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Three years ago Michael Bay produced a remake of the classic 1974 low-budget film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Surprisingly, the result of a big budget approach to a low budget film was better than you might expect, and the new film created enough original content for the story to keep it interesting. While I’ll always prefer the ’74 Tobe Hooper film, I actually liked that remake. Apparently enough people liked it that the studio decided there was enough steam for a new franchise, bringing us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, a prequel to the remake that expands even further on the backwoods Hewitt family, and I’m not talking about Jennifer-Love’s brood.
If, somehow, over the course of the thirty years of its existence, you’ve not caught on to the story of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre here’s the skinny. A masochistic, quasi-inbred family in Texas likes to kill people. They then like to eat them, decorate their creepy, rundown plantation home with their parts, and wear their skin for show. One of the family members, an oversized, deformed brute known to his family as Thomas (but to fans as Leatherface) likes to use a chainsaw as his weapon of choice. If you didn’t know that before coming to this movie you’ll definitely know it when it’s over. The picture emphasizes every time Leatherface picks up (or even comes close to) a chainsaw in an attempt to create as many iconic shots as possible with dramatic music building to a swell to state how important capturing that moment on film really is.
The Beginning, as in the original, features a group of kids traveling through Texas who encounter some bad luck that causes their car to break down in Hewitt territory. Because the town sheriff is also the family’s patricarchal figure (although he’s actually Thomas’s uncle), it doesn’t take long for the Hewitt family to take notice of the kids and start stalking, beating, and sawing them up.
Serving as “the beginning,” this film shows the origins of the Hewitt family’s homicidal and cannibalistic tendencies. Although Leatherface is the iconic image of the Chainsaw movies, the origin of the family focuses more on the demented Sheriff Hoyt played by the one and only R. Lee Ermey. It is only because of Ermey’s dedication to play the most despicable, unredeemable character possible that this works. It’s something Ermey has done for most of his career, and Hoyt brings all of his prior roles to a height I hope he never has reason to try and top. From the moment we see exactly what accreditation Hoyt has in law enforcement, Ermey is the best thing in the movie.
Eventually the focus shifts to the kids as they encounter the Hewitts, (allowing a nearly-complete cast reunion of the psychotic family from 2003’s remake), and their struggle for survival. Sadly the whole thing carries a feeling of been-there, done-that. Everything original the remake created that made it even a possibility to enjoy a remake, is reproduced here, and it feels like it. The movie plods along never really building the needed tension, and only sparking to life when Ermey appears in a scene. The blood, guts, and gore that should be engaging the audience are barely visible thanks to epileptic camera work and grainy, dimly list sequences. Add to that, that this is a prequel to the first film, therefore nothing can really happen to the Hewitts since they’ve already appeared in a movie that shows their future, and you wind up with a bunch of protagonists running around that nobody cares about, who can barely be seen when things get interesting. The result is a movie that has you cheering for the Hewitts to hurry up and execute every one of the interlopers so the movie can end. Sadly, the chainsaw doesn’t even get fired up until after the hour mark, despite Leatherface picking it up several times prior to that.
The remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre showed quite a bit of promise for a franchise that had suffered through Matt McConaughey, and Renee Zellweger (little known fact: it’s required for all critics to mention their appearance in the fourth film now that they are big stars). Sadly, The Beginning pushes the franchise back to a point that I’d prefer not to see it touched again. Leave us the memories of the classic film and its decently successful remake, but spare us needless regurgitations of the things that made those movies work simply to try and get a few more box-office dollars. It only cheapens the films that did work.