TCM Sequel Round Up Parts 4 and 5: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Beginning

"We ain't gonna go hungry no more."

In honor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s 40th anniversary restoration release, we’re taking a look at some of this classic film’s less-than-heralded sequels. Read on for the next installment of the series where I review the reboot of the series and its prequel: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and 2006’s The Beginning.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Written by Scott Kosar
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Written by Sheldon Turner

It was 2003, almost ten years since horror fans had heard so much as a peep, let alone the buzz of a chainsaw, from the festering backwoods of rural Texas. After Leatherface and the Sawyers’ (well, Slaughters’) last outing (1994’s The Next Generation), it seemed another cinematic romp with these delightfully psychotic cannibals just wasn’t in the cards. But somewhere in Hollywood, the remake machine was churning and we would soon have a reboot of the entire TCM franchise.

“Why?” was the question on so many people’s minds. “Why would and how could anybody want to do that? Hasn’t the legacy of the original been shit on enough at this point? Do we really need to see post-9/11 Leatherface? Is he going to have an iPhone?” Part of what made Leatherface so scary was that he seemed to be a monster out of time. The raw, home movie-ish footage of the original Massacre was one of the things that made it so terrifying. It just looked so real. And it looked… very old. Like maybe it had all really happened and everyone that knew about it was dead, or in hiding.

Now, like most of you, I place the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the top of the heap. I mean, how could you not? It’s an undisputed masterpiece. But I do feel that each of the sequels are redeemable in their own ways. And I can honestly say that I was not disappointed at all by the reboot movies. Were they necessary? No. But for what they were, I definitely enjoyed them.

The reboot is essentially a retelling of the original story, so like the first film it’s (thankfully) set in 1973 (my fears of Leatherface taking cellular phone calls were unrealized). Five teenagers (late teens, early twenties possibly?) are driving through Texas on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert (maybe a bit too heavy handed with the ’70s references, but okay). The catch is that they’re coming from south of the border and they’ve got a bit of the old brick-packed Mexican in their van. Instead of picking up someone reminiscent of the original’s demented hitch hiker, they pick up a young, pretty girl who seems to be in a bit of trouble. Well, these kids have no idea how much trouble she’s in until she pulls a revolver out of her vagina and commits suicide in their van, presumably to escape another more gruesome fate. This starts a series of events rolling that lead to a very similar scenario as in the first film (old, spooky house – sledgehammer in some poor guy’s head). We also get to meet Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey turns in a hideous bastard of a performance) and everyone soon finds out that he is not a very nice guy at all. Uncle Monty, on the other hand, doesn’t seem like he’s as big of a prick, but you could possibly chalk that up to the sympathy factor: he has no legs from the knees down.

As in the 1974 version, people start getting picked off one by one and when dinner rolls around, things have taken quite the twisted turn. Erin (played by Jessica Biel) takes the place of Sally Hardesty in this retelling and she manages to break free of the demented Hewitt home (they’re not the Sawyers in this version). Leatherface doggedly chases her into a nearby slaughterhouse and a more appropriate setting for a TCM climax I cannot conceive of. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but it’s quite satisfying (even though it leaves a little bit of space open for a sequel).

Now, before I get into critiquing the particulars beyond the plot, let’s talk about this film’s prequel, 2006’s The Beginning. This time two young couples traveling through Texas run afoul of not only the Hewitts, but also a gang of asshole bikers. So now you’ve got a bunch of outlaw one-percenters, scared-to-death teenagers, and a family of backwoods rednecks all running around the same area trying to kill each other, or escape. The upshot with this film is getting to see what prompted Leatherface and his family to resort to murder and cannibalism. And while it doesn’t necessarily paint them in a sympathetic light, seeing their motivations is at least something. There’s many a callback to 2003’s reboot in this flick: you get to see how Sheriff Hoyt became sheriff (and lost all those teeth), how Uncle Monty lost his legs, and – for the first time ever (it was billed that way in Rue Morgue – the first completely onscreen death by chainsaw.

Unlike the reboots of A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday the 13th, these reimaginings of the Hewitt family’s descent into evil ring a bit more true. The movies are grounded in reality and they actually attempt to explain and justify what’s being seen on the screen (I can’t say the same for all the TCM sequels no matter how much I like them). I remember a lot of horror fans raising hell after the reboot and even more when the prequel was announced. But the prequel was necessary to clarify what took place in the first film. Yes, the 2003 Massacre could have stood on its own, but seeing the characters’ origins was much more satisfying.

And after softening Leatherface up for three sequels, the rebooted TCM films finally made him scary again. Was he as terrifying as the first time we ever saw him onscreen? No. But he was close. Andrew Bryniarski brings a hulking menace to the character, an aura that absolutely terrifies. Out of all the reboots we’ve seen over this past decade, his version of Leatherface far outshines the contemporary recreations of Jason, Freddy, and Michael. And let’s not forget about R. Lee Ermey. He’s fantastic as the despicable Sheriff Hoyt, a character that seems to have been partially inspired by Jim Siedow’s Cook, albeit much less goofy and more… murderous.

During your first viewing of The Beginning you’ll be asking yourself, “How do these kids get away? What happens? Who will survive and what will be left of them if the Hewitts are carrying on their murder spree at least for the next few years and possibly after the 2003 reboot?” Of both movies, I feel the prequel has the stronger ending. It pulls no punches and is an incredibly dark and hopeless scenario that really hammers home how vile these characters are. And how glad we should all be that meek and mild-mannered Ed Gein was really the closest thing to them in real life.

As with most remakes and reboots, the 2000’s TCM movies are not required viewing. But as a modern, darker take on the story, they’re above average in their execution. I’m a fan of both and I hope there’s a director out there who can take the reigns back from John Luessenhop after the debacle that was Texas Chainsaw 3D. Somebody’s got to steer the series back in a decent direction.

Up next, the final installment of this series. Tonight I will be forcing myself to sit through Texas Chainsaw 3D again, so come back tomorrow if you want to read me complaining about it.

4 Knives

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