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Revisiting Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning posterAs I mentioned in yesterday’s wrap-up of Platinum Dunes’ remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it didn’t seem like the team behind that film were thinking in terms of “franchise” when they set about to re-introduce Leatherface to a brand new audience. If they had, then I doubt the ending of that movie would’ve had as many finalities with their core group as it had; something that earns that particular remake bonus points. So, after winning over the skeptical fans and in lieu of a slew of similar post-Chainsaw horror movies that followed like Saw and Hostel (which Chainsaw producer Mike Fleiss also was involved with), the PD gang started seriously contemplating an appropriate follow-up. And for them, the only story that made sense to tell was the one that came before the remake.

Granted, considering this version of the family was completely different from previous incarnations, die-hard fans were curious about the colorful cast of characters that surrounded Leatherface and how they came to be there. But also, Andrew Bryniarski’s unique new portrayal of the titan villain also piqued the interest of Chainsaw aficionados. And so at first, Platinum Dunes attempted to court back Scott Kosar who had scripted their first Texas Chainsaw movie. Unfortunately he was already on another project, so they got an initial story idea from David J. Schow (who had written Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) and a screenplay from Sheldon Turner whom had also helped pen Platinum Dunes successful Amityville Horror remake.

This story for this one begins in 1969, a full 4 years before the events of the remake with Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and Bailey (Diora Baird) driving across Texas with their boyfriends Eric (Matt Bomer) and his brother Dean (Taylor Handley) as the boys are headed back to fight in Vietnam. Eric’s already done a tour there and is thrilled to have his little brother joining him, but Dean doesn’t want to be drafted and is plotting to skip to Mexico with Bailey once they get close enough to the border. They encounter a group of bikers several times while in route and after one of them tries to rob them, they get in a massive accident on the highway and end up directly in the Hewitt’s neck of the woods.

Rewinding a bit, this prequel actually opens with the birth of Leatherface at the slaughterhouse where he’s born with cancerous sores and immediately thrown into the garbage. The baby’s cries are heard from the dumpster and Luda Mae takes pity and rescues him from his fate. She brings him home to her husband Charlie Hewitt (R. Lee Ermey) who upon seeing the boy calls him “the ugliest thing he’s ever seen”. During the opening credit sequence, we get to see Thomas Hewitt’s upbringing through photographs, all of which depict him constantly covering his face to avoid ridicule. Years later, Charlie manages to get him a job at the local slaughterhouse, but unfortunately the town becomes bankrupt and the slaughterhouse is closing down. This is the moment where the now grown Thomas takes a dark turn towards his inevitable destiny. He murders his boss, and while walking the road with a giant chainsaw is stopped by the Sheriff who Charlie abruptly kills to protect his adopted boy. This is when Charlie decides to don the Sheriff’s outfit and become “Hoyt”.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning posterIt’s funny – when I first saw this movie upon its initial release, I absolutely hated it. And I hadn’t revisited it since it came out in 2006. However, upon watching it now and with a little bit of context, not to mention when lined up with a marathon viewing session of all the other films, I actually find it interesting the route they took to define the origins of this family. The cannibalism angle was glossed over and ignored in the remake, but it’s most definitely in this version and it’s explained as something that the Hewitt’s resort to more out of necessity. And watching how all the characters come together to form this unit make the remake a bit more satisfying on subsequent viewings now.

I guess the main reason I didn’t like it back then was it came off a little bit too nihilistic and mean-spirited for my personal tastes. And I know this sounds ridiculous considering the series is called “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” but it’s not what I particularly liked about the series as a fan to begin with. Obviously, this is a prequel and in order for the first film to work and make sense, it means that everyone we meet in this movie (not included in the family) will meet a horrible fate by the end of it. And I’m OK with that, after all it is a horror movie. But there’s a good stretch in the middle where I feel like the torture of Eric (a character I actually liked quite a bit) and his brother Dean was too much. This is in the middle of an era of Saw sequels and Hostel movies and a dozen knock offs of those franchise flicks coming fast and furiously that by the time I got to this one, I just found myself thinking, “OK. Enough! I get it. I just don’t like this kind of horror.”

I also initially thought some of the “origin” elements they show to tie this film into the remake were just plain silly. “Oh, Uncle Monty got a bullet to the shin! We’d better cut off BOTH his legs since he doesn’t have legs in the remake!” However, I saw those aspects of the movie play differently this time. I just assumed they were pushing R. Lee to do his usual nasty Full Metal Jacket shtick again. But now I see what a sadistic, perverted manipulator the character of Charlie/Hoyt really is and how he essentially is responsible for encouraging and nurturing Leatherface to become what he becomes. The first time Leatherface uses the chainsaw in a kill is when a biker he’s fighting in the upstairs room falls on it. And it’s Hoyt that’s egging him on to do it. “Tommy, this is one of the boys that used to make fun of you! Get him!” Even with the Uncle Monty surgery scene, I now see it as Hoyt fixating himself as the sole leader of the family and using Leatherface to make that happen.

Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The BeginningSo overall now in retrospect, I kind of like this movie more than I originally did and can understand how they tried to flesh out the version of the family they created for this particular Texas Chainsaw universe. It stands on its own, as opposed to being a take on the Sawyer clan and for that I can applaud it. However, I also think the movie could’ve used just a tad more development in the writing stage to make it more satisfactory. Wouldn’t it have been awesome if more bikers showed up at the Hewitt house rather than just the one? Shouldn’t our “good” guy (being Eric and Dean) put up some kind of fight after all the abuse they took? Not for nothing but I don’t like watching people get the shit kicked out of them for 45 minutes and then just getting killed rather than putting up some kind of fight. Maybe they could’ve had a new member of the family that gets killed in this, hence they wouldn’t have to explain his/her absence in the remake?

In other words, it’s not perfect, but it’s not as bad as I remember it being. And I guess the best thing to come out of this is that Platinum Dunes producer Andrew Form got to marry leading lady Jordana Brewster. (Good for you, dude!) Also, although the unrated DVD has some nasty stuff in it, I strongly recommend watching the making of featurette on the disc "Done To The Bone" to fully see and appreciate the work of KNB EFX because a lot of it (including the great cow explosion) are barely noticeable in the final cut of the film.

And that my fellow fiends wraps up my weeklong series revisiting the entire Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. I hope you enjoyed it. And we hope it got you in the mood for the return of Leatherface tomorrow with Texas Chainsaw 3D!

Revisiting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Revisiting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Revisiting Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
Revisiting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation
Revisiting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake
FEARnet Movie Review: Texas Chainsaw 3D by Scott Weinberg
Post Mortem with Tobe Hooper

 

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