Starring: Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, Matthew Bomer, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryianiarski. Rated R.
To this day, the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains one of the starkest, most terrifying films ever made. More
than any of the lackluster imitations that have followed in the 32 years since director Tobe Hooper unleashed his demented
vision of the nuclear family re-imagined as ravenous cannibals, that first movie captures the surreal spirit of a nightmare
and translates it into brutally simple cinema. Unlike the well-financed sequels it has inspired, it features a bare minimum
of special effects and on-screen gore. It’s just an ultra-violent trip to the slaughterhouse, all the more chilling
for its technical and dramatic crudity.
Although there was no discernible need for a remake, the franchise enjoyed a lucrative rebirth in 2003, this time under the
supervision of music-video director Marcus Nispel. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was another hyper-violent fantasy, devoid
of artistic inspiration, but it was more passably entertaining than it had any right to be. Now, for those who have spent
long, sleepless nights contemplating the origins of Leatherface’s extreme psychosis, comes The Beginning.
It adheres faithfully to the franchise formula: Set against the unrelated backdrop of the Vietnam War, a group of teens wanders
into the depths of hell (Texas) and suffers unthinkable indignities (evisceration, dismemberment). Through it all, they must
endure the constant jawing of Sheriff Hewitt (R. Lee Ermey), a sadist with a taste for human flesh, and Leatherface, his chainsaw-wielding
henchman – who, as it turns out, was teased mercilessly as a kid. (By comparison, Freddy and Jason’s back-stories
seem positively Shakespearean.)
As usual, the action is swift and punishing; clearly, director Jonathan Liebesman, like Nispel, knows better than to tinker
with Hooper’s no-frills approach. But the freshness is gone. The original Chain Saw Massacre spoke, in unsettling
terms, to middle America’s growing contempt for the ’60s counter-culture, but no deeper meaning can be ascribed
to this mayhem. It’s just a joyless, technical exercise, made all the more thankless because the bad guys never get
Ermey, best known as the domineering drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, brings the same menacing presence to all
his movies, and The Beginning is no exception. Here, his character has been expanded from the bit role he played in
Nispel’s superior remake, but even a charismatic lead – Leatherface is more the strong, silent type – can’t
energize material this bleak. Jordana Brewster (The Fast and the Furious) replaces Jessica Biel as the starlet least
likely to end up swinging from a meat-hook; the rest of the cast is just dead meat.