Upon the advent of the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022), Malevolent Dark has been sorting through the comments, criticisms and accolades that this film received immediately upon release. The film definitely had very real problems with plot development and developing characters, but at the end of the day it really felt like an breath of fresh air. The release of this film, and the immediate blowback that it received cause me to reflect back on the sordid history of this franchise.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise Ranked
When compared to other films in the franchise, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022), actually fares quite well against the competition. We at Malevolent Dark decided to dig deep into the history of the franchise and put a stake in the ground with respect to where these films actually stack up. We proudly present our definitive list of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise Ranked. We would love to hear from our readers what they think in the comments or at @malevolentdark1.
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)
By god and all things holy, there has never been a Chainsaw film as bad as this one. In fact, this might have been one of the easiest calls to make in a long time. This film is so putridly bad that even after all of these years, it’s barely tolerable to watch. First and foremost it presents the saddest and most impotent version of Leatherface ever depicted on film. Instead of focusing on the menace of the lumbering brute, it creates a version of Leatherface dives headlong into the gender confusion and painful whimpering.
Supporters of this travesty point to the character history of Leatherface cowering in fear in the 1974 original, but this is different and they know it, so just stop. Those traits as presented in the original were crucial to the horror. These traits presented an infantile mind in a monster’s body. As such, they were some of the most interesting in the original film. In Next-Gen, there is no horror here, just a confused and comically frightened version of a man that previously terrified us. The hulking wall of death is simply and incompetent boob.
Lest we forget the Illuminati sub-plot that painfully wedges itself between the bad and the worse. Instead of an in-bred, backwoods family of cannibals, the Chainsaw family is actually an enforcement wing of an international conspiracy to drive people into spiritual transcendence through horror. Honestly, this trope could not be more absurd. But wait, there’s more. This is the first, and hopefully the last Chainsaw film, to feature a crop-duster kill. Gawd!
It appears that there is a bit of a revival concerning this film these days. Much has been made of its self-referential criticism of its own tropes. Some claim that writer and director Kim Henkle created a brilliant commentary on the previous films by confronting our expectations. Listen, we don’t know about all of that clever subterfuge, but his intent simply did not make on the screen. As far Malevolent Dark is concerned, this one undoubtedly represents the basements of this franchise.
8. Leatherface (2017)
Let’s start with the glaring problem with prequels. This topic is especially appropriate since this franchise is host to two prequels, this topic will come up again. The problem with prequels is that by definition, they have to back into whatever creative decisions were made by their predecessors. Unnecessarily, these film often find themselves finding explanations for things that would be far better if they remained unexplained.
Directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo find a way to capture lightning in a bottle for the first 5 minutes of this film. I genuinely thought that I might be in for a fantastic time as the Sawyer family dismembers a hog-thief at their dinner table. However, they then proceed clobber all hope for a decent prequel in the head with a sledgehammer. The problem with this film couldn’t be more glaring. The writer, Seth M. Sherwood was not satisfied with a horror story. He needed to be clever by sandwiching multi-state polices chase coupled with a coming of age story.
What they chose was a Breakfast Club meets Mickey & Mallory narrative. Honestly. it’s insulting to think that fans would accept that the Leatherface’s legacy is a prison break that results in a police chase across Texas. If anything we gathered from the original Chainsaw, it is that Leatherface houses an infant’s brain in a monster’s body. It’s as if a backwoods cannibal family, and a 6’6″ man that wears the flesh of his victims as a mask was not crazy enough to carry a film, so we had to spice it all up.
It is all a bit of a shame. The directors do manage to create some really cool imagery. Their depiction of a young Jed Sawyer playing the carcasses of dead animals is actually pretty innovative and awesome. Verna Sawyer, the matriarch played by Lili Taylor, threatened to save this otherwise ridiculous tale. She is cunning, calculated and mean to the core. The production team simply had to recognize what was working and roll with it.
Despite its place on this list, from a pure movie making perspective this film actually has some things going for it. The cinematography is actually quite good throughout the film. Quite frankly, the action and violence is pretty good as well. Still Leatherface (2017) strays way to many zip codes from the core of the Texas Chainsaw Mythology. Accordingly, it ranks pretty low in this list.
7. Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Texas Chainsaw 3D is exactly what its title purports it to be. It’s Hollywood prime time for chainsaw wielding maniacs. This film became the first to fully attempt to retcon all films before it other than the 1974 original. It begins immediately after the events of that classic film. Sally Hardesty had just “broken out of a window in Hell” and had been narrowly rescued. She swiftly directed the police to the desolate farmhouse resulting in a shoot out. Marylin Burns, Gunnar Hansen and Bill Mosely of previous Chainsaw fame take Sawyer family roles in an obvious bit of fan service.
Supposedly, Leatherface escapes the shootout mayhem and is never found.
Question, who the hell are all of these people with guns in the Sawyer house? There are like 3 extra brothers, a woman and a child packed in Sawyer home. They all obviously didn’t live there during the events of the original. The opening held a lot of promise in the same way that The Devil’s Rejects (2005) did. However, the director, John Lussenhop, quickly throws away any early successes in favor of a standard Hollywood cast of murder victims and all of the blockbuster trappings of a forgettable horror film.
The film builds on the ridiculous premise that the lead character, Heather Miller, turns out to be a long lost relative of the Sawyer family. She inherits the family house. Along with the house, she also inherits her hulking cousin Leatherface. Her Aunt, Vera Sawyer (Marylin Burns) tell her in a letter that she is to look after him (Leatherface). In exchange he will protect her in an unholy symbiotic relationship. Lussenhop attempts to position Leatherface as some kind of benevolent force rather than a cannibalistic madman unable to discern human beings from livestock.
While the film has some pretty intense kills, they come with the baggage of ridiculous circumstance. Somehow a man donned in human skin with a running chainsaw can prowl around a populated carnival largely without consequence. The most egregious sin that this film makes is that it creates a storyline that can’t possibly be continued credibly, yet it really provides no closure. It’s ultimately a fate worse for the franchise than killing Leatherface would have been.
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
The Beginning commits the aforementioned prequel crimes in spades. This specific prequel tells the events prior to the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) remake. Its insistence on explain those things that do not need to be explained cripples this otherwise decent film. It also suffers from being mostly derivative of its 2003 predecessor in very obvious ways. The sum of these misfires that detract from an otherwise beautifully photographed film that should have been pretty good prequel.
Things I either didn’t need to know, or wish I didn’t know as soon as I found out:
- Leatherface wears a mask, not because he is confused by his identity and is otherwise mentally ill, but because he has a facial deformity
- Leatherface was born on the production floor of a slaughterhouse before being tossed in a dumpster
- Charlie Hewitt implausibly kills the real Sheriff Hoyt and steals his identity (and never gets caught)
- Uncle Monty’s legs were amputated by Leatherface with a chainsaw
- Charlie Hewitt turns his entire family into cannibals in a single afternoon. Cop-stew, anyone?
Now, there is a silver lining to this film. The remake of the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) introduced some salient characters that we all needed to see again. R. Lee Ermey, Marietta Marich and Terrance Evens all make a returns to their characters. R. Lee Ermey as Sheriff Hoyt/Charlie Hewitt steals every scene in a big way. Furthermore, Andrew Bryniarsky makes as good a Leatherface as as any since Gunnar Hansen. Their chemistry carries this film out of the gutter.
The movie does manage to create some entertaining moments through brutal kills and an overall oppressive atmosphere. Still, it falls victim to oppressively bad story telling and uninspired writing. This film should have been great.
5. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Directed by Jeff Burr, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is often considered to be tipping point into a multi-decade abyss of bad sequels. To be honest, I am not exactly sure why. While the film is not without sin, it actually comes with the best intentions. This film came at a time where the horror industry had reached a fever pitch. Horror franchises rallied around their murderous villains. New Line Cinema was at the forefront of this phenomenon and they needed to diversify their portfolio.
New Line purchased the franchise from The Canon Group with the intent to take the Texas Chainsaw franchise and strip away all of its extraneous trappings so that they could give Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers a run for their money. They swiftly pulled together an awesome teaser trailer and then unfortunately went on to screw a ton of stuff up. Regardless, after all was said and done, the result was a decent little slasher film.
