Don’t get too attached to any of the nubile young twentysomethings in horror prequel “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.” Expectedly grisly pic provides the origin story for Thomas Hewitt, aka “Leatherface” — which means these kids are little more than chainsaw fodder for the Ed Gein-inspired cannibalistic killer. Whereas the three “Star Wars” prequels set up key events foreshadowing young Anakin’s turn to the dark side, implication here is that Hewitt was always evil. In light of the 2003 Michael Bay-produced remake’s $80 million box office take, expect this entry from “Rings” helmer Jonathan Liebesman to scare up healthy numbers.
From Jason’s ubiquitous hockey mask to Mike Myers’ William Shatner disguise, masks play a crucial role in American horror movies, and none is scarier than Leatherface’s homemade version, ripped fresh from the faces of his victims and stitched together to cover his deformity. Though “The Beginning” offers few psychological insights into Leatherface’s behavior, it does give bloodthirsty fans the chance to witness the mask’s grisly creation.
Hewitt’s sorry life dawns in a seedy slaughterhouse that, circa 1939, has seen none of the reform Upton Sinclair advocated in “The Jungle.” Sitting at a fly-covered conveyor belt, a pregnant meat inspector keels over backward and convulses as her hideously deformed baby claws its way into the world, unassisted. Left for dead among the meat scraps, the child is rescued by a local dumpster digger and brought home to proud papa Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey).
Thirty years later, the slaughterhouse has failed a health inspection, but one hulking employee (with a makeshift mask) refuses to put down his meat cleaver. Unprovoked, young Thomas Hewitt (Andrew Bryniarski) bashes his boss’ head in, then looks for a better weapon. Soon, he spies — illuminated like Excalibur by a shaft of heavenly light — the power tool that will make him famous.
The sheriff (Lew Temple) finds Hewitt, still carrying the chainsaw. Foolish enough to leave his shotgun on the dash and Hoyt in the passenger seat, the sheriff gets out of the car to confront the young man. Turns out, Hoyt has an even greater taste for blood than his adopted son, and he shoots the sheriff from behind. Later, serving the man’s remains for dinner, he drawls, “We ain’t never gonna go hungry again.”
As scripted, these scenes might have played for camp or comic effect, but Liebesman hews close to the 2003 pic’s bile-tinged snuff-film aesthetic. His approach falls somewhere between the overwrought sadism of the “Saw” series and the giddy gore-for-gore’s-sake energy of “The Devil’s Rejects,” sharing those films’ twisted notion that today’s auds are willing to embrace such homicidal maniacs as heroes.
To jumpstart his killing career, all this backwoods Hannibal Lecter needs is victims, and “Beginning” dutifully supplies a fresh quartet of over-sexed youngsters to fit the bill — two boys bound for Vietnam and their girlfriends along for the ride. Of the four, Jordana Brewster escapes much of the movie’s brutality, outliving her less fortunate co-stars long enough to find a “Wolf Creek”-worthy surprise waiting in the backseat of her getaway vehicle.
Purists who wondered what had become of the family dinner scene (left out of the remake) should be pleased to find an even creepier version recreated here. Auds would be well advised not to attempt “Beginning” on a full stomach.
Technical aspects mimic the 2003 pic, which traded original’s low-budget verite style for a more contemporary musicvideo look.