There’s a great conversation that goes on in the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre where a crazed man and a van of hippies awkwardly talk about the difference between the new way of killing cattle and the old, barbaric ways. The new way is painless and more sanitary in general, but it was bad for social matters (layoffs, machinery-over-manpower etc.) but the old way was brutal, unclean and considered inhumane. At the time, this conversation was meant to point out how the ’60s counter-culture wanted to help the poor workers but disapproved and actually fought to get rid of the jobs they had. How proper it is that now, 32 years after the original and three years after the original remake, the same argument can be used to discuss what has now become the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.
The film begins with the terrifically gruesome birth of none other than Tommy Hewitt, aka Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski). He is born in the dark, dirty floor of an old-style killing floor, and thrown out in the garbage behind the plant. There, he is saved by an elderly woman who brings him home and puts him under the care of his Uncle Charlie (R. Lee Ermey), who later takes on the identity of Sheriff Hoyt, the Texas town’s only cop who is disposed of after he calls Tommy ‘retarded.’ Time passes and the Hewitt family, at the full swing of the Vietnam War, happens upon two soldiers and their girlfriends. Only one of the girlfriends (Jordana Brewster) stands a chance of surviving the night.
If it’s gore you want, you’re in luck, dear readers. Whether it’s the squirm-worthy opening birth, the tongue extractions or the stunning dissection of one of the soldiers (the film’s only true scary moment), director Jonathan Liebesman has a knack for wounds and meaty repulsion. Sadly, this is the only thing that is done right. Like the original remake, the film buys into the current culture of loud noises and shiny gloss that just barely passes for scary. Instead of building fright through tension, grittiness, and atmosphere, the scares all come from basic responses (hear a loud bang, you’re bound to jump). It’s a cheat and a particularly cruel one considering the original film still stands as the horror genre’s most pungent, experimental, and downright freaky statement to date.
The only thing the film shares with the original incarnation is the use of actors as pieces of meat rather than performers. The original TCM was genius in its ability to destroy all sense of protagonist and antagonist (we don’t really care that the flower children are getting diced up). However, in that film there was a sense of purpose behind it, using it to point out the hypocrisy of the counter-culture. Here, they give the characters dialect to turn them into melodramatic time bombs, hitting a new low when one victim asks his girlfriend for the names of their two would-be children, right before Leatherface revs up his little beast. If Hostel was the horror genre’s dispassionate yawn, The Beginning is the follow-up stretch in relief, giving up on the ideals that infused the early films of the genre. In other words, it commits the crime of being totally and utterly tiresome.
I like your sleeves. They’re really big.