October 12, 2006

Movie Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Tell me again while this called The Beginning? I'm not quite sure I get the logic behind it. It seems to me that they could not come up some sort of tagline for it, so they slapped on a little pre-credit sequence which also saves them from having an ending. Don't get me wrong, the blood was nice to see on the big screen, but this could have used a little bit more for it.

Horror fans are a group of people who like abuse. They like to be scared, they like to see people get cut and bloodied, terrorized and chased. Besides having an obvious dedication to the genre, they are a long suffering lot. There are more and more horror, and horror related, movies being made, some get the big screen treatment, some are sent directly to the DVD shelves, and some suffer the fate of being called a Sci Fi Channel Original. The problem is that so many of these films are bad. I forced myself to sit through a number of stinkers over the years, a number I am sure is dwarfed by many of you reading this. What does this have to do with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning? Well, it means that if we can sit through some of those turkeys that we have, we can sit through this, and actually think it is a halfway decent movie.

With the lack of good horror coming out of Hollywood these days, I have found my standards lowering at times to allow myself the enjoyment of a horror film that a decade ago I may have just passed over. I have a feeling that this has colored my perception of horror films. I have yet to decide if this is a good or a bad thing, am I letting myself get suckered by sub-par movies, or am I just open to other experiences? I don't know.

Back to the matter at hand. I am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed the 2003 take on the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I also am not ashamed to say that the original is not placed on the same high pedestal of reverence upon which many seem to hold it. I enjoy it to be certain, and recognize its place in the history of horror, but I do not love it. The remake was a stylish, grueling, and beautifully shot exercise in horror, and much better than I had expected it to be. Now, we are three years out and it was decided that it was time to revisit the twisted world of the Hewitt family.

The movie begins in the 1930s, where we bear witness to the birth of a child, unceremoniously dumped on the grimy floor of a meat packing plant. Moments later, an apparently homeless woman is picking through the trash and discovers the crying child wrapped in paper in the dumpster. She picks him up and wanders down the desolate road. We have just witnessed the birth of he who would come to be known as Leatherface. That, and only that is the reason that this is called The Beginning. Sure, an argument could be made for a scene short time away, but who are you kidding? Jump ahead thirty or so years, the meat packing plant is closing down, but the man-monster doesn't want to leave, and has a delightful way of voicing his dipleasure. This leads directly to the family's patriarch, played by the deliciously evil R. Lee Ermey, to take over as the law of the town and find a gruesome new way to feed his brood.

From here on out, the movie has a been there, done that feel to it. I feel as if I have seen it all before. Fortunately, I like what I see, for the most part. Following the birth of the wicked, we fall into the standard horror story, with a healthy dose of gore. A group of four teens, a pair of brothers and their girlfriends, are driving across the state of Texas to respond to the call of the draft during the Vietnam War, the year is 1969. They are having one last bit of fun by taking the long drive together, little do they know the real fun that is in store for them.

The foursome have an unfortunate run-in with a local biker gang, which leaves them wrecked, and captured by the new sheriff. This is where the fun begins. Sheriff Hoyt and the rest of the Hewitt family of new cannibals plan on making the kids a part of their daily meal. This leads to lots of screaming and running as they try various ways to escape the clutches of this family of psychopaths.

Peppered with humor and salted with blood, it may be like many other movies of the type, but it still finds a certain attraction in me. This new movie marries the current wave of torture films with the sensibilities of the 80s slasher and comes out ahead of the curve. The black humor, the evil of Ermey, and the ever present chainsaw, and the promise of dead teenagers is almost too strong to ignore.

Once the kids are captured and their attempts to escape commence, the film hurtles along its track towards its inevitable conclusion. It's too bad the conclusion is a non-ending. Going in you have to know that none of the bad guys are going to get their comeuppance, or else it would not be depicting the beginning. I am sure this fact led to many a sleepless night for the writers, how do you end the beginning? Well, they found a way, a sloppy, messy way. The final shot is beautiful, a murderous creature making its way back into the night. What accompanies it just makes it feel wasted. I will leave it at that.

If you cut out the beginning and the extraneous portions of the ending and you would have a decent and bloody little exercise in grueling horror. What I am trying to say is I like what comes in between the bookends, but not the bookends themselves. Director Jonathan Liebesman does do a better job with this than he did with the abysmal Darkness Falls, but that doesn't really say much.

Bottomline. A nice meaty middle surrounded by a couple of thin pieces of bread. This is a movie to enjoy, to an extent. The acting is mediocre, but the free flowing blood more than makes up for it. This is not a good movie, it is not nearly as good as the '03 remake, but it does have enough substance to hold my attention. Basically, if you are a horror fan with slightly lowered expectations, you should find enough here to like. I did.

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