Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
You know the adage, “Everything’s bigger in Texas?” Well, there’s one big, twisted franchise that — for better or worse — is synonymous with that sprawling state. I’m, of course, referring to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise; a series of films that spans nearly fifty years, nine entries, and a myriad of tonal shifts. Does it all work, or is it messier than a big plate of TX BBQ? We’ll find out by taking a strange, sun-roasted journey though the series. This time around, we’ll look what happens when a series goes from remaking its horror history to revising history with the prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)!
There’s no denying that remakes have been a trend in the film industry since there were enough movies to remake. Thankfully, though, only some movies that are successful or well-regarded receive the remake treatment — those considered absolute classics, be it all-around or to a cult audience, are the ones that get remade. Some folks consider remakes lazy or uninspired, and I can see their perspective. But, one cinematic approach that is lazy is the prequel, the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy aside.
The 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was an impressive success. One which, for better or worse, put production company Platinum Dunes on the map and kicked off the horror remake trend of the early aughts. Despite the remake’s success, the production company chose not to sequelize it. But, after supposed inquiries from fans on how The Hewitt Family came to be, producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form (The Forever Purge) tapped the writer of Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990), David J. Schow, to conceive of the story for the prequel in review. Oddly enough, though, the gig of expanding Schow’s story into a screenplay went to multi-award-winning and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air). At the time, he was a logical choice as he was used to well-tread filmic territory, having penned the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard.
Set during The Vietnam War (1959-1975), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning finds brothers Eric (Matt Bomer) and Dean (Taylor Handley) — and their girlfriends Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and Bailey (Diora Baird) — taking one last road trip before the boys ship off. As you might expect, this romp on the road is short-lived after the group totals their vehicle in a car accident. Stranded in the middle of nowhere with the Texas heat beating down on them, the would-be road trippers seek help from none other than Charlie Hewitt (R. Lee Ermey). All seems well until Hewitt takes the quartet to meet his family. At which point, the would-be soldiers and their significant others find themselves fighting a war for their lives on home turf against Thomas “Leatherface” Hewitt (Andrew Bryniarski) and his cannibalistic relatives!
Yup, this plot is as perfunctory as fans of this franchise have come to expect from the majority of the films spawned by the 1974 original. Thus, it’s fitting (albeit unfortunate) that the filmmakers chose the even duller subtitle of “The Beginning” over its initial subtitle: “The Origin of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Sticking to the by-the-numbers approach, producers brought on workman genre director Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls, 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). I know it sounds like I’m belittling him, but I assure you I’m not. As director, he does a perfectly serviceable job with this material. The problem is that there’s nothing to the movie.
TCM: The Beginning is a cash-grab capitalizing on the torture porn subgenre trend of the time, popularized most notably by the Saw (2004-) and Hostel (2005-2011) franchises. Though, more than those torture porn titans, the movie feels like it wants to be the TCM take on Wolf Creek (2005); primarily because both flicks take place in isolated, rural areas. In fact, the only thing The Beginning adds to this iteration of the mythology is the re-introduction the cannibalism angle; which was avoided in the remake, I suspect, in an effort to bring in the largest audience possible. It also has the birth of Leatherface, which I find to be the only other memorable thing about this flick, if only because it’s so grody. Otherwise, it becomes ‘The R. Lee Ermey Show,’ wherein the drill Sargent-turned-character actor berates and tortures his way through the picture. Except, this time, the gimmick is not engaging in the least.
When you saw it all down, the only interesting aspect of this prequel is the cannibalism. This tasty little tidbit, after all, is what gives The Texas Chainsaw a large part of its sharp edge. Aside from that, though, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is a Franchise Implosion because it’s the absolute lowest point of the franchise in its chronological history, which is saying a lot. Interestingly, though, it is not the last time TCM would take the prequel route as Leatherface (2017) uses the same gimmick, of which I also am not fond. Still, at least it’s a more unique take on a prequel than this.
Leatherface wouldn’t happen for quite a while, though. On the contrary, The Beginning‘s line of continuity was initially going to continue. In January 2007, just before it came to home video, Platinum Dunes announced they would be moving forward with a sequel to the remake. That sequel never came to fruition, though. At this point, New Line and Platinum Dunes lost the film rights, which reverted to franchise creators Tobe Hooper (1943-2017) and Kim Henkel (The Sawyer Massacre). They in turn licensed the franchise to Lionsgate. Well, at least for the next couple of interpretations of this series.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) is currently available on Digital, Blu-Ray & DVD.
On our next trip, we’ll have to take a completely different timeline to arrive at Texas Chainsaw 3-D (2013)!
Other Texas Attractions:
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)