As if the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (undebatable mega-classic that it is) wasn't more than enough to keep us horror fans warm at night, someone once saw fit to grace us with a pair of sequels (TCM2 (1986) & Leatherface (1990), a horribly misshapen reboot (1994's unwatchable The Next Generation) and a swanky new 2003 remake edition that, let's be fair, turned out a whole lot better than anyone expected it to. So let's leave well enough alone right? Wrong. The powers-that-be over at the Platinum Dunes remake shop (they also gave us the new-fangled versions of The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher) decided they could squeeze just a few more drops of blood out of this particular stone -- and the result is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, a not-wretched but not entirely acceptable "backstory" prequel that promises all sorts of hidden secrets regarding the immortal Leatherface and his flesh-slurpin' clan.
The problem is that (aside from a prologue segment that's not really all that fascinating) there's nothing particularly interesting about L-face's early years. Lop off the first seven minutes of this movie and you'd be hard pressed to tell me if this movie takes place before, during or after the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (And by "the original," I actually mean "the remake.") Just like every other movie in the series, we get a sketchily-drawn collection of cardboard-ish characters, most of whom are just obtuse (or obnoxious) enough to make their eventual suffering halfway entertaining, but as far as "rooting interest" is concerned, the filmmakers seem a hell of a lot more interested in their killer's icky mask then they do about building a dark and meaty sense of stress or tension. (Plus there's some unintentional humor scattered throughout the flick, which is pretty much the kiss of death in a slasher flick that's aiming for "harsh and brutal.")
Call it a sequel or a prequel if you like, but The Beginning is so darn familiar it quickly starts to feel like plain ol' leftovers. Second-time director Jonathan Liebesman (coming off the rather terrible Darkness Falls) does all he can to infuse his prequel with a grim and grimy atmosphere, but TCM:TB only seems to come to life during its distressingly rare moments of murder. For all its promises of hidden secrets and creepy origin stories, this prequel is just another assembly-line stalk-fest; watchable enough in dribs and drabs, but as a whole it's not even near good enough to earn a place on a true horror geek's DVD shelf. Aside from a horrific handful of devilish dispatches, the prequel has only two real assets: Lovely leading lady Jordana Brewster (although she isn't asked to do much more than gasp, shriek and run) and the certifiably insane lead performance by raving lunatic R. Lee Ermey, an actor who's always good for a few raucous laughs -- even in the lamest of productions.
Call this one only a minor disappointment, because after the surprisingly effectiveness of the Texas Chainsaw remake, it was only a matter of time before the other shoe managed to hit the floor. Now that it has, we can move on to some new and fresh and unique ... remakes, sequels and prequels. New Line releases the flick in your choice of R-rated and unrated editions; the latter platter comes with an audio commentary between Liebesman and Platinum producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller, a very solid 45-minute "making of" doc called Down to the Bone, four deleted scenes and three (yes, three) alternate endings.