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Nothing more certain than Death and Texas

The last thing I generally expect going into a slasher movie nowadays is that it’s going to make political points. And maybe the timing is coincidental, but when I was watching THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, I couldn’t help but think of George W. Bush.

The key is a scene where R. Lee Ermey’s Sheriff Hoyt has two captives and is basically torturing them. He refers to his past as a Korean war POW, and then derisively notes that in those days they didn’t have rules for treatment of prisoners (the movie is set in 1969). His two prisoners have in fact lied to him: one is a potential draft dodger while the other is about to sign up for a second Vietnam tour, yet they have pretended otherwise, but when one gets second thoughts about lying, the other tells him to “stay the course.”

Deliberate? Coincidental? Seems too on the nose to be entirely accidental. Slasher movies have always been about fear of a socially conservative rule, with the boogeymen generally enforcing a strict anti-sex, anti-drug, anti-fun agenda. Related to that is the fear of rednecks, as in THE HILLS HAVE EYES, especially the recent remake, in which the cannibal mutants sang the national anthem.

There’s even a really horrible attempt at an APOCALYPSE NOW homage early on, where the would-be draft dodger is in a hotel room and we see the ceiling fan slowly rotate above him. I’m not fond of such blatant “homages,” as they usually take me out of the movie. But it should be noted that the entire beginning of this movie is a little off, starting with the scene where Baby Leatherface basically pulls his own bad self out of his mother’s womb. Appropos for a Chucky sequel, but not for something pretending to be based on a true story. And yeah, the whole bit about showing you the “origin” of Leatherface? Don’t act too surprised, now…but it turns out he’s a big ugly retarded guy who never liked other people that much, and one day he got his hands on a chainsaw. Not that that was really the point of the prequel. Basically, they wanted to do another Texas Chainsaw remake franchise movie, but somehow felt that since Leatherface got one arm chopped off in the first one, that they couldn’t do a sequel. Lord knows nobody could possibly enjoy a movie about a one-armed dude wielding a chainsaw.

The plus side of doing a prequel is you also get to have Sheriff Hoyt back, although you also know he isn’t gonna die yet. All the other family come back too — the fat neighbor lady, the old mama (whose singing of “Hush little baby, don’t say a word” gets really damn annoying; doesn’t she know any other creepy songs?), and of course Old Monty, who actually has legs in this one, and we learn how he loses them, though we never see why he would require a pissbag — I know he has one because I have the action figure, which comes with mini-pissbag, and yet we never see him get shot in the penis or anything like that which would require such a thing. Oh yeah, we find out that Leatherface used to wear a mask made out of leather, which must be how he got the name. Then once he figured out how to cut faces off, he changed his mind, but “Skinned-Face Face” doesn’t have the same ring to it. I’ve been a fan of Andrew Bryniarski ever since HUDSON HAWK, and it’s cool to see him be a horror icon. Original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen was once a dick at a Fangoria convention to my friends who were promoting MAY, so Andrew all the way for me.

Which brings up something I’m probably going to get kicked out of the horror fandom fraternity for — I think there’s way too much blind idolization of Tobe Hooper’s original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. It’s a great title, it’s well shot, and it was ground-breaking…but you know what? I enjoy Marcus Nispel’s remake, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, a lot more. It has its flaws, for sure, and I’ll even name the most egregious ones…

1. Jessica Biel being the one hero chick who doesn’t do drugs or have sex, and she lives. Unforgivable in a post-SCREAM world.

2. The shot is the house at night with a massive floodlight clearly behind it. No real house is EVER backlit like that. I’m fine with most of the stylization, but that shot really calls my attention to the use of big studio lights.

3. Harry Knowles’ severed head. Too obvious an in-joke.

4. Don’t fucking show me Leatherface without the mask. Whatever he looks like is gonna be less scary than flayed human skin.

Nonetheless, Hooper’s original has an even bigger issue as far as entertainment goes — it takes forever for Leatherface to show up, and once he does, the movie ends like 20 minutes later. The remake has much better pacing, and Ermey’s Sheriff Hoyt is an amazing addition.

Now, if you want to talk about Hooper’s sequel, that’s another story. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 is untouchable.

But back to the prequel at hand. Knowing none of the villains will die, what’s the tension? Just whether Jordana Brewster can survive or not. And I adore her, but she’s wasted in a role most any hot actress could do. Still, the tension surrounding her is enough, even if her character is dumb enough to flee to the exact same place Jessica Biel did in the other one, though maybe this is just setting up how Leatherface knows chicks will run there in the future.

BTW: It’s 1969, and a song from 1970 is on the soundtrack. Just thought I’d point that out.

And after all that, I still enjoyed the movie. Most slasher sequels are just lame retreads; this is a retread, but it’s well shot and acted, even when the onscreen logic is odd (if you’re a fan of Jason movies, you got no moral high ground here, son; this is a much better put-together movie than FRIDAY THE 13TH PART WHATEVER). The credits are a rip-off of SEVEN, but at least they changed up the music and made it ambient industrial and not too rockin’. Director Jonathan Liebesman is also a bit too fond of shaky-cam, which works momentarily to disorient (or as the English say, disorientate) — moderation in this area would be good.

But regardless of all that, we’ve got a movie about crazy Southern folk killing and eating stupid kids who pass through, and it doesn’t hold back on the gore. I have very little patience for those who hold Hooper’s original up as a classic and then disdain this — it’s a silly kind of snobbery when the directors of these new versions seem every bit as eager to deliver on the guts. No-one complains about John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING.

Nispel’s “original” is better, but this one still delivers. Those who would look down on it, recall that that’s exactly how the mainstream looked at the original movie…which, by the way, isn’t even the best fictionalized Ed Gein film out there (that would be PSYCHO). Much love to Hooper for laying the groundwork, but he never set out to make a sacred cow.

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1 comment to Nothing more certain than Death and Texas

  • Tony

    i agree. after wtaching tcm:tb, it was so shocking that i have to watch it again so that i could get over the shock i got from the movie.

    i’ve always ranked the original evil dead as the “most ferocious” of all horror movies, including the wonderful remake of the “hills have eyes.”

    with “the beginning” i rank it at number one, as it created a genre of its own: shock movie!

    with the likes of “hostel” and “wrong turn” i could feel that the new chainsaw movie lived up to the fans’ expectations, even though the critics have bashed it in their reviews.

    it was so shocking, i enjoyed it…

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