Once, directors like Tobe Hooper understood something: Gore does not equal fear. No, fear equals fear. The bottom line that directors like Hooper understood came down to a simple matter: to scare the hell out of the viewer, let them scare the hell out of themselves. This, it seems, is a lost understanding. Which has led to a lost art.
Jonathan Liebesman certain is no subscriber to this view. His adaptation of Sheldon Turner’s screenplay is awash with blood, masochism, cannibalism and the sort of twisted, maligned depravity that does not lead to the fascination it is sometimes able (as it does in dark, bloody thrillers such as Se7en) but, rather, leaves one feeling at the end the need to shower repeatedly. And perhaps floss. God knows what was trapped in Tom ‘Leatherface’s’ teeth.
From the moment the movie begins, you already know what will happen. Which, in all fairness, is not always a bad thing. (Take Stephen King films, for instance. If you ever have any doubts what will happen at the end of any Stephen King film, you’re not actually a King fan. You just see his movies once in a while. And yet, despite himself, King manages to put enough heart in his work that, though directors get it correct about ten percent of the time, you still are enamored of his better works.
In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, however, Liebsman never manages to give this film enough substance to divert the eyes from the obvious result. Instead, we get yet another group of horny, bratty tweens who are oversexed and delicious looking, yet contain barely enough substance collectively to fill a sandwich bag. Sure, it’s Vietnam. And the younger of two brothers in the group has decided to duck out. Unwilling to tell his cooler, older brother (proud as hell to hit the field, kill them all and let God sort them out for his country), he merely lies and cowers in his presence, his girlfriend (of course) advising him to tell the truth and just get it over with. There’s the usual “He’ll understand,” followed by the “You just don’t get it,” but none of it is heavy enough to weigh in as substance. Merely fluffy conflict.
The Tweens hit the road in a ratty Bronco. After conversations culled from every slasher film ever made containing tweens, the unwitting kids are waylaid by a maurading female bandit on a bike, motorcycle type. After opening fire at one another at top speed, the Bronco bites the dust, flipping over and again, beating the hell out of three tweens and slinging the only choice (the best looking female played by a fun-to-look-at Jordana Brewster) into the grass on the shoulder of the road. She will, of course, come to play a role later in the film, but not a hopeful role, mind you.
Enter R. Lee Ermey, a.k.a., Charlie Hewitt, also a.k.a. Sheriff Hoyt.
Hoyt is a misogynistic sadist with a flair for the dramatic. And he intends to have these kids. And not to throw them in the county lock-up for a fortnight. No sir, Hoyt intends to take them home, have at them for a while and finally feed them to his family, a meal which he will thank the Good Lord for, in a sort of strange sincerity that damn near makes you believe he’s as crazy as all the signs point toward.
From this point on, we take the Express Train to Hell, both in concept and any sort of redeeming value of the movie.
In all fairness, it is somewhat interesting to see the origins of both Charlie Hewitt and Leatherface. Seeing how Hewitt became Sheriff Hoyt does give a bit of insight into the original story, and certainly Leatherface as a young meat cutter makes sense.
Yet no matter how mildly interesting the origins are, this film has no heart. How the hell can a film like this have heart, you might ask. Good question. For the answer, watch Hooper’s original, 1974 film. While disturbing and sadistic in itself, one could not watch the original without feeling an emotional connection to the film. From how badly you just wanted to beg for Sally Hardesty to escape, all the way to Leatherface’s final, eerie dance with the chain saw, there was an inescapable rush of adrenaline.
Certainly, the good old days weren’t always good, and this review is no plea for nostalgia. But modern directors seem intent on making certain the originals were the best.
As Liebsman’s film progresses, the tweens are tortured, mauled and maimed, and if their is a truly frightening element evident throughout, it is that you simply, as a viewer, are barely moved beyond any emotion other than hoping Leatherface’ll just get it the hell over with soon. Unless your sadist streak runs a bit deeper than most, there is nothing enjoyable or frightening about seeing a young man hung on hooks, partially skinned and then later fully skinned as his girlfriend shivers under the table below, blood flowing down onto her and puddling around her. It’s not scary. It’s just, well, unnecessary.
For the rest of the film, the sadistic depravity merely continues to escalate. From beatings to slicing, sawing off legs with a chain saw (in order for symmetry, mind you. Seriously. Symmetry. Hoyt’s father-in-law loses one leg to Leatherface’s chainsaw in error, and Hoyt insists his adopted son fix his botched job by removing the other leg with said saw), to hiding in vats of animal blood, the gore (unlike the storyline) never wains nor retreats, resulting in the sort of imagery that, upon the fim’s ending, one wishes the ability to scrape the brain free of them were a possibility.
It is, indeed, a massacre.