The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - The Beginning review by The Grim Ringler

This is a bit of an odd bird – not just s sequel to a legendary horror franchise remake/revision, but a prequel at that. Jumpy jiminy! I really liked the remake, which I am sure will anger many a diehard horror nerd, but I did. It didn’t crap on the original film, and it took things in its own direction. Was it as good as the original? No. I might have thought it was close at the time, but given some reflection, no, it wasn’t as good. Why? The family. The family in the original feels like a family. They felt like a ‘this is how it is, us against the world’ sort of family. The remake was nasty, and it was brutal, but it didn’t feel like this was a family so much as a group of crazy people who were in on the same joke. This sequel/prequel is designed to flesh out how Leatherface/Thomas Hewitt became what he did, and how the family became what it is. Some stories are better left unspoken though.

The Beginning is about families, two families to be specific, and both are at a crossroads. One family, the Hewitt’s are about to lose everything. The only work there is in town, a slaughterhouse, is going out of business, and this means Thomas, the youngest of the family, will be out of work. The work was more to give him something productive to do, and to put meat on the table, but now that the plant is closing, there’s nowhere for him to go. Nothing for him to do. He has no purpose. The second family story is about two brothers, one fresh from Vietnam and on his way back, the other, younger brother drafted to go to the war zone as well. Both brothers are spending their last few days of freedom with their girlfriends and are taking the long way to the war. What the older brother doesn’t know though is that baby bro has no intention of going to war, he just hasn’t found the courage to announce it yet. Both families come together when the patriarch of the Hewitt’s forcefully takes over the sheriff’s job when the lawman was tracking down junior for murder. Papa Hewitt has had an idea about how to keep meat on the family table, and, using Thomas’s butchering skills, it’s Man that’s for dinner from now on. The brothers and their lady friends are found by the newly self-appointed sheriff after an accident with their truck and are shown no mercy when three of the four are taken back to the family home. The fourth, the girlfriend of the older brother, is left to try to save the others as well as herself. What she finds at the home though is a nightmare, as she comes to realize that the family plans not only on killing her fiancée and friends, but intends to devour them as well. As the horrors mount though, she may be lucky if she can save only herself.

Not nearly as interesting as the first remake, the sequel has two major problems with it –

Bad camerawork.

The redundancy comes in the form of a story we’ve seen played out in, oh, a thousand horror films, and, most recently, in the first remake. Two guys, two girls, hell, two couples out for a drive and they come up against the mean old Hewitt family and their chainsaws. Being that we’ve seen this before, I can’t fathom why they are telling essentially the same story again. Not that this is a complete retread, or that this story is uninteresting, but it’s just that there’s more you can do with the family. And by this, I mean that they should have taken more time to tell the story of the family. We see glimpses of Thomas’s birth, and hear about his childhood, but we don’t see it, or learn about what made this boy into a monster. Is it just because he was disfigured from birth? Is it something else? We don’t know. We learn tidbits about the rest of the family, but it all feels a bit like a Cliff’s Notes version of what should be a pretty chilling and gripping tale of a good, or at least ‘normal’ family becoming monsters to survive.

Secondly, the camerawork is dreadful. Sure, I get that handheld work can be effective, and hell, one of my favorite movies is Blair Witch, but you can easily overdo something like handheld camera work. Easily overdo it. There’s a point where you lose the empathy for the characters, and where the immediacy fades and you start to long for a steady shot. I think the handheld camera can be very effective, and can create a lot of tension if used in moderation, but if used too much it becomes another cheap scare tactic, like a cat jumping out at you from the shadows.

There is good here though. The acting is well done, the special effects are very well done, and some elements of the story are great. Hell, if nothing else, R. Lee Ermey is reason alone to see this film. This isn’t a bad film, not at all. It’s a film that doesn’t live up to its potential. It has a lot of interesting ideas, and a great premise, but it jumps too quickly into the horror and doesn’t let you get to know the Hewitt family at all. We still only see them as a family of monsters who chose to do what they do, not who had no choice. And sure, there’s a lot of violence and brutality to the film, but we’ve reached a point where I have to say – so what? Yes, it’s shocking and horrific but characters need to be fleshed out, and we need to see more of them than twenty minutes worth of them having fun so we can truly feel for them when they die. You get away with little character development in a film like Last House on the Left because it is so shocking it’s hard not to empathize with the girls in the film. Horror films are too anxious to ramp up the terror and violence anymore without giving you some character foreplay, and dammit, I need me some character kisses before you get into my pants with the chainsaw!

If you liked the first remake, odds are you’ll like this prequel. I have been pretty hard on it, but it’s because it had so much potential to really put a new mark on a familiar story and to hit some elements the original series never touched on. Sadly, this never really happens and we get scant details about things we’ve been dying to know. Essentially, this film seems to say that Thomas Hewitt became Leatherface because he lost his job and was teased. Really? That’s it? Crap, I know PLENTY of people on the road to chainsaw mass-murder then. Crap! It’s worth a view, so long as you don’t sit near the screen, and it was good enough that I’ll buy it when it’s on DVD, but it’s not a film you need to see. The best thing I can say, is that, intentionally or not, this film sets up the first remake as a hell of a cathartic ride when it’s all said and done. If nothing else, you’ll be rooting against the Hewitt’s come the first film, which is an interesting bit of plotting, and was hopefully done on purpose.


6 out of 10 Jackasses
blog comments powered by Disqus