A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this grisly horror film isn't for kids -- though lots of horror-loving teens will want to see it. It's relentlessly bloody, dark-shadowed, and gruesome, with the titular chainsaw wreaking predictable (but still dire) havoc. Violence is graphic and incessant, with a range of weapons (guns, meat hooks, cleavers) producing severed limbs and body parts. A cow is smashed to bloody smithereens by a jeep; human victims are tortured (hung from hooks, tied up, taunted, stabbed, and sawed). The faux sheriff taunts a girl by pressing up against her and whispering ("I love you"). Some cleavage shots, and the girls' clothing appears in increasing disarray. Frequent foul language, mostly "f--k" and its permutations.
What's the story?
Leatherface (played as an adult by Andrew Bryniarski) was born in 1939 to a mother who died immediately. Picked out of a dumpster, he's raised by Luda May (Marietta Marich) and the monster known as Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey), who kills the real sheriff and steals his badge and cruiser. Trained to be a meat chopper, Leatherface snaps when the slaughterhouse he works at shuts down in 1969 and begins killing, chopping, and eating anyone he meets who's not "family." At the same time the slaughterhouse closes, a jeep full of kids crosses Hoyt's path, and he brings them home "for supper." Vietnam war veteran Eric (Matthew Bomer) is planning to go back for another tour in order to go look after his just-drafted brother Dean (Taylor Handley). Though Dean and his girlfriend Bailey (Diora Baird) mean to go to Mexico instead, by the time they confess their scheme to Eric and his girlfriend Chrissie (Jordana Brewster), it's too late -- Hoyt has found them.
Is it any good?
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING mainstreams and dilutes the effectiveness of ornery, low-budget, so-called "horror-porn" movies (Wolf Creek, Hostel, etc.). You know a trend has crested and collapsed by the time Michael Bay gets hold of it (he's a producer here). Reviled for their grisly excess, those films also make relevant cultural and political critiques, modeled after the analyses offered by some '70s proto-slasher movies. Not so the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, which repeats its source material, including the basic plot: Good-looking kids on the road stumble into a Terrible Place and suffer bloody, screaming deaths. Its many torture scenes are pretty much what you expect from mainstreamed horror porn. The shadows are dark, the floor and walls slick, the devices rudimentary and filthy. Hoyt hangs the boys up in the barn and beats them, Leatherface hacks up limbs and torsos in the basement, and Mama attends to the cooking, trying to sort out which tongue is which.
The gore does make a point, after a fashion. This has to do with Eric's determination that the group must "stay the course." As Eric says, the Vietnam War has shown him that "it's amazing the things you can get used to." The argument might be made that characters who choose to "stay the course" let themselves in for the atrocities they encounter (and, in a couple of cases, commit). Such appalling acts are a function of both environment and necessity. Just as Eric got used to things in Vietnam, audiences are getting used to horror porn and its increasingly formulaic arrangements. And so we're missing the horror of it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's representation of "families." How does it suggest that Leatherface's dismal birth, abandonment, and training make him into a demented killer? How is environment a factor in his brutality (and how does the film use the Vietnam War as backdrop for that question)? How can you tell that Chrissie's efforts to save her friends are futile? Does that encourage viewers to look forward to her bad end? What's the ongoing appeal of horror films? Does anything set this one apart from the rest of the genre?
- In theaters: October 6, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: January 16, 2007
- Cast: Jordana Brewster, R. Lee Ermey, Taylor Handley
- Director: Jonathan Liebesman
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for strong horror violence/gore, language and some sexual content.
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