There seems to be a trend going on in horror films lately over how brutally graphic you can possibly get away with being without being banished to the straight-to-video shelf. In that respect, I can place TCM The Beginning right alongside with The Devil's Rejects and Hostel.
After sitting about forty minutes into this film, it dawned on me that I was watching the movie that everyone thought they saw back in 1974.
Mind you, I hadn't been in the world for too terribly long when the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre made its debut on the silver screen, and somehow I don't think the theatres would have allowed a two-year-old in to see it even if I had been aware of it at the time. But I did grow up in the shadow it cast on the horror culture, so by the time VCRs became popular I had been assured that it was the bloodiest, most disgusting, most brutally violent, betcha-can't-sit-through-it horror film of all time. Of course, I had to see it.
When I first saw the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I was convinced that my father had played a trick on me and rented the edited version. I knew for damned sure that I hadn't seen all this blood and gore that everyone I knew swore up and down was in there. So after watching it a second time (this time going with my father to the video store.. just to be sure!) I realized that many people had far more active imaginations than I previously gave them credit for. There was no blood, no gore-soaked body parts flying around, or anything like that in the original. It was just some clever camera cuts, harsh background noises that were not musical, screaming victims, the buzz of a chainsaw, and the filmmaker relying an awful lot on audience expectations.
Tonight, I believe I saw what moviegoers would have seen back in 1974 if Tobe Hooper had had a budget and friendlier cooperation from the MPAA.
So there you have it, it is a bloody chunks-o-flesh fest. But there were a few other things about this film that I didn't find quite so nice about it.
First of all, it is a prequel, so it suffers from the same curse as any other prequel that has ever come before it .. we have a pretty good idea who lives and dies by the end of the opening credits. Sure, a few little things get explained along the way, such as how the sheriff lost his teeth and how the elderly bloke ended up in a wheelchair, but there aren't too many surprises as far as who is going to make it out alive. So for those who like a little mystery with their horror, I suggest you take every character that looks under thirty and then try to guess the order in which they die.
Speaking of prequels, I would have liked to seen a little more of Leatherface's wonder years. Hell, I would have been happy to see any footage of those years that weren't being presented in a haphazard slideshow format. Instead, we jump from two hours after his birth to his winning the Disgruntled Employee of the Year Award at the slaughterhouse.
Two more words came to mind more than once while watching this film: Character development. They did a wonderful job of giving us lots of time to get to know the four youngsters in the car who you knew were going to be the main course by the time the end credits rolled. But that aside, even the second-best known actor in the film was given a motorcycle that had far more personality than his character did.
And let's be honest with ourselves here.. if the prequel is actually necessary, than it should also be necessary to get a little deeper into the central character's lives .. you know, the ones who will still be breathing by the end of the film. And during some big destiny-changing moment, like say when the decision is made to turn your family into cannibals, you would expect just a wee bit of initial objection from at least one member of the household. Considering the family background in slaughterhouse work, you'd think that someone might point out that raising chickens might be a better option instead of chasing down motorists for food. Or even just scrounging for armadillos on the side of the road.. after all, it is Texas!
And speaking of the family, for those of you who groaned about missing the big family dinner in the Texas Chainsaw remake, this would be the film you were waiting on.
All in all, I wouldn't say that this is a terribly bad film, just not quite what I expected for a prequel. TCM fans are likely to recognize the formula within the first five minutes, so there really aren't a lot of surprises to be had. But if you're into the gore, this one is a good bet for a rainy day.
Film information: Texas Chainsaw Massacre - The Beginning