01/11/2006. Contributed by Frank Ochieng
Although perversely realized, says Frank, the gross-out genre of flesh ripping apart can be somewhat invigorating if handled with a dash of imagination and reckless precision. After all, slaughterhouse cinema relies on that age-old formula of slicing-and-dicing the hormonal kiddies in order for the audience to get its sadistic, sensational rush.
Sure, it's one thing to cherish a morbid mauling every once in a while for that sinister sense of guilty pleasure. However when garishly generic and needlessly overwrought horror shows such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning contributes to an already overcrowded crop of nonsensical and repetitive gut-splitting on-screen carnage then there's a merciful moment to call for a required serious time out.
Director Jonathan Liebesman's woefully rancid and riddled prequel to the classic 1974 shocker of the same name is basically a horrendously harried yet uneventful hollow shell of its former bloodied self. Other than the predictable need to churn out another bombastic and baseless chop-and-drop sideshow what was the purpose of serving up another pointless piercing flick that's as indistinguishable in comparison to the next tepid terrorizing train wreck? The truth is that The Beginning is actually more linked to the inexplicably well-received 2003 remake more so than the nostalgic Tobe Hooper original feature from the mid-seventies. Still, this doesn't justify why Liebesman's putrid rehash is so boringly conceived in its eye-catching sadism. For all the maddening mayhem that persists in this faceless frightfest, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is an uninspiring, menacing mess of a movie.
The one thing that moviegoers can consistently count on with The Beginning-it pretty much stays true to its foundation. We have the continued showcasing of hostile hillbillies, the sacrificial lambs in the form of clueless young people being in the wrong place at the wrong time and that lovable lad of lunacy known as Leatherface. And let's not forget the trademark overindulgence of exaggerated mutilations which is enough horrific hokum to make Jason Voorheeves from the Friday the 13th series want to grab a bucket and upchuck. This squalor-induced suspense thriller has no other entertaining purpose for existing other than capitalizing on its aimless heavy-handed hedonism.
Liebesman and screenwriter Sheldon Turner aren't very creative or crafty with the laboured mundane material. Granted that they pour it on thick with the random amputations and other tortuous treatment meant to register as a pulsating (if not intentionally sickening) popcorn pleaser of pain. The corrosive and cruel-minded antics in The Beginning are relentlessly empty-minded in its bid for colorful shock value.
The period for the madness that ensues in The Beginning takes place in the late 60's, specifically in the Vietnam-era where the unsettling social turbulence of this decade is magnified by the emerging rage of our pathetic protagonist Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski). We're introduced to the obligatory focused young pretty people headed up by lead heroine Chrissie (played by Jordana Brewster--the obvious counterpart to the Jessica Biel character from 2003's Chainsaw).
While driving through Texas, a couple of brothers (Taylor Handley and Matthew Bomer) and their galpals (the aforementioned Brewster and Diora Baird) contemplate the guys' remaining freedom before heading off to the ominous jungles of war-torn Vietnam. These hippie youths, as one can imagine, are cynical spectators regarding the on-going atrocities taken place in a distant far land on the other side of the globe. With notions of dodging the draft and taking a safe field trip to bordering Mexico, our soon-to-be conflicted youngsters are looking to make sense out of their periled existence.
In the meanwhile, the disjointed story generously elaborates on the erratic beginnings of the chainsaw-carrying cretin Thomas Hewitt a.k.a. Leatherface. Without much astonishment, we learn the brief sordid details as to why the demented Hewitt/Leatherface became the misguided monster that he was and currently is in local Texan folklore. Apparently the neglected and deformed Hewitt had been labelled an automatic outcast.
Mentally challenged, Hewitt was eventually raised in a disturbing Bible-thumping household spearheaded by a devout Southern foster family of hardened jingoistic idealists. Nefarious Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermy) is the twisted flag-waving leader of this weird Lone Star State clan. As a former proud war vet, staunch gun-toting Hoyt is vastly intolerant toward the flower power peace-niks, rowdy bikers, long-haired liberals, draft dodgers or any other kind of perceived subversive un-American whose distorted philosophies in God and country conflict with his ardent political views.
Naturally the world is changing too dramatically for the disillusioned Hoyts and their crazed yet impressionable Thomas. With the country in an uproar over the opponents for and against the drastic policies in the Vietnam conflict, the Hoyts are baffled and frustrated beyond belief. And when the meat packing plant where Hewitt works as an ostracized butcher is closed due to faltering business and other cutbacks (no pun intended) this presents an opportunity for the hack-happy holier-than-thou hillbillies to locally vent their anger out on the troublesome undesirables. Thus, Sheriff Hoyt (a convenient killer in his own right) and his brood made it a gory sport to lure the unsuspecting victims (you know, the unpatriotic element) into their violent venue where Hewitt (now christened Leatherface) could reduce their bodily parts into tasty chow courtesy of his trusty chainsaw.
Of course, this is where our fearful foursome comes into play at this point. What will Chrissie and her associates do when they get lost in an abandoned town where Leatherface and his domesticated cannibal cohorts could start to potentially chomp on their tender limbs? Who will survive being the planned three-course meal for Leatherface? Is this proper justification for a disenchanted Leatherface to lash out at a mean-spirited world that shunned him more prominently than a foul-smelling pork chop on a vegetarian's dinner plate?
Actually, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning could have been a wickedly wry commentary on the mentality of our society's insistence on mending political fences abroad while unwisely not tending to our own ignored dirty laundry that needs to be washed in our chaotic backyard. What the Dawn of the Dead movies did for the zombie-state at taking winking pot shots pertaining to shopping malls and ridiculous consumerism, The Beginning could have been a cleverly nasty satire with political overtones. The irony of being preoccupied with aggravated turmoil/violence on foreign land when domestically we're not exactly a picturesque Wonderland of togetherness within our borders should have been played for nervous yet skilfully raw hilarity. Instead, Liebesman never touches upon this sentiment, as his noxious narrative gets lost in the oblivious allure of its festering grime.
True, The Beginning has its objectionable share of constant cringing and defiant drudgery. And the pacing is standard where the movie generates the false jump-out-of-your-seat twitches not to mention the blatant in-your-face graphic imagery waiting to hamper your shaky nerves. But then again, so what? Doesn't EVERY blistering boofest do the same thing ad nauseam? What Liebesman needed to do was elevate the slimy tactics beyond the familiar wearisome skin-crawling urges. As for the haunting Hewitt/Leatherface and his sick-minded mentor Hoyt, we're clued in to how wrongfully wired they are based on their devious demeanours. But there seems to be no rhyme or reason that triggers their madness other than the surfacing psychotics that they are which is an automatic given within the volatile premise.
The fact that The Beginning has no distinctive personality whatsoever while leaning desperately on its over-stimulated and rip-roaring ribaldry is remarkably sad indeed. All the fuss about butchered bodies by self-righteous Texan terrorists hiding behind the Stars and Stripes would have made for an unconventionally refreshing kind of fun-filled, petrifying political pulpit.
Unfortunately, there's not one ounce of intelligence or observational scepticism to deem this banal bloodbath worthy of anything remotely digestible. The tiresome splattering and other deadly tortures that arise have no traces of intrigue, curiosity, depth, introspective vibes or off-kilter humour for that matter. Since when is turning the human frame into mortifying mincemeat have to be so dull and indifferent?
Feel free to scream at the top of your lungs with this poorly executed prequel. But rest assured that it would take more than brutish Leatherface's overactive chainsaw to cut through the dismembered and decomposed corpses being flung about with dispiriting flare.
© Frank Ochieng 2006