Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Marcus Nispel’s remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was completely unworthy of its title, a mindless teen slasher flick made for the sole purpose of cashing in on a classic horror name. Sure, it looked nice, but for all its faux grittiness the experience felt as generic and manufactured as any dumbed down Hollywood movie. The fact that it won any sort of acceptance still boggles the mind.
If you disagree with the above statement, then director Jonathan Liebesman is about to take you to school. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is the real deal – the very film the remake aspired and failed to be. Not only is it the best installment in the Chainsaw canon since Tobe Hooper’s original, it’s also the most brutal film to ever emerge from a studio. No hyperbole. No bullshit.
Set in 1969, The Beginning follows Eric, a war veteran on his way back to Vietnam with reluctant brother Dean in tow. Accompanied by their girlfriends, the brothers set out on a cross-country drive but wind up in a horrible road accident along the way. Unfortunately for them, salvation comes in the form of Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey), a demented WWII vet who has killed all the town’s lawmen and proclaimed himself sheriff. From there the youngsters are dragged to the house of the infamous Hewitt family, where they find themselves as livestock for nurtured killer Leatherface.
What makes this so much better than the previous film? For one, The Beginning doesn’t look or feel like a slasher movie. Gone are most of the frustrating horror clichés as well as the stereotypes that made up the victim roster. Remember scream queen Jessica Biel, whose celeb status, moralist attitude, and glistening bod made her the sole survivor? Well, you won’t find a single person like that here. Instead the characters are believable and sympathetic, which makes their predicament all the more gut-wrenching. The remake also lacked the sense of the Hewitts as a family unit along with their vicious cannibalism, both of which have been rectified here. Working from a story by splatterpunk icon David J. Schow, screenwriter Sheldon Turner hits all the right notes, infusing well written dialogue with the unrepentant cruelty and black humor so prevalent in Hooper’s classic. By writing his characters as war veterans, Turner also injects a level of subtext and social commentary not commonly found in today’s horror films.
Jonathan Liebesman, previously screwed over with his debut feature Darkness Falls, has finally been allowed the creative reins and proves himself to be one of horror’s great new filmmakers. His approach is raw and totally visceral; yet, he never falls victim to his own style. The cast is strong across the board, but it’s R. Lee Ermey who once again steals the show while Andrew Bryniarski provides a more nuanced portrayal of Leatherface. This is a rare case of all the right talents coming together to produce something truly unforgettable.
Admittedly, the fact that this is a prequel carries one inevitable flaw: We already know the outcome going into the film. But Liebesman still manages to keep you on edge and, at the very least, avoids the rampant predictability of the previous film. This material is brutal beyond belief, and it’s enough to make even the most jaded horror fan beg for mercy. In fact, the torture, gore, and sadism are more than enough to pop the question: If this is the R-rated version, what in God’s name was left out?
Dark, savage, and nihilistic, this is the kind of ride that leaves you shaken and emotionally drained; and the fact that something like this escaped through the studio system is a bit of a movie miracle. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is not only the biggest surprise of 2006, it may very well be the best horror film of the year.
4 out of 5
And for another point of view in full-color comic style, don’t miss
Rick Tremble’s take on the film in Motion Picture Purgatory!