Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface, giving another intense and intimidating performance through the usage of body language. I thought he should have been in the film more, really. Jordana Brewster, of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS fame, is very convincing as Final Girl Chrissie. I believed her fear. I believed when she fought back. She had great chemistry with the other actors. And she looked really hot in her low riding jeans. Diora Baird didn't really do all that much as Bailey besides screaming and looking really hot as well. Great job! Taylor Handley was cool as Dean. He had great scenes with Matt Bomer and R. Lee Ermey especially. And Matt Bomer, of White Collar fame, did a good job as Eric. The acting here was a lot better than you would expect for a prequel to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
By the way, I also enjoyed the soundtrack as well. Although "All Right Now" by Free was released in 1970, not in 1969 where this film takes place. Oops. Still a great song though.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE EATING SOME FINGER SANDWICHES
- Some idiot put Leatherface in a dumpster when he was just an infant. You don't put baby in the trash. Or in a corner.
- Dean didn't get aroused by Bailey tying him to the bed for sex. Some people just don't have a BASIC INSTINCT when it comes to this certain thing.
- Don't try and be friendly with a group of bikers on the road. These riders are anything but easy when it comes to companionship outside the brotherhood.
- Eric, while trying to outrun a biker, crashed his car into a cow on the road. I know movie studios like to milk their horror franchises until they're dried up, but that's friggin' ridiculous.
- Sheriff Hoyt kept beating Dean with a stick as he was doing push-ups to turn him into a soldier. If there's no 'Gomer Pyle', 'Captain Joker', or "Me love you long time", it's not worth the effort.
- Sheriff Hoyt beat Eric in the Battle of Former Soldiers. This just proves that blue collar beats White Collar every time.
THE FINAL HOWL
Even though it's pointless and just another TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE film that you've seen many times before, at least THE BEGINNING is well made and entertaining for what it is. The acting is very good. The direction is solid. And while unoriginal, at least the story treats its characters with respect. It delivers in what it wanted to do, so I can't really knock this film at all. Still, I was expecting more out of it and hopefully the next installment will change it up a bit and bring something new to the Leatherface table.
3 Howls Outta 4