Origin stories are difficult and none more so than those peculiar to the horror genre. Mick Garris' 1990 offering Psycho IV: The Beginning
(which had the added benefit of being scripted by original Psycho
scribe Joseph Stefano, who sadly passed beyond the outer limits last month), was a lackluster affair, and in recent memory only Wes Craven's child-killing dream-reaper Freddy Krueger had a backstory with enough sordid squeals to lodge any more firmly in the mind's eye than an errant eyelash. So this prequel to Tobe Hooper's 1974 shocker arrives handicapped by both the odds and the lingering, flyblown stench of Hooper's manic, crazed forerunner. (Both Hooper and original Chainsaw
writer Kim Henkel receive co-producer credit here.) It's neither as bad as it could have been, nor as interesting as it should have been, and the final desultory reaction is a decidedly minor one. The set-up has four teens, nominally led by Brewster, who end up victims of the Hewitts – the rural Texan cannibal clan. The teens are slaughtered (big deal) but the real hook, pun intended, revolves around series boogeyman Leatherface (Bryniarski), so named for the human-skin mask he uses to hide his naturally deformed features. As in the 2003 remake of Hooper's original, the clan is led by R. Lee Ermey's crustily sadistic Sheriff Hoyt, who, it turns out, cottoned to the epicurean delights of homo sapiens during his stint as a POW during the Korean War. Novel, but still no Donner fete if you ask me. As for his nephew Thomas, later to become the chain-saw-wielding force of nature of the title, it turns out his bloodlust was keyed in the wake of layoffs at the local slaughterhouse. Ermey's still gnawing on the epithet-strewn role of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket
, but that character has served him very well over the years, and as "Sheriff" Hoyt he bristles and stomps and sizzles like some lesser demon, earthbound and wizened and forever in control – if only just – of this tiny corner of hell. The rest of the cast is eminently forgettable, not least because, for a film taking place during the Vietnam war, everyone under the age of 40 looks as though they just wandered in from their daily stint at Gold's Gym. Only good old Leatherface literally mirrors the festering cultural and political corruption of the era, and to the film's vast discredit, this hideous echo is never even noted.