A confused, albeit disturbing film from Devereux Milburn.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. 2006. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Screenplay by Sheldon Turner; from a story by Sheldon Turner & David J. Schow.
Starring Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, Matt Bomer, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Lee Tergesen, Terrence Evans, Kathy Lamkin, Mariette Marich, and Lew Temple.
Rated 18A. 91 minutes.
As I’ve mentioned time and time again, I will always consider The Texas Chain Saw Massacre one of the scariest films of all time. That original Tobe Hooper movie is just terrifying to me. It’s fine if others don’t agree, but something about that horror movie absolutely gets to me right at my core. The whole family and Leatherface himself, they’re creepy. Almost the definition of macabre. Plus, there’s the fact Leatherface is VERY loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein, whom I’ve read a ton about. So I think my own interests play into part of why the movie scares me so deeply.
I’m not a fan of the 2003 remake, but honestly I do dig Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. It is nowhere near being a perfect movie, however, I found it a hell of a lot scarier than the remake to which this is a prequel. While there’s still a little of that flashiness from the 2003 film which I complained of in my recent review. Luckily for this movie, it doesn’t try to focus too much on the sexualized females as that one, either. I’m not saying there isn’t any seemingly obligatory sexualization from serial culprits Platinum Dunes – there are bits of half nudity and such, focus on the gleaming wet bodies of young people – but compared to the remake in 2003 it is nowhere near as foolish in that sense.
What I do like is a peek into the history of Leatherface, here named Thomas “Tommy” Hewitt, and his adopted family. This is a nasty bit of horror, that’s for sure. While there are some problems, I think it’s a more interesting movie than the one to which this acts as a prequel, and the script is much better, as well.
I found the whole Vietnam War angle pretty intriguing. Brothers Eric (Matt Bomer) and Dean (Taylor Handley) have an intense dynamic, as the former – the oldest – clearly cares about his country, in the sense he’s willing to go back over after already clearly experiencing horrors his first time. On the other hand, younger brother Dean burns up his draft card, knowing the post traumatic stress his brother suffers having already served in the army over in Vietnam. So I like how they clash, as well as the fact the climax of their situation comes right at the biggest moment of tension when a biker is chasing them down, gun drawn, and they end up smashing into a cow crossing over the road.
Furthermore, it plays a bit into the brothers’ confrontation with Charlie Hewitt (R. Lee Ermey), a.k.a Sheriff Hoyt after he killed the last bit of law enforcement in their tiny, dying Texas town. When he finds the burned draft card, things get super intense.
What I love about this one, as opposed to the 2003 remake, is that the four main characters on the road trip kicking everything into gear feel genuine and real. There’s still a bit of that ‘sex sells’ nonsense here like the previous movie, a couple beer ad-like moments. But overall I feel we get to know and care for these characters, as opposed to the 2003 film where it’s just a bunch of sweat glistened young people who have little to no personality, and the whole tired pot angle played into things making it worse. Here, I honestly feel – for all its flawed bits – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning gave us a nice dose of character, both in terms of the victims and the Hewitt family themselves, a.k.a the bad guys.
Almost more than Leatherface, I really wanted to see more about Sheriff Hoyt after the first remake in 2003. Most of that movie is pretty mediocre to crap, but R. Lee Ermey does such a terrifyingly fantastic job playing the character he drew me in. Then, of course, with this sequel to the remake we’re finding out deeper, even darker secrets about Hoyt. So while I love Leatherface, Hoyt – or Charlie, whatever you want to call him – is a huge part of the interest I have here. To my mind, things get way more disturbing after the opening events of this film, once we find out what Hoyt is really all about. Watching his mental state sort of go from ‘dealing with things’ to ‘scorched earth’ is pretty chilling.
Several parts of the screenplay make this Texas Chainsaw entry better than others. First, I like how there’s an inclusion of different themes from war – what people will do in one while they’re fighting, or what they’ll resort to in situations simply to survive (which further leads into the cannibalism aspect of the story) – to staying true to one’s roots and holding on to one’s culture, to the bonds people people whether blood and family or not. Between all those elements there are so many things happening. Not a groundbreaking work of art, this screenplay, but I think compared to its predecessor this movie has great stuff going on. Because ultimately, we know what’s going to happen – this is a prequel, we get that part. So the writers did a few neat things in order to make the journey more exciting.
