When I went to the theater to see Texas Chainsaw Massacre - The Beginning, I went in with fairly low expectations as the buzz on the film was less than positive (save for, perhaps, the three pull quotes featured on the commercials; one of which describing it as one of the scariest films of the decade). When I left the theater I was neither thrilled by the flick or disgusted by it; I simply was...
Watching it a second time, in the comfort of my own home, I had pretty much the exact same reaction, so regular readers will notice that the review below (at least until the paragraph about the DVD extras) is exactly what I wrote back then.
The brothers Hill take to the road with their young girlfriends, Chrissie (Brewster) and Bailey (Diora Baird) for a fun trip before the two are shipped off to Vietnam. Eric (Bomer), who has already served a tour, has decided to take his younger brother under his wing, hoping to persuade him to sign up for the Marine Corps rather than fall prey to the needs of the selective service. Dean (Handley), however, has other plans, and none of those involve tromping around in rice paddies gunning for Charlie. When the group runs afoul of a biker and his girlfriend, it seems that Sheriff Hoyt (Ermey) is their salvation. Of course, anyone who’s seen the first film in this particular series knows that is not the case, and we are soon back to the Hewitt house for some good, ol’ fashioned backwoods torture.
While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning throws in some nuggets of characterization (like the draft-dodging conflict), none of these characters are much more than tackle dummies for the Hewitt clan; especially “young” Thomas (Bryniarski), who is shown here as a sort of “sociopath-in-training”. We learn that killing is pretty much what the Hewitt’s have groomed their son for, and, for whatever reason, he’s keen to take on the job. It’s all presented in the same sort of bloody, bone-crunching, mean-spirited way that made the 2003 entry such a perverse, downbeat thrill, but I think that much of the reason that I enjoyed Nispel’s film was due to the fact that, up until then, most of the crop of horror flicks were kid-friendly PG-13 vehicles (like Darkness Falls, for example, which was, somewhat ironically, directed by TTCM:The Beginning’s Jonathan Liebesman). I was quite taken aback by how violent and nasty the then-new Chainsaw flick was, and, that alone, made up for the fact that it was little more than a series of prolonged death/chase scenes. Since that time, though, we’ve had the Saw films, Eli Roth’s Hostel, Neil Marshall’s The Descent, and all manner of unflinchingly violent movies that also offered up clever twists, devious machinations, and breathtaking suspense. The problem with Liebesman’s film is that it doesn’t really have any of those things. Being a prequel, we know that all of the antagonists survive as they all appear in the “next” film. We also know that this crop of victims are pretty much fucking doomed; the only surprises lay in when and how they buy the farm. There are no traps, no red herrings, and no surprise cameos by Takashi Miike; just lot's of sweaty people getting messed up in a dirty basement.
Of course, were I a real film critic (you know – the kind that likes Merchant Ivory films), I’d probably say that this makes TTCM:TB a bad movie; I’m not, and it’s not. But it’s not a good movie, either; it’s just…okay. It delivers on its promise, and, as many other horror review sites have pointed out, this one really pushed the boundaries of the R-rating it earned during its theatrical run. New Line offers up two versions on DVD (available separately), including an Unrated Cut that offers five extra minutes of screaming, running, and verbal abuse. This is one of those flicks that didn't leave much of an impression on me when I saw it in the theaters, so therefore I can't really tell whether it's more violent or if it is just my imagination. In any event, if you want blood, you got it.
The one overwhelming positive about the DVD is the quality of the transfer. I don't know if it was just a washed out print I saw in the theaters, but the film appears much more vibrant and the moody color scheme (puke green, piss yellow, shadowy blacks) is much more effective, even if it is pretty much shares the same look as just about every other entry in the genre since 2003.
The DVD also offers a production commentary track, a making-of featurette, and some deleted scenes with optional commentary. Whether or not the lukewarm commercial and critical reception of this film denied it the New Line Platinum approach given its predecessor I do not know, but the pickings here are quite slim in comparison.
There’s just not a lot of meat (no pun…well…yeah, fuck it. Pun intended) here, and the lean (yeah, another pun) 89 minute running time (as opposed to 84 minutes for the theatrical version) makes TTCM:TB feel less oppressive than its predecessor. It all certainly looks great, and Liebesman gooses some solid performances out of his cast (if you can call what Ermey does a performance. As far as I can tell, this guy doesn’t really act so much as show up and berate anyone that crosses his path), but I just didn’t get the same sense of dread and dismay that I got from Nispel’s film, and nowhere near the shrieking hysterics of Hooper’s original. But seriously; should I have expected any different? There’s not a single horror franchise in which subsequent entries are better than the first (well, except maybe for Hellraiser; Hellbound kicks the first film’s ass, yo), whether they be prequels, sequels, team-ups, or fucking alternate realities.
Why should this series be any different?