The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning: Unrated (US - DVD R1)
Dustin may have been watching the beginning, but he longed for the end
I like to think that I'm a pretty easy-going critic when it comes to bad movies and my track record here at DVD Active shows this. I've given decent marks to even the sketchiest of television movie releases, several of them probably undeserving. I realize from personal experience how much of an incredible effort it is for a group of people to bring a motion picture to fruition—so I try to approach each new film with an open mind and gentle method of critique.
With all this in mind, I urge you to steer clear of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. It's a miserable film. As a somewhat hardcore fan of the Massacre series, I was hugely let down with this instalment. I'm going to do my best to come up with a set of adjectives that do the prequel justice. I can in advance guarantee you that they won't include words like terrifying or masterpiece as the pull quotes on the back cover suggest.
Vietnam veteran Eric and his draft-dodging brother, Dean, are on their way cross country to re-enlist with their girlfriends tagging along for moral support. The Sawyer family, meanwhile, are falling on hard times with the closing of the local slaughterhouse, seemingly the biggest employer in Travis County. The last butcher to vacate the premises, Tommy Hewitt (Leatherface), is taking the shutdown particularly bad. Without the slaughterhouse, how will the family continue to put meat on the table? Oh look, here come those tasty young twenty-something's.
The plot synopsis above will take you about thirty minutes into the feature where, suddenly, the plot simply stops coming. All that's left is an hour or so of chainsaw torture. If I wanted to see an hour of people getting knocked off in creative ways, I'd rent a Faces of Death video. Give me something fresh, something with a story to it. The whole 'twenty-somethings accidentally cross paths with the Hewitt family' has already been done once before (three times, actually).
Basically, Beginning too closely resembles the remake. The filmmakers use a southern rock tune to introduce the victims to the audience. It was 'Sweet Home Alabama' by Lynyrd Skynyrd last time and here it's 'All Right Now' by Free. Then of course, as they're passing through Travis County some unfortunate incident causes the gang to meet up with Sheriff Hoyt. It's not long before night is upon us and our tortured female heroine is in the company of the Hewitts. Cue Leatherface for the chase sequence.
My critique isn't all negative, however. Matter of fact, the only thing I didn't like about the prequel was the story and while that's a huge part of any film, it's not the only part. Beginning is a very nicely shot piece of entertainment. Director of Photography Lukas Ettlin does very well in keeping with the style of previous film while creating memorable visuals all his own. Gore hounds should be more than satisfied with the legendary KNB handling special effects makeup, which shines like never before in this unrated cut. Even if their material is utter garbage, the performers still manage to give it their all. It's great to see R. Lee Ermy and Andrew Bryniarski reprise their roles from the remake.
Point blank, my gripe with the prequel is that it didn't deliver on what it hinted that it would. Did we get any kind of exposition on how these crazies became nutty? None at all. We did however learn trivial things such as where R. Lee Ermy found his sheriff threads and how Uncle Monty lost his legs. There's nothing psychological here, no character development to speak of. Do the filmmakers attempt to give any insight into the mind of Leatherface as the first two sequels attempted to? Not at all; they'd rather slap him on every advertisement for the series ever created and then relegate him to near prop-status once the film begins. This prequel is a disaster; eye candy for gore hounds at best.
The film may be crap, but it's terribly good looking crap served up in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image appears sharp and black levels are exactly where they need to be. The filmmakers' colour adjustment to many of the scenes comes across quite nicely, giving Beginning a vintage 1970s feel. At times grain is apparent, but it may well have been intentional to add to the grittiness of the project. Grain aside, this is a clean image. Everything in the Beginning looks exactly as it should.
I gave a listen to the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX tack and thoroughly enjoyed it. When we're not hearing screams or chainsaws, the filmmakers are throwing random scary noises our way and this is a mix to highlight those sounds. The score by Steve Jablonsky comes across particularly well, never muddling up the dialogue. A great example of this balance is when Sheriff Hoyt is saying grace during the dinner scene; the score crescendos with each line Hoyt gets out and yet neither winds up drowning out the other. Audio fans should delight at the inclusion of a DTS 6.1 ES discrete track.
The feature film has a commentary track with Director Johnathan Liebesman and producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form. I might've given it a listen had I not detested Beginning. 'Down to the Bone' is a fairly well-made series of featurettes documenting the prequel's production. It totals forty-five minutes.
The deleted/extended scenes section has thirteen minutes of excised material. The only scenes I found of interest were the three alternate endings; two of which were simply different takes on the actual one and the third ending set us up for another prequel. The deleted scenes include optional commentary. Rounding out the disc is the film's theatrical trailer.
I've found several adjectives that fit the prequel fairly well; pointless, boring, miserable and wretched. If you liked the 2003 remake so much that you don't mind a prequel that doesn't bother to bring anything new to the table, you might be content with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. I personally prefer my films to have a bit more meat to the story than this one did. Still, it has a few redeeming qualities and this is a fine release by New Line. Overall, I'm going to give the disc a very generous 5/10.
Review by Dustin McNeill
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 16th January 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX English, DTS 6.1 ES Discrete English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Commentary, Deleted/Extended Scenes, 'Down to the Bone' featurette, Theatrical trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Johnathan Liebesman
Cast: R. Lee Ermy, Jordana Brewster,
Length: 89 minutes
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