Way back in 1939 at a Texas slaughterhouse, one of the workers, a young woman, began to go into labour but her health would not take the stress and she collapsed. The boss rushed over to see if he could help, but all he got was screamed at in the face; it was then he noticed that a baby had emerged from his employee even though she had died. Not knowing what to do with it, and seeing it was deformed, the infant was wrapped in brown paper and left to die in the garbage outside, but he did not expire as a woman going through the bins found him and adopted him as her own...
Of course, the most jarring thing about that introduction is that the puppet playing the baby is one of the worst you'll ever see - they try not to dwell on it, but it really is unconvincing. Anyway, as with many series entering the twenty-first century, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was given a prequel, an origin story to take us back to the inception of the famed characters, and this was the result. Well, there really is only one famed character from this series, and he is Leatherface, so we are offered a bit of history to the character yet where other films trying this trick have been bogged down in needless overexplanation, here a different tack was used.
That being, this could easily have been a sequel to the remake that came before it, and better, it could have been a sequel to the all-time classic original as well. Where the 2003 version was stultifyingly tedious, letting sensational material simply lie there limp on the screen as it felt as if everyone was going through the moneymaking motions, in this instance it seems as if the filmmakers were far more enthusiastic about the proposition of revisiting this franchise, and while it didn't match Tobe Hooper's groundbreaking work, there was little to be ashamed of either. Indeed, there was far more tension than in all the previous sequels put together.
There were still problems, as for example it still slavishly recreated famous bits and pieces from what had made the original so memorable without really doing anything to justify their inclusion other than cold feet about trying something truly new. But R. Lee Ermey, returning as the best thing about the previous instalment, was offered more to do here, and as his most celebrated role was of the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, he brought out the interesting themes of war and what it does to the population back home. We see that Ermey's character is not actually a real sheriff, and realise that with the Vietnam conflict on the young people's minds, his Hoyt represents all those authority figures who would happily send their young folks off to a untimely demise at worst, and a harrowing experience at best.
It's no coincidence, perhaps, that the war on terror had brought the United States to an unpopular situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and parallels between the Vietnam war and the contemporary one were apparently the filmmakers' intention. In spite of that, Sheldon Turner's script, which had input from veteran horror writer David J. Schow, while not exactly subtle elsewhere, doesn't overemphasise his message, and this can just as easily be appreciated as a superior slasher. The four victims, led by plucky final girl Chrissie (Jordana Brewster), aren't going to roll over and die without a fight, and that the brothers in the party are not seeing eye to eye about being drafted creates a conflict that boils over into the ordeal they suffer when captured by Hoyt and his demented family. This is what you take away from the film: that the authority figures have been replaced by maniacs, something many had been wondering about in real life as well. Music by Steve Jablonsky.