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Notes Rrom the Back Row

Little behind the mask in this sequel

We all wear masks. Any dime-store psychiatrist or yapping college kid with a psych 101 credit will tell you that. Some of us hide behind humour to avoid our issues, others put on a façade of tough-guy threats but deep down they like picking flowers and think unicorns are pretty cool.

Then there’s the guys who walk around with a hockey mask and a machete or those who actually peel the flesh off people and stitch it together to make a dandy little face-mask. Those guys are a bit different, but this time of year they start popping up in the theatres and good old Leatherface, the most bad-ass masked man of all, is coming back to the Village 8 this Friday in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original Massacre spawned three sequels and a 2003 remake starring hot-ass Jessica Beil, but this origin-of-Leatherface movie looks like one too many trips to the well. In the beginning a deformed baby claws his way out of his mother in a grimy abattoir (that’s a nice way of saying slaughterhouse) and, after being tossed in the trash, is adopted by some local psychos. All the other kids pick on little Leatherface and he develops some issues, culminating in the sledge-hammer murder of his boss when the abattoir (where he now works) is closed. His adopted papa kills the local sheriff, frees his boy (who’s found an Excalibur-like chainsaw as his weapon of choice) and everybody makes it home in time for dinner. After that, it’s a bunch of the same old, same old, only not as good.

I realize there’s been about 10 Jason or Freddy movies so a fifth dose of Leatherface shouldn’t be all that bad. The problem here is that this so-called origin story doesn’t pack much of a punch. Leatherface, a hack and slash icon, was neglected and picked on as a kid? That’s the backstory to one of the horror genre’s most recognizable figures? Pretty weak premise. Who wasn’t picked on as a kid?

The fact that we don’t get behind the mask and inside Leatherface’s head at all makes it pretty hard to give a shit about anything in the film. We don’t need to cheer for a murderer, but it’d be nice to at least see a bit of what makes him tick.

Leatherface’s first victims aren’t hippie dippie weedsmokers like the 2003 remake. This time they’re soldiers, one a Vietnam vet who’s already gotten a glimpse of the brutal side of life, but even this concept isn’t utilized to add anything new to the story and in the end, the “birth of fear,” while chock full of gore, blood, tendons and annoyingly brash music, is pretty lacking in the “fear” department.

Also opening this Friday, and sticking with themes of masks and duplicity is The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s magician movie. Nolan ( Memento, Batman Begins) has issued a statement that the film is “a mystery structured as a cinematic magic trick” and requests that us critics don’t give away too much about the film and spoil the illusion. What I can tell you is that it stars Batman and Wolverine as arch-nemesis magicians in turn-of-the-century London. A very convoluted plot, full of flashbacks, secrets, lies, jealousy, betrayal and Scarlett Johansson might confuse some people but if you pay close attention to all the fragments a pretty compelling story unfolds, much like a real magic trick.

Plus Scarlett Johansson, occasionally fumbling her English accent, is in it.

AT VILLAGE 8 Oct. 20-26: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Beginning; The Prestige; Flags of our Fathers; Departed; The Marine; Open Season; Trailer Park Boys; Man of the Year; Grudge 2