Murder & Mayhem Are in the Blood

Jordana Brewster portrays a waylaid road tripper terrorized by Leatherface and his cannibalistic clan in
Jordana Brewster portrays a waylaid road tripper terrorized by Leatherface and his cannibalistic clan in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning." (Photos By Van Redin -- New Line Productions)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 7, 2006

Perhaps it's misleading to praise "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" for its positive family values. But we do note that the Hewitts -- the Texas relations at the center of this horrorfest -- say grace before dinner and show deep love and support for one another. We're almost reluctant to mention their tendency to apprehend, slaughter and eat anyone who passes through their rural hamlet.

But the Hewitts are doing the best with what they have, which, in this economically impoverished corner of Texas, is nothing. The one who prepares their cannibal spread, of course, is Thomas, a.k.a. Leatherface, the marauding butcher of the original 1974 "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," who never met a visitor he couldn't dismember, dice and debone in time for supper.

Sadly, this movie is a far cry from the atmospheric, even thoughtfully crafted original, which made you truly scared for the unkempt, everyman victims. But this latest version, though just as grisly, is literally hackwork, and stars a forgettable, airbrushed cast of slaughterees.

A brief recap of the chainsaw chronicles: There was 1986's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2," which featured Dennis Hopper as a vengeful Texas cop. Viggo Mortensen popped up in 1990's "Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III," and 1994's "The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre" starred Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey. But all you need to know this weekend is that "The Beginning" is the prequel to 2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," which, in turn, is the remake of Tobe Hooper's 1974 original, the big bang that started it all.

As the latest movie shows us, Thomas (played here and in 2003 by Andrew Bryniarski) is just a misunderstood psychotic who was teased as a child for his disfigured face and, in later years, denied gainful employment when the local slaughterhouse was closed down in 1969.

Have no fear, horror fans: "The Beginning" may get mushy about Leatherface and his family, but it spares no detail -- not a one -- when it comes to showing the Hewitts' first round of victims. When he hears about the factory shutdown, Thomas sledgehammers his supervisor to death. And his adoptive uncle Charlie (R. Lee Ermey) feels obligated to blow out the brains of the sheriff who comes to arrest his nephew. Charlie takes over the sheriff's badge, uniform, even his identity. And waste not, want not: That old Sheriff Hoyt makes one heckuva dinner.

And of course there are the four kids (a bell-bottomed Jordana Brewster is the best known) who make the unfortunate mistake of getting into an accident on Route 17 one July day on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert (it's 1969, remember). Little do they know, they'll be playing involuntary air guitar on meat hooks before the day is through.

Is there much more to tell you? We will say we have never seen a 300-pound woman (she's called the Tea Lady and we remember her from the 2003 "Massacre") used as a doorstop. And we couldn't help but laugh when Sheriff Hoyt/Charlie compliments his nephew on his new face mask, which Leatherface obtained the hard way from one of his victims. But we also noted the tenderness in the compliment and the twinkle in his uncle's eyes.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (84 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for hard-core violence and gore, profanity and some sexual content.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company