One thing that Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III screws up is its understanding of the fanbase and that this fanbases difficulty accepting change. It completely dispenses with the original family and replaces it with a new bunch of crazies. This was a necessary evil after the events of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. As far as anyone could tell, the Sawyer family was rotting under the collapsed Texas Battle Land. It just seemed a bit contrived that the Sawyer family had little enclaves of crazy dispersed all across Texas.
Fortunately the writers didn’t spend a moment trying to explain how it all came to be, because any explanation on how Leatherface survived a full-torso chainsaw through the gut could only be laughable. Whatever it was, it left our favorite killer with nary a limp.
This film is really saved by its cast. Viggo Mortensen plays a strong male lead in Tex Sawyer. Tom Everett’s take on psycho comic relief as Fredo provides enough of that dark humor to keep an otherwise bleak horror film functioning. Ken Foree was enjoying a resurgence in horror at the time. His role as Benny takes advantage of his talents and is no disappointment. Finally, Kate Hoge’s portrayal of Michelle exceeds expectations. She is clearly capable woman that believably takes matters into her own hands to survive.
It is understandable that this film might not have landed with discerning Texas Chainsaw fans upon release. However, time would prove that this film was way better than what was to come. Horror fans, be thankful for what you have sometimes.
4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
From my window I see the glint of torches flickering off of the pitchforks of angry Texas Chainsaw franchise fans! Some of this may sound redundant as I have recently completed a full review of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022). I had thoroughly expected this film to redefine the basement of the franchise. It had way too long, and based on the success of Leatherface (2017), I thought this one had no chance of succeeding.
However, much for the same reasons I enjoyed Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, I enjoyed really enjoyed this film. I simply had to lower my defenses and accept its Hollywood glitter and circumstance. I quickly realized that this film was created for one reason, fun. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) was built to be entertaining; and it was. At the same time, it did it all without disrespecting what came before it (Well, there is that things about ignoring Chop Top that still bothers me).
To pull this stunt off, the producers went ahead and retconned a bunch of bad sequels. Unfortunately it also retconned a good sequel. But overall it did far less damage to the legacy of the franchise than others.
Now, the film has a lot of faults. If you are expecting an Academy Award Winning cast and an orchestral soundtrack by John Williams, you will be disappointed. In fact, the characters are so bad that you can hardly wait for the chainsaw to start running and the limbs to start flying. The story really doesn’t make a lot of sense and only serves to get the maximum number of people close to chainsaw laden doom as possible.
Director David Blue Garcia adequately placates the gore hounds as his film contains contains one of the most egregiously indulgent slaughters ever grace the white pleather interior of a charter bus. As gruesome as this scene is, it manages to preserve artistic integrity through fantastic cinematography and stunning lighting techniques. The producers and effects team also did a fantastic job creating a mask that actually evolves into a more terrifying version of itself as it becomes soaked in the blood of social media influences.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) the best sequel to the franchise since 1986 and that’s a long, long time. Fans of the franchise should celebrate. Come at me Twitter!
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
This one was so hard to place. In my heart of hearts, I want this to be the second best in the Chainsaw franchise. I love this almost as much as I loved the 1974 original. For a period of time I watched it every single night before bed. As psycho as that sounds, the soundtrack and tone of the movie has a haunting quality that might be better than melatonin. That should not be taken to mean this this film is a snooze fest. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Some people hate it, but the people that love it REALLY love it. We are talking about the single best sequel in the franchise, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
To confess, in 1986, I did not know what to expect. Furthermore, I really didn’t any preconceived expectations for what a sequel should look like. However, when I saw it, immediately I knew two things: it was different and I loved it.
For starters, this is the only other film directed by Tobe Hooper (which means retconning it sucks and is lazy). However, this time the writing duties were performed by L.M. Kit Carson rather than Kim Henkel. Together these guys introduced one of the most horrifically endearing characters ever to grace a Chainsaw film, Chop Top. Played by Bill Moseley, this character is one of the most intense and depraved characters in horror. He just so happens to be as hilarious as he is psychotic.
