Halloween Endurance Test: the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning (2006)

[This Halloween Endurance Test participant was actually split into two parts: one for the movie, and one for the documentary about making the movie. Both are jammed together here, ‘cuz I really have no interest in hosting two Michael Bay Texas Chainsaw Massacre blogs. Enjoy!]

Part I:

I’m not exactly sure where this film fits into the Texas Chainsaw mythology.  Whereas in the Friday the 13th franchise continuity was almost never utilized, here they seem to be attempting to create a time line.  I haven’t seen the (earlier) remake of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so I don’t know if this prequel is supposed to gel with it, or the original, or even both!

It is interesting to see that the original’s director Tobe Hooper and the original scriptwriter (not to mention director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Next Generation), Kim Henkel, are reunited as producers.  I guess the original crew’s hatred of Hooper wasn’t strong enough to be bought off.  Luckily they kept Henkel away from any writing instruments, so there’s no more cross-dressing Leatherface antics to worry about.  Leatherface isn’t running around while wearing a house dress, waving a chainsaw and whimpering.    

Instead of those Henkel shenanigans, we get a history of the Leatherface persona.  The stress here being placed on the face part of his name.  Which is a strange point to stress considering the filmmakers choose not to show his disfigurement.  How are we supposed to know why the townsfolk don’t like him?  

I’m a firm believer in the idea that a film can never go far enough.  This is a horror film, and the belief that it’s what’s not seen that is scarier is a lie.  This belief is a scam used to sell the ‘psychological thriller’ ideology.  

If your film has facial mutilation as it’s centerpiece, then we had better see it!

That’s issue number one.

Issue number two is Leatherface’s birth.  His mother’s water breaks and she immediately falls onto the ground, already in labor.  Where’s the 10-48 hours of contractions one can expect from a non-medically induced birthing?  Perhaps the writers should have spent a little more time in college studying medical sociology and a little less time reading up on the Hewitts.

Which brings me to the film’s biggest flaw, which is the fact that it’s a prequel.  In fact both Texas Chainsaw movies I’ve watched this holiday have worked to re-establish a story we (should) already know by heart.  What this does is effectively handicap the writers.

The writers are handicapped in that they’re now stuck writing established characters into scenes that have (usually) also been at least hinted at earlier.  Writing a prequel is essentially the Mad Lib approach to scripting.  Just drop the names into place!  It makes for an easy (read: great) paycheck, but for a horrible movie.  

This movie could’ve been so much better; using the same plot devices!  So Leatherface needs/wants a new mask/face?  Perfect!

Just imagine how much more interesting it would be watching him sneak around a crowded mall, trailing his potential victim.  A close-up of the beauty’s face filming up half the screen, with Leatherface’s bulky frame poking out from behind a pillar in the distance.  It’d practically be the Citizen Kane of horror flicks!  Or at least a perfect(ly absurd) caper film!  

(Imagine Leatherface doing a Chaplin-esqe waddle to get the full gist of my inspiration.)

All the horror elements would still be there (i.e. the murder, skinning, etc.) only with the serial killer being completely vain.  Which could only add to his repulsiveness.  The movie would be so much more interesting: Leatherface prancing around a living room filled with furniture made from skeletal remains clutching a freshly skinned dress; just dying to try it on.  Imagining how great he’d look with her (or his) face on.  

This would also help strengthen the horror of Leatherface’s later crimes in the series.  You could show the sad moment where Leatherface is standing in front of a mirror with the choice.  He can either come to terms with his looks, and destroy the mask, or continue lashing out at the world.

That scene would probably work better at the end of the movie.  Tears welling up in his eyes, trying to put lipstick on under the parted cadaver’s lips in front of one of those bathroom mirrors with those intensely bright, spherical light bulbs.  Heartbroken now, but sure that one day, he’ll find Mr. Right’s face.

Part II:

The documentary on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning’s DVD revealed why I could stomach it better than that other add-on.  The revenging male biker in the film is played by none other than Lee Tergesen, star of the U.S.A. network’s series, Weird Science!

I had always been astonished when listening to the Weird Science commentary tracks by all the actors gushing about working with the Lee Tergesen.  I wondered, who is this man amongst actors?  To their discredit, Tergesen’s fans never satisfactorily explained their love for the man.  It just was, apart from everything else, but also so clearly affecting everything else.  He’s just Lee Tergesen; you should already know what he’s done.

Now I know why they couldn’t explain.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning hadn’t been made, or even plotted yet!  Michael Bay was probably still in film school; surely he wasn’t yet running a production company that digs up the remains of once popular horror movie franchises and hands them over to up-and-coming directors.  Like Bay, Tergesen’s name had yet to be written in his own blood across the vast, forsaken Texan plains.  

(Honestly, creating a low-risk (read: specializing in horror) production company specifically to give young directors a chance is a cool thing to do with the millions you’ve made with your own shitty movies.  The whole recycled horror franchises though?  Often bought, as was the case with …Massacre, just for their name recognition?  Not so cool.)

In all fairness to Gary and Wyatt, they did have the genie Lisa at their disposal, so I guess knowing beforehand that Lee Tergesen was going to rule Hollywood isn’t so amazing.

Tergesen’s not the only Hollywood alumni using this film to further their domination of the world.  Apparently the impostor sheriff is played by the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket.  I’d write multiple paragraphs gushing over him too except I haven’t seen that movie.  I’m neither a fan of Krubrick nor the military.  Sorry.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning‘s deleted scenes show you that most horror films start out with better endings than they end with.  The inspired choices are left on the cutting room floor as we sit through what demographic minded think tanks deem acceptable.  Here what was left behind was just static shots of abandoned cars as various ‘missing persons’ radio vignettes play in the background.  It creates an atmosphere of isolated foreboding almost immediately.  The collection perfectly sets the tone of what is (in movie history) going to happen soon.  

Naturally, the director, and the producers, hated it.  They instead opted for the more visceral, chainsaw through the back (seat of a sedan car) ending.

I didn’t like this ending mainly because the car is then shown careening towards a parked patrol car.  It then runs down a ticket-writing police officer.  How does this blatant murder go unsolved?  Or not even investigated?  Killing bikers and/or draft dodgers is one thing; few will care to look for them.  But a cop?  Surely someone’s going to notice his absence.

This ending becomes more troubling when one listens to the deleted ending’s commentary.  Here the director tells that it was dropped, amongst other reasons, because he felt that showing how many people ended up missing would leave the audience wondering why there was never any investigation.  So little missy disappears and choppers are sent; a officer falls and no one cares?  How does that work?

Greg Nicotero does the film’s special effects.  He also worked (under Tom Savini) on Dawn of the Dead; cutting his teeth on that historic film and its progeny.  In fact, at this point he, or his production company, has worked on every horror ever made.  Be they great films or trash, the facts remain the same: bills are bills, and need to be paid.  Nicotero understands that everything is more interesting covered in Karo syrup.

Postscript: It has been brought to my attention that this film works better if you watch it through the characters’ eyes.  Try to understand the fear that they’re feeling.  Do this, rather than viewing the movie through the eyes of the actors playing the characters, like I do.  So if you follow this suggestion the mileage you get out of the film’s scares might be greater.  

Just how you could possibly deem to see the film through any eyes other than Lee Tergesen’s has yet to be explained to me.


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