Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, Matthew Bomer, R. Lee Ermey
This latest entry in the psychotic inbred hillbilly sub-genre earns a star for making a vague attempt at returning the Chainsaw Massacre franchise to the kind of socio-political underpinnings of Tobe Hooper's original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and its sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986). (OK, so maybe that star has a little something to do with the best "exploding" cow I've ever seen.) But it's too little and it's too late to keep Jonathan Liebesman's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning from being just another teenage meat-on-the-hoof saga -- and a pretty yawn-inducing one at that.
Once more the film is working on the shaky premise that all this is somehow based on a true story. For the last time, folks, there never was a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." The character of Leatherface is loosely -- very loosely -- based on real-life wacko Ed Gein of Wisconsin. (So were Norman Bates from Psycho and "Buffalo Bill" from The Silence of the Lambs.) Gein admitted to killing two women (not quite the body count the word massacre conjures up), but his most notorious antics involved grave-robbing and the rather extreme craft projects he undertook with the corpses. The rest of the characters in the Chainsaw Massacre movies are made out of whole cloth. Neither chainsaws, nor Texas were involved. (Those who persist in believing the urban myth should also remember to put out carrots and a glass of water for the Easter Bunny.)
The hook this go-round lies in promising the viewer the story of the origins of the chainsaw clan in 1969 -- origins that (quelle surprise) have virtually nothing to do with Tobe Hooper's 1974 film. Hooper's original -- and even more his 1986 sequel -- is a combination of creating a rural myth (something at which Hooper excels) and making a comment on the downside of the American Dream (when it goes as sour as possible), along with a comment on "traditional family values."
There's little of that combination here. Instead, we find that the chainsaw-wielding Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski reprising his role from 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) was some kind of mutant baby with a skin condition (this was brought up in the remake, too) whose mother (newcomer L.A. Calkin) promptly deposited him in a dumpster where he was found by a family of anti-social mouth-breathers who raise him. When the meat-packing company Leatherface ends up working for is condemned by the board of health (no surprise from the look of the place), he goes on a rampage, leading to the events of the film.
The sole nod to the Hooper concept lies in giving the family patriarch (R. Lee Ermey reprising his role from the 2003 remake) a strain of gung-ho Americanism: He goes all patriotic when he finds one of his intended victims has just attempted to burn his draft card. Had this really gone anywhere, there might have been something genuinely subversive about The Beginning, but it just crops up and is quickly dropped in favor of standard-issue gore and grue -- topped off in the modern idiom of Eli Roth (Hostel) and Alexander Aja (High Tension) by lingering on the most sadistic presentation possible.
Apart from a few effective black comic moments from R. Lee Ermey (his explanation for a double chainsaw amputation is a sick classic), there's nothing here you haven't seen before -- too many times. The usual suspiciously long-in-the-tooth cast of "teenagers" would be more at home modeling underwear than starring in a movie, and, also as usual, the plot requires them possessing a significant dearth of brain cells to keep going. There's a good bit of gore, bad plumbing and standard psychotic bad housekeeping, but not much more.
Other than sketching in a background for Leatherface (something that takes about three minutes) and establishing that the family he is raised by turned to cannibalism because unwary travelers are easier to find than jobs (the idea prompts the patriarch to have a Scarlet O'Hara moment and vow, "We'll never go hungry again"), this is just a pointless exercise in the disemboweling school of horror. It may satisfy the bathful-of-blood-and-bucket-of-giblets brigade, but for anyone else it's apt to be merely unpleasant, ugly and frankly rather dull. Rated R for strong horror violence/gore, language and some sexual content.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke