The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (review)

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Waterboard America

Jordana Brewster, as the one dumb bit of T&A prey to temporarily escape the clutches of the cannibalistic Hewitt family, wanders into a deserted bit of rural Texas roadway and immediately begins shouting for help. The audience busts out laughing, as if to say: “What a nitwit! She’s yelling within earshot of the very madmen she’s trying to escape!”

I struggled with this, while I was attempting to give The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning the benefit of the doubt: Are we really meant to sympathize with these idiots, Jordana (Annapolis, The Fast and the Furious) and her friends? Are we meant to care that they are tortured and murdered in ways too grisly and sadistic to be imagined? And soon enough I came to realize that the answer was No: this band of four young idiots — two guys and two girls on a road trip — are not the protagonists, not the heroes here: the heroes are the psychopathic Hewitts, and we are meant to cheer them on in their inaugural murder spree. It’s not that, as I initially suspected, Beginning is a failure as a film because it is ineffective in its attempt to adequately depict the objects of its pity. It’s that the film chooses — shockingly, in a way that positions it as psychopathic itself — to celebrate horrific crimes as, seemingly, an expression of justice and retribution meted out to a world gone crazy.
I’ve joked before about movies being torture to sit through, but this pointless remake truly is unendurable. I have no problem with genuine horror, meant to scare us and prod at our unspoken fears and anxieties, but this is not that. This is a sickening orgy of torture imagery and graphic physical mutilation that revels in the basest kind of cruelty. It is a remake that is beyond merely pointless: it is revolting, churning the horror far from the realm of simple grossout — though the blood and gore and violence onscreen here is near unprecedented in its explicitness — and into an area that makes you question the mental well-being of the filmmakers — director Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls) and screenwriter Sheldon Turner (The Longest Yard) — and their intended audience.

Beginning purports to be the “real” story that inspired Tobe Hooper’s 70s classic — which was not based on a true story of cannibals preying on teenage tourists in rural Texas but was, in fact, entirely invented, for all that it was remotely inspired by the crimes of notorious serial killer Ed Gein. Bad enough that Hooper’s nearly bloodless flick is still terrifying and hence needed no remake — not this, not the 2003 version — but this prequel does not even pretend to offer an explanation of why the Hewitts are the way they are, except that the world of 1969 in which they exist, with its outlaw draft dodgers and criminal bikers, calls for their brand of cruel love to set it straight.

No, seriously: You laugh when Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey: X-Men: The Last Stand) — who’s not really a sheriff, and here we learn how he acquired the uniform — talks of dangerous bikers ruling the land, or whatever. (And it may actually have been Hewitt matriarch Luda Mae [Marietta Marich: Rushmore] who says this, but honestly, it doesn’t matter.) But then Brewster and her friends, just passing through and doing no one any harm, come under senseless attack from the crazy menacing bikers, as if to prove the point that the world has lost all moral compass except that which the Hewitts can provide. And then Hoyt gets all bent out of shape about a burnt draft card he finds among the detritus of the four idiot friends, which becomes his justification for stringing up the two boys, crucifixion style — or, perhaps more pertinently, Abu Ghraib style. And you find yourself thinking, This film cannot be taking the position that the torture of innocents is an appropriate response to the crimes of a third party, or that the protesting of illegal military action is an expression of treason. But it is. It is. It turned my stomach to listen to the preview crowd with which I saw this film cheer on such concepts, and it makes me sick to think on this again.

Leatherface — Thomas Hewitt, here a poor “misunderstood” simpleton, played again by Andrew Bryniarski (Firefly, Rollerball), who portrayed him in the 2003 film — is almost beside the point, at best a chainsaw-wielding tool of Hoyt’s insanity. If you were hoping for some kind of rationale behind Leatherface’s choice of a chainsaw as a weapon, think again: it’s just something that’s lying conveniently around when Hoyt needs to egg Thomas on. And that’s played for humor, too. Beginning isn’t a horror comedy — it’s not, say, Slither, tweaking conventions of horror films for fun. But it is all played for laughs, and the victims of Hoyt, et al, are the butts of the joke. What the joke is remains a mystery to me.

If horror movies are expressions of our basest fears, then Beginning is us, the American people, exploring what we’ve become, as a culture, in the last few years. This is a movie from the new America that officially condones torture, and is happy with that decision. And it literally made me weep to see how hard and cold we’ve become as a society, that this could be considered entertainment.

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Thu, Oct 12, 2006 4:03am

I’m surprised you ahven’t realized it before now: these movies (as well as slightly better ones like the Saw series) are essentially snuff films for public enjoyment. The Two Hours Hate, as it were.

And the audience? They’re no different from those who sat in the Roman Colusium watching people being disemboweled, for kicks, while their government, with popular support, gave up on (lower-case r)republicanism.

Thu, Oct 12, 2006 11:28am

I have realized this before (see my review of Final Destination 3 from earlier this year). But this film is even worse.

Thu, Oct 19, 2006 10:32pm

God, you’re smug.

I’ve disagreed with your writing many times in the past, but this is the first time I’ve been actually offended. Did you really laugh at the poor girl calling for help? Did you really do that? My God, that’s more horrifying than anything I saw in the movie. And considering that she was pretty far away from the sheriff at that point, it’s based on a faulty premise to boot. I have no idea what made the victims of this movie so stupid and unlikable to you that you saw fit to look down your nose at them, nonetheless decide that the filmmakers agreed with your point of view.

And furthermore, what’s this about how those who like gory movies are some kinds of sadistic perverts? Some of us like being repulsed by violence, all right? Not violence, itself, but being repulsed by violence. Big difference. Using the same logic, it’s just as true to say that Steel Magnolias/Beaches fans like watching women wither and die (and to an extent, both are true, but grossly misleading). I don’t see why suspense gets so much critical respect but repulsion doesn’t. The fact that I like Scorsese and Tarantino movies (which are not only violent but crowd-pleasingly violent, and thus more likely to inspire violence) just means that I agree with the critical consensus; and yet, the fact that I watched and liked Final Destination 3 (four star classic, by my reckoning) means I’m some kind of sicko that tortures cats and masturbates to snuff videos on the Internet. I read your stuff all the time, and I’ll continue to read it, but seriously and sincerely, fuck you, lady.

I didn’t even like this movie.