As a lifelong horror freak, I have a very healthy respect and affection for the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Frankly I think it's one of the only movies that actively "scared" me in any memorable way. So I struggled through the sequels and kept my hopes high for the Michael Bay-produced remake that hit the screens a few years back. Despite my early and extensive skepticism, I found myself rather impressed with Marcus Nispel's slick-yet-grungy remake. Do I think it comes even close to approaching the original flick? Hell no, but I do think it works pretty damn well in its own right.
My fellow purists often disagree with me (sometimes derisively so), but I have no problem admitting that I really liked the 2003 remake. Having said that, I cared very little for its follow-up, the redundant, generic and rather dreary prequel that's cleverly called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.
First complaint right out of the chute: We were pretty much promised an "origin story," but in truth all that TCM:TB delivers in this department is an "origin prologue" -- and it's a pretty arid and uneventful one at that. Once the opening credits draw to a close, TCM:TB could just as easily be a prequel, a sequel or (yes) yet another remake. That's how much creativity has been poured into this quickie flick.
Another huge misstep is this: We're introduced to a bunch of cannibalistic freaks that we already know from the previous entry -- but since this new flick takes place before the remake, it doesn't take a math whiz to figure out the formula: None of the villains are gonna get theirs in this movie -- which effectively vacuums a whole lot of tension from the affair. And the same formula holds true on the opposite side: Our standard brigade of sexy young victims are afforded perhaps one personality trait apiece, and then wham: chainsaw food. (To be fair, the flick does offer one satisfyingly shocking diversion from formula; it comes late in Act III and it's pretty damn vicious.)
For those who bother paying attention to even the flimsiest sort of "plot," here's a brief recap: Two young guys and their hot girlfriends are driving across Texas before the boys ship out to Vietnam. They talk a lot, suffer a nasty car crash, and get attacked by lunatics with pointy weapons. Most get killed, some ... maybe not. (Just because I didn't much care for the flick, that doesn't mean I'm going to spoil the ending!) Anyway, here comes Leatherface, about three years before he'd really master the art of Chainsaw on Human, and he's got a keening family full of freakos who'd just love to see him carve up some young Americans. And how.
Not at all surprisingly, the only performer who delivers any color or enthusiasm to the affair is Mr. R. Lee Ermey, a man who's built a cottage industry out of being bellicose, vulgar and violent -- yet always with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Aside from potential survivor-girl Jordana Brewster, the shrieking victims are a pretty standard lot; all cheekbones and screams and sweat and whatnot.
Dryly directed by Jonathan Liebesman (helmer of Darkness Falls and huge fan of the "shaky-cam" school of tension), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is pretty darn generous with the gooey geysers of gore, but it's not nearly as grimly atmospheric at its predecessor -- and it's not even remotely as scary as the flick that started it all. Still, it's a big improvement over that Leatherface flick that Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger found themselves humiliatingly trapped in.
Basically, TCM:TB is precisely what I expected from Nispel's remake. I guess one out of two isn't terrible. While I wouldn't call it a terrible entry in the series, The Beginning is just a bit too dry, obvious and familiar to generate much enthusiasm.