Ranked: ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Films (Halloween Horror Month)

Ranked: ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Films (Halloween Horror Month)

by Daniel Rester

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre blew the lid off of the horror scene when it premiered in 1974. Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel’s indie film introduced Leatherface and became very influential for slashers and backwoods horror. It took a while, but a sequel eventually came in 1986. Now the series totals eight films — so far.

It’s a messy franchise, full of sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes. There’s some thrilling highs and some — very low — lows. Let’s break down the series for Halloween Horror Month. Here’s how I rank all of them from worst to best, with my short reviews and grades for each film as well.

8. Texas Chainsaw 3D  (2013)

Texas Chainsaw 3D wiped away all of the previous sequels and decided to be a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original. After showing us all of the deaths from that film over its opening credits, Texas Chainsaw 3D then jumps to the Sawyers getting wiped out by locals. Only Leatherface and a baby survive. The film then goes forward as the baby grows up to be Heather (Alexandra Daddario), who inherits a Sawyer house with Leatherface in the basement. John Luessenhop’s film is the pits for the series. It’s the most studio product-feeling film of the bunch, while the timeline makes no sense (Daddario’s character should be in her 40s, not 20s), the acting and writing are lazy, the soundtrack is full of lame rap songs, and the 3D gimmick is annoying. The nail in the coffin is the insulting third act, where the filmmakers actually try to make Leatherface an anti-hero. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995) may also be terrible, but at least it is enjoyably bad and not boring bad. Grade: D- 

7. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation  (1995)

The fourth film in the series is Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995), written and directed by Kim Henkel. It was an attempt by Henkel to get the series to feel like the original film again. It follows some prom kids who are attacked by the Slaughters (not the Sawyers for some reason), this time led by Vilmer (Matthew McConaughey). The film is partially of interest because it features pre-fame turns from McConaughey and Renée Zellweger, who became huge stars soon after. It is also easily the most bizarre movie in the series, a so-bad-it’s good affair with a hilariously unhinged McConaughey. Leatherface is reduced to being a whiny villain; the film also leans into his transvestism more than ever before without it having any thematic purpose. The whole thing is ugly and overwrought, with stupid story turns arriving consistently. The third act even attempts to suggest that the Slaughters are just a front for a secret society that provides “spiritual experiences” for victims. No joke. Grade: D-

6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning  (2006)

Jonathan Liebesman’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is a prequel to the 2003 remake. It concerns two Vietnam-bound brothers and their girlfriends running into the murderous Hewitt family. It shows everything from where Leatherface was born to how Charlie (R. Lee Ermey) became “Sheriff Hoyt.” Such gaps are filled in, but not all of them are necessary. And when it isn’t giving us such info, the film pretty much just plays out like the 2003 film but in a nastier and meaner way. There’s more focus on brutal chainsaw kills and cannibalism this time around, so it definitely delivers the gore. Overall, though, it’s a slick but soulless effort with a cardboard final girl. However, it does contain the sun-soaked look of the original 1974 film and features strong performances by Ermey and Matt Bomer. Grade: C- 

5. Leatherface: The Texas chainsaw Massacre III  (1990)

The third entry in the original run, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, reset the series to its more serious horror roots after the second film played more like an offbeat horror comedy. This was an attempt by New Line Cinema to streamline the series into Leatherface slasher vehicles. The film doesn’t do much new in terms of plot, but it delivers as a decent slasher pic with atmospheric night photography and wooded settings. It gets a boost from having terrific actors Viggo Mortensen and Ken Foree; Mortensen is one of the killers while Foree is a badass survivor. The main protagonists, however, are a boring travelling couple. The core Sawyer group this time is also less terrifying than the members in the first and second outings. This entry from director Jeff Burr is watchable but forgettable. Grade: C+ 

4. Leatherface  (2017)

After the awful Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), there was ideally nowhere to go but up for the series. Thankfully Leatherface came and was a small breath of fresh air. This film is a prequel to the 1974 original, following young Jedidiah Sawyer (Sam Strike) as he breaks out of a mental institution with others and eventually gets on a path to becoming Leatherface. It was a smart decision to bring on directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo for this reimagining of Leatherface’s origin; they gave us the brilliant Inside (2007). The directors deliver some crazy and violent set pieces and new character perspectives in Leatherface. The acting is also solid, with Lili Taylor and Stephen Dorff adding weight in supporting roles. The main problem? The film needed some extra meat on its bones in order to flesh out Jedidiah’s character as his eventual transition into Leatherface feels rushed and unbelievable. The film also has a middle section that meanders at a trailer setting without adding much that’s substantial. Still, Leatherface has some interesting ideas and is this close to getting it right. Grade: C+ 

3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre  (2003)

Production company Platinum Dunes started a remake trend in the 2000s after releasing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a glossy update from director Marcus Nispel. This remake is bloodier — but not scarier — than the 1974 original. It also lacks nearly all of the subtext of the material. Nispel’s film does try to do a few things differently though, especially in the first half. The best new idea is bringing in the character “Sheriff Hoyt,” with R. Lee Ermey stealing every scene he is in as the vile man. Some of the scenes of violence are really intense and effective, with one involving sheets and a leg especially visceral. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is nowhere near the film that the 1974 feature is, but it is a solid enough remake. Grade: B- 

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2  (1986)

I greatly undervalued The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 the first time I saw it. I kept wondering why it was so different from the horrifying original and ignoring what it does have to offer. Repeat viewings showed me its worth. Tobe Hooper’s sequel is its own unique beast, a pitch black comedy with weird scenarios and less of the scary staging from the first movie. The film gets a huge boost from Bill Moseley’s wild performance as Chop-Top and it has some solid settings (including a rundown carnival) and camerawork. Caroline Williams and Dennis Hopper are also along for the ride as a radio DJ and a former Texas Ranger, respectively. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is an obnoxious mess of ideas at times, but it’s also amusingly offbeat and unpredictable throughout. Grade: B 

1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre  (1974)

Still as gritty and unnerving as ever, Tobe Hooper’s  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre lands in first place ahead of all of the other films in the series by twenty miles. It’s 80 minutes of cinematic intensity that changed modern horror, following a group of friends who run into a “family” of psychos in Texas. The expert pacing, sun-baked atmosphere, experimental camerawork, and creepy production design have helped it to stand the test of time on its own despite being often imitated by other films. While later sequels dove more into gore, the original drives more on tight-wire suspense and in-your-face shock. It also has powerful subtext relating to technology taking jobs, American family dynamics, and more. And who could forget that final shot? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a horror masterpiece. Grade: A+

Written by
Daniel Rester is a writer for the We Live Film portion of We Live Entertainment. He is a Southern Oregon University alumnus and has a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Communication (Film, Television, and Convergent Media) and Emerging Media and Digital Arts. He has been involved with writing and directing short films for years. Rester also won 2nd place in the Feature Screenplay Competition in the 2015 Oregon Film Awards for his screenplay "Emma Was Here," which is currently in post-production and will be Rester's feature directorial debut.

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