There's been some local fuss over the violence in this, the latest retread of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which opens in Taiwan today in tandem with the US. But the real problem is that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning isn't very scary. It's more violent than the 2003 remake to which it is a prequel, but a trailer for The Grudge 2 that preceded the screening was much more frightening, which isn't a good sign.
Director Jonathan Liebesman lets you know from the first frames how he will proceed: extreme close-ups, overbearing music and thumping noises. And that's pretty much how it stays — at the expense of atmosphere and intensity. Liebesman seems to be aiming for viewer claustrophobia, but he serves up disorientation and tedium instead.
He also delivers the shock moment when you most expect it — every single time. And by the halfway mark, there have been so many crunching blows to various skulls by fist, gun and other objects that you begin to wonder if the good ol' saw isn't being upstaged.
It's 1969. Vietnam vet Eric (Matthew Bomer) and his brother Dean (Taylor Handley) and their girlfriends Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and Bailey (Diora Baird) are driving through Texas as Dean prepares to dodge the draft. When Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey) turns up at the site of their car accident, he doesn't offer much emotional support. He's after fresh meat for his family.
Imprisoned in Hoyt's home, our insipid heroes are brutalized and meet the dreaded Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) and his kooky family, but not before the viewer wonders how the real sheriff could go missing without state authorities swarming the area.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: R. Lee Ermey (Sheriff Hoyt), Jordana Brewster (Chrissie), Matthew Bomer (Eric), Diora Baird (Bailey), Taylor Handley (Dean), Andrew Bryniarski (Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface).
Running Time: 91 minutes
Taiwan Release: Today
Ermey is a class act. This actor's military background once again serves him brilliantly as he gives these less-than-convincing children of the 60s a real thrashing.
Leatherface, however, is another story. Unlike Tobe Hooper's films, in which the ex-abattoir worker's retarded behavior is cause for horror and humor, here he lumbers around, largely out of frame and with little personality.
On its own terms, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning may impress younger audiences who haven't seen the originals. But those who have will long for the intensity of the dinner table sequence in which poor Marilyn Burns suffered so much, or the sick vaudeville of Leatherface romancing a female disc jockey with his trusty tool. Here, a similar dinner sequence seems to have no idea what it's trying to do and, criminally, gives a lame crowd pleaser punchline to one of the captives.
The American MPAA ratings board allegedly demanded more than a dozen cuts for the film to secure an R rating — though in the modern era such cuts are integral to marketing “unrated” DVD releases. So, no big deal. Whatever you miss you'll see at home, one way or another.
But it seems Taiwan's censors also had a piece of the R-rated version in order that it could screen with a restricted rating here. Thankfully, they don't seem to have used a chainsaw. Only two scenes have obvious jumps in the soundtrack: a skinning where we learn how Leatherface got his leather, and some impromptu chainsaw surgery on a shotgun victim. But fans need not lose heart. What remains in the chainsaw department is intense — if brief. If only the rest of the film were so compelling.