Friday 8 June 2007

Friday 8 June 2007
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Liebesman
WRITER: Sheldon Turner (based on a story by David J. Schow)
CAST: Jordana Brewster (Chrissie), Taylor Handley (Dean), Diora Baird (Bailey), Matthew Bomer (Eric), R. Lee Ermy (Sheriff Hoyt), Andrew Byrniarski (Leatherface/Thomas Hewitt), Lee Tergesen (Holden), Cyia Batten (Alex), L.A Calkins (Sloane), Tim De Zarn (Eddy), Terrence Evans (Old Monty), Kathy Lamkin (Tea Lady), Marietta Lamkin (Luda Mae Hewitt), Marcus H. Nelson (Lackey), Emily Kaye (Alex The Biker) & Lew Temple (Sheriff Winston)

A group of teenagers become the first victims of a degenerate hillbilly family, one of whom wields a chain saw...

Ever since Tobe Hooper's seminal shocker The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released, it spawned bad sequels that eventual resulting in the inevitable 2005 remake. The franchise can't avoid the current vogue for prequels, so Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Beginning (hereon, The Beginning) arrives to answer all the questions fans have never demanded an answer to.

This might as well be a sequel to the remake, as the elements that identify The Beginning as chronologically first in the canon are limited. We open with a flashback to the birth of Leatherface, see how Hoyt (R. Lee Ermy) becomes a fake lawman, witness the closure of the local slaughterhouse and see the first use of a chain saw...

Beyond these uninspired moments, it's the usual equation for the genre: teens + psychos = blood. There's no reason for this movie to exist, as it offers nothing new or anything of interest. But if you're after an extended sequence of "what would I do in that situation?" gory scenes, The Beginning may pass invaluable time.

The actors give adequate performances, but only R. Lee Ermy is particularly memorable, reprising his role from the remake. Jordana Brewster is the plucky, sexy heroine this time, acting alongside other token teens (brave boyfriend, scared friend, reckless stranger, et al.)

The only aspect that caught my interest was the lesser members of the degenerate family; crazy, but nowhere near as nasty as Hoyt or as bloodthirsty as Leatherface. A moment when Hoyt has Leatherface saw-off his grandad's legs (just one was injured, but both were taken "for balance...") is suitably grim, but also bizarre that gramps doesn't take exception to his dismemberment. The rest of the family are similarly zonked-out when it comes to eating fingers in a reprise of Hooper's classic dinner sequence.

The structure of the movie is almost the same as the original, with a "biker babe" replacing the creepy hitch-hiker as the mechanism of their capture. As mentioned, the dining sequence is resurrected (following its absence in the remake) and the prequel even ends with a familiar field chase with Leatherface's chain saw buzzing away. The greatest hits replayed.

Nobody seems to realize that prequels, by their very nature, demystify their subjects and The Beginning's attempt to force back-story onto its characters just takes away what little power they still wield. There's also a major problem inherent with a Chain Saw prequel, because we know all the villains survive and none of the teens will -- because the villains are in the sequels and if the kids escape and get help, there'd be no sequels! Consequently, you're just watching the inevitable happen, which is a bit of a drag...

Director Jonathan Liebesman has some talent, as fans of the 15-minute short Rings can testify (a bridge between The Ring and its sequel, that ended up being better than Ring Two!), but he's wasting himself here. Sadly, it seems the South African director is a glutton for punishment, as his next project resurrects Jason Vorhees, another moribund horror character, for Friday 13th Part XI!

Overall, The Beginning is a competently-filmed bore with serviceable performances and a few grisly scenes. But there's no originality. The concept of murderous hillbillies is played for schlock pleasure rather than grizzly terror. I pray this is the last time Leatherface's chain saw cuts up the silver screen, as he's finally outstayed his welcome.