The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

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Starring R. Lee Ermey and Jordana Brewster. Rated 18A.

WX-1130 is a great place to get traffic updates (“every 10 minutes on the ones” ), but the local AM station should skip movie criticism. One Friday rush hour, I was tuned in to keep tabs on the time when the morning team decided it should compare a couple of films opening in Vancouver that day, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and Martin Scorsese's star-packed The Departed. The idea was that one was being hyped as Oscar-worthy, the other not so much. “Texas Chainsaw might win an Oscar Meyer award,”  chirped up the male announcer, making it clear that he frowns on horror flicks. Apparently, this guy wasn't aware of the far-reaching effect that Tobe Hooper's original Massacre had on serious American filmmakers after its release in 1974. But what do you expect from a media outlet that jumps on the latest report issued by the right-wing Fraser Institute and uses it as a day-long “news”  lead.

That said, don't start thinkin' that TTCM:TB deserves a positive review, because this is just the kind of film that gives horror movies a bad name and leads people to lump them all together as crap. The Beginning is obviously trying to cash in on the recent rash of gory, sadistic, hard-core horror hits, but no such luck. It doesn't have the inventiveness of the Saw films, the suspense of Wolf Creek, or the mindblowing twist of High Tension. It does have the gruesome torture of Hostel, though, if you're into that. And it has Full Metal Jacket's R. Lee Ermey as demented fake cop Sheriff Hoyt, but he already wore that role out””brilliantly, I must say””in Marcus Nispel's much better Chainsaw remake of 2003. (That same year, The Beginning director Jonathan Liebesman made his feature debut with the crummy spook show Darkness Falls.)

As its title suggests, this one goes back to the root of the franchise's evil. It shows how the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (six-foot-five bodybuilder Andrew Bryniarski) was born in a filthy meat-packing plant, left to die in a dumpster, rescued by a family of psychopaths, and raised to eviscerate livestock on the same slaughterhouse floor. He becomes an expert with meat hooks and cleavers, much to the discomfort of the attractive young people Hoyt captures after they plow into a cow and crash their jeep on a deserted Texas road. The rest of the film is all about how many victims Leatherface can skewer with his roaring woodcutter. Here's a clue: you can count them on one hand, if only two fingers have been severed and made into soup.