Thursday, 9 November 2006

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

Leatherface won't be receiving an invitation from Chairman Kaga any time soon

There’s something to be said about Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was surprisingly good because it was shot in documentary style (Blair Witch before its time!), focused more on pacing, suspense, and dramatic tension. The film wasn’t even particularly gory or graphic at all. There’s something else to be said about Hooper’s sequels to that film: they failed to develope the Leatherface mythos in a credible manner, and failed to hew to the same gritty and unsettling look that made the first film a piece of art (a print of the film is on permanent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan).

Yet when Michael Bay, the man who started his career directing music videos for Meat Loaf, then graduated to making loud, crass, bombastic and stupid big budget action movies with lots of crashing vehicles and exploding objects. Bay produced the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003, fulfilling all expectations that he would turn the horror film into a loud, crass, bombastic and stupid big budget gory movie modelled on the modern horror genre instead of Hooper’s original vision. In other words, a typical horror slasher with lots of ridiculously loud sound effects to generate false scares, an frantic obsession to film the gore of Leatherface in action, combined with Michael Bay’s trademark middle finger to coherent editing (not to say plot) and love for stripping away all vestiges of intelligence in his movies.

For the prequel to the remake, audiences are treated to yet another one of Michael Bay’s tics, namely the one where he recycles entire sequences from a previous film in its sequel. But what about the "The Beginning" promised in the title? Aside from the opening credit sequence that chronicles the birth and growth of Leatherface from a baby to a teenager, the rest of the film is a standard slasher movie about Leatherface and family luring and trapping a group of teens for the graphic torture and slaughter that form the key attraction of this movie.

Story-wise, none of the Hooper Massacres could be honestly summarised as retarded psycho chops up victims for 90 minutes, but clearly that is the direction that Michael Bay and his directorial team wish to take for their remakes. Nothing else matters – The Beginning is a no-style, no-plot (there is some cultural and historical commentary that is half-heartedly raised and then half-heartedly discarded minutes later), unimaginative, stale piece of cinema that fails to evoke any sense of horror despite recycling sequences from its predecessor, sound cues and plot points from the past decade of horror and slasher flicks.

For a movie that bills itself as a prequel to the franchise, there is nothing new offered – that should be enough of a condemnation for all involved in this effort, except there’s a much bigger insult to Messrs Bay, Liebesman and Turner. I speak of course, of Rob Zombie, a music video producer turned film director and the two slasher films inspired by Hooper’s massacres: House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects – both disgustingly perverse, humorous, stylish and very intelligent films – brilliant additions to the slasher genre. The Firefly family don’t really relish in straightforward meat chopping, but in psychological torture and mind games that bring the horror to a meaningful high – something that Bay and company should learn soon, if they want to inflict yet another Massacre on us this decade.

Take for example Leatherface’s penchant for skinning off his victims faces and wearing them. That’s all there is to it. Zombie’s Fireflys skin off their victims faces and wear them in order to taunt the victim’s friends, and then sew the faces to the friend’s head. Now that is something so original that it is worth paying money to watch.

I would have preferred a more engaging prequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One could easily imagine Leatherface as a perennial runner-up (aka "loser") in the Iron Chef competition, because Chairman Kaga wasn’t impressed by Leatherface’s replacement of the usual carving knives with his trusty chainsaw. Unable to take the string of unbroken defeats in his stride, the chef began his rampage...

First published at incinemas on 9 November 2006

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