Review: The Beginning of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2006), A Bad Apple
By Alex Romano, Associate Editor
I have a history with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel. Like many other horror movies spanning from 2003, the year the first Chainsaw remake came out, to the early 2010s, when a casting director made the inexplicable decision to cast Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a suitable replacement for Kurt Russell in 2011’s The Thing, The Beginning was an entry in a series of nostalgic reboots of beloved horror classics from the past century for enjoyment in the present day. Regrettably, most of these remakes are a part of my childhood, as they all premiered when I started elementary school.
The Chainsaw prequel especially stuck with me. I remember seeing at least one advertisement for it at home, and then about a year later turning on the TV in the morning before elementary school during one of the movie’s grislier scenes. The experience of seeing it at the age of nine left me feeling unsettled even as I entered young adulthood, so upon growing up I decided to watch it for closure. It being an unnecessary prequel to a a poorly received remake, I was not expecting much. Yet upon finally watching it, I was still surprised by how little it was that I got from this prequel.
The Beginning is a film deserving of the heaviest helping of shame. It is an obvious product of box office receipt-driven studio pandering, the only goal of the project appearing to be to surpass the first remake in terms of its nastiness, brutality, despair, and uncreative and oftentimes unbelievable gory practical effects. The filmmakers took the slaughtered cow that the 2003 remake gave them, tossed into the slop bucket what parts needed curing and further tainted the parts that were already spoiled, in effect leaving no cut of meat edible for public mass consumption.
The story, the characters, the pacing, the acting— well, there hardly is any. The mean-spiritedness, the blood and guts, the gun play, the hopelessness and unending emotional torment— all provided, with leftovers. The problem with that second sentence is that, well, the original did not include any gun play in it at all; its mean-spiritedness mostly came through in dark humor rather than straight-up cruelty; the technicians behind its kill scenes used gore sparingly; and suspense and ever-mounting dread, rather than hopelessness and emotional torment, were what Hooper strove to generate in his groundbreaking horror film.
The prequel has a plot for part of its running time. The first third of it tells a weak but coherent story, with four young adults, including two Vietnam draftees and their respective girlfriends, driving on a cross-country road trip in Texas. The group hits a cow with their van and crash. A female biker accosts them, dismounts her vehicle holding a shotgun, and attempts to rob the crash victims. Enter the late R. Lee Ermey, sorely miscast as the main antagonist, wearing a sheriff’s outfit.
The “sheriff” (Ermey actually killed the real sheriff and stole his uniform; why the writers didn’t just make him the sheriff to begin with is beyond me) disposes of the biker and then takes the young adults to the Hewitt homestead (in another change from the original that is beyond me, the surname of Leatherface’s family is no longer Sawyer, but Hewitt). And that is where the story halts.That is the whole movie: kids go on a road trip, crash their van, get captured, are taken to a decrepit farmhouse, and then they are all separated into different rooms and tortured to death. It is as uninteresting as that.
The torture scenes are all savage, long, unimaginative, and boring. They are not designed to entertain, or raise any empathy that the viewer might have for the victimized protagonists, but only to turn stomachs. I have seen movies gorier than this, like The Devil’s Rejects, The Evil Dead trilogy, and David Cronenberg’s The Fly, not to mention countless films from other genres known for their intensity, but what makes them superior films is that all of those movies tell a good story, draw up compelling characters, and make room for substantive dialogue in their scripts. Save the occasional weak attempt at macabre humor, this movie is utterly without memorable dialogue.
The characters are not characters, only slightly sentient moving objects that can scream very loudly and exist with the sole purpose of having either Ermey beat them with a baton or Leatherface chase them with his trademark chainsaw.
The movie splutters out an ending so heartlessly cynical and predictable that it becomes evident to the audience that the real horror to be found here is not anything viewed on screen, but in the fact that actual human beings worked on bringing this gross non-vision to life for an audience to endure. Normal people saw what schlock that they were putting together day in and day out and continued to work on it, perhaps knowing that what they were making might someday cause them a guilty conscience, but contractually bound to finish what they started.
In 1974, the year that America met the height of its “national nightmare,” Tobe Hooper crafted a scary, shocking, sad, and suspenseful horror film that became a landmark in American cinema. Despite the aggressive nature of its horror, the film was subtle. Underlying Hooper’s creation, but present in almost every scene, were subtle analyses of the political environment during the post-countercultural deluge. For the 2006 installment in the franchise, the only social criticism to be found may be interactive. A studio actually believed that normal people would enjoy viewing in full what is essentially an 86-minute bleeding-out. It is a frequently repeated belief. That so many filmmakers share the same sickening inspiration is the only scary part of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.