Secondly, most of the Texas Chainsaw films – good or not – tend to see one group of people fall into the trap, ending up at Chez Leatherface and then they’re killed. Part of why I enjoy this movie as much as I do is because we see the brother duo and their girlfriends have an altercation with bikers, leading to a crash and that leads into the meeting with Sheriff Hoyt. All the while, this allows for the story to flesh out the backstory of Tommy Hewitt and his adopted family. I’ve always found there was a fun mixture in the plot, which allows for interesting developments – leading to prequel bits filling up/bridging the gaps to the previous remake – and some wild characters + situations.
This is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror film, for me. It could’ve definitely improved on a few things, mainly losing the glossy 21st century remake look so apparent in many Platinum Dunes productions. However, I can honestly say this is much better and more worthy of your time than the 2003 remake. The acting is better, the characters are more developed and less hateable, as well as the fact you’ll find it cool to watch how things evolved from Leatherface’s meager beginnings to where he horrifically stands now. You can do far worse in terms of remakes, though, it still could’ve done Leatherface and the legacy of Tobe Hooper more justice. But I’ll take what I can when it comes to prequels. I love them, they just don’t turn out the best all the time. This one is good enough to make me recommend it to those wanting more TCM.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. 1974. Dir. Tobe Hooper. Starring Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, Wiliam Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen. Vortex. 18+. 83 minutes.
Between a mix of Tobe Hooper’s raw filmmaking style, and my ability to empathize fairly well, I was absolutely shaken when I first saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s the reason why horror filmmakers are perpetually fascinated by that same recurring plot of “murderous cannibal family lives in the woods and kills people off who wander into their home”. It’s one of the reasons I love horror films in general. It influenced, and continues to influence, a number of generations of horror fans and filmmakers alike. I remember my mother, who isn’t a stranger to horror (she read most of Stephen King’s work when I was growing up and passed all the books of his she owned onto me), telling me about the first time she watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and said it’d terrified her; quote unquote, the scariest thing ever. Of course, being a young male and thinking my mom couldn’t possibly offer me any insight on the horror genre, I went ahead and watched it anyways.
Needless to say, my mom has a fairly accurate opinion about what a scary film is. The first time I saw the movie is forever imprinted in my brain.
There’s something never right even from the very start of TCM, as we get the cringe-worthy sound accompanying the camera flashes while viewing macabre images. Then of course it kicks up a notch after the gang we’re going on a trip with along the Texas highway picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be far beyond stable. Hooper works in a lot of suspense, and an absolutely unparalleled air of dread before finally letting Leatherface loose for the first time. I remember first watching this when I was 12 years old (I was only born in 1985, so it would have been around ’97 somewhere), surely not supposed to be according to my parents. When Leatherface first blows through that door with that shriek of his, attacking the unsuspecting victim, I was absolutely terrified.
Even 20 years or so after first scaring audiences in the mid-seventies, it was still working its magical horror on people on my sorry ass. Today, I can still throw it on and be shocked when first meeting Grandpa; the scene where they try to get him to take some of her blood is at once horrifying, and also darkly comic. After all the years of desensitizing myself with horror of all kinds, I can still find a creepy thrill from TCM.
I put myself in the shoes of these people- imagine encountering something like Leatherface. You’d be petrified. The whole family are disturbing characters in their own right, and they bring some black comedy to such a wild horror film. Hooper’s raw way of filming TCM brought a whole new element to the idea of horror, and people for years to come (and still continuing on into the foreseeable future) would try emulating its feel, but nothing can ever top it for the gritty terror it induces.
You can pretend all you want, but if Leatherface burst out from some shut-up door in an old house where you were looking around, you’d not only be terrified, you would most likely die. Along with letting loose most bodily functions. Isn’t that terrifying enough? Hooper didn’t have to add much to make this terrifying for me except the script itself, and the performances that came out of it. I feel a lot of it, if not all, was very natural, and very much how I would imagine people might really react.
All in all, this movie gets a full 5-star rating. Hands down. One of the best, and continually most frightening horror films I have yet to see. It always makes me wonder when I am deep in the woods camping somewhere, or hiking, if there really may be people out there living in a big creepy house, killing whoever they can manage to get through their doors. Any film that lingers in your mind, making you wonder the impossible is a solid film to me.
I also love how Hooper was partly inspired by the tales he heard of the infamous Ed Gein, whom always played Muse to some of other very famous horror icons including Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, as well as the iconic mommy’s boy Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho; Gein used to make things out of skin, including a ‘woman suit’ he apparently used to put on and howl at the moon. You can clearly see where the inspiration for dear ole Leatherface came from while peering into the dark world of Gein. Not that he was like Leatherface much more than at face value (get it – face?), or any of the other characters, but there are bits and pieces of Gein littered throughout them. The most outrageous, of course, are here in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and I love every last second of it.