The direction toward comedy was intentional. Tobe Hooper lamented that people didn’t seem to understand his dark humor in the original 1974 film. I personally think he is wrong about that. People saw the humor, but were so disturbed by everything else that they couldn’t appreciate it. This time he decided to really ratchet up the comedy. This didn’t sit well with everyone that wanted a reprise of the 1974 formula, so it got a bit of blowback upon release. While I get the concern, when judged outside the shadow of its own predecessor, the film is BLOODY brilliant.
We should note that this film features the always entertaining Dennis Hopper. The wonderful Caroline Williams plays the leading lady, Vanita “Stretch” Brock. This film is also famous for setting the time honored precedent of Chainsaw films featuring a victim having their face peeled for use as a mask. It also features some brutally violent kills and a heaping helping of guts. In my mind this is a classic and it nearly landed the number two spot.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
When I first heard the rumor of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, recoiled in fear. There was so much that could go wrong; so much that they could screw up; it could only fail miserably. How could a modern day director take source material as artistically significant at the original 1974 Chainsaw and remake it for modern audiences?
Against all odds, I was blown away by this film. I’ll say it once again, you have to be willing to accept that what you are about to see is a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. If you can find a way to accept that reality, this movie provides a mountain of horror goodness. Incredibly, the screen play by Scott Kosar stays true to the core philosophical elements of the original, but he completely remakes the Chainsaw family from scratch. This gives director Marcus Nispel a brand new creative canvas to develop brilliant characters and performances.
If you ever liked Chop Top, you’ll love Sheriff Hoyt, played by R. Lee Emery. Sheriff Hoyt is a different character for sure, but he pummels the audience with his penchant for humor while doling out extreme violence. The legless uncle Monty brings a bit menace and some mystery (until The Beginning ruins it). Luda Mae Hewitt brings her own style of backwoods, country insanity behind a kind voice and Texas Belle demeanor. Brilliantly, the production team manages to create a while new mythology that shares critical ties with its legacy, but otherwise blazes its own path.
In another pro move, Nispel enlisted the assistance of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) cinematographer, Daniel Pearl. Famous for the incredible truck shot that slithers under the the swing behind Pam as she sashays to her doom, Daniel Pearl’s work is well recognized in horror circles. You can almost hear him say, “hold my beer” as he outdoes his self with a stunning zoom shot that pulls the audience through the shattered skull of a recent suicide. This isn’t fan service, this is a masterclass on how to one-up a well revered classic scene.
Incredibly, there are some in the horror community that will swear that this is the BEST film in the Chainsaw franchise. I think those people are nuttier than a cannibal family in an old Texas farmhouse, but they got one thing right. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) is a damn fine horror remake.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Anyone that knows anything about my work knows that we would ultimately end up here. Not only is the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) the best film in the Chainsaw franchise, it’s arguably still the best horror movie ever made. With this film, Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel created an artistic masterpiece deserving of its current praise. Anyone that dismisses it as less simply didn’t watch it close enough.
Again, this films artistic merits can not be overstated. Daniel Pearls camera work far outshines what a film its budget deserves. In this article we have mentioned the classic truck shot for sure. But Daniel Pearl’s influence infects every single shot in the film. The shot framing at the cannibal dinner table demonstrate a master case-study in composition. Where Pam sits tied to chair at the dinner table, Daniel Pearl creates a sense of doom thick enough to slice with a knife. In support of the camera, cutting edge editing perfectly depicts Sally Hardesty as she descends into the “mad and macabre”.
All of this fantastic technical work gets creative support from the Art Director, Robert Burns. As a brilliant artist and set designer, Burns creates some of the most grisly and grotesque set pieces in the history of cinema. To be clear, we are not simply talking morbid objects, loose teeth and broken bones. Burns fashions the most morbid of materials into a bazaar of the grotesque and insane. He offers a glimpse of what it really must have been like in the insanely depraved mind of the Butcher of Plainfield, Ed Gein.
Strangely enough, the original Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is also famous for being the least bloody of the entire franchise. Let that sink in. The audience literally leaves the theater, broken, twisted and shaken. Yet, they have seen barely a smattering of blood. That goes to show how psychologically impactful The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is.
Tobe Hooper pulled epic performances from actors we have never heard of. Jim Siedow, Edwin Neal and Gunnar Hansen combine to create one of the most maniacal bands of sick and twisted brothers ever. Sally Hardesty, however meek and unassuming, shows us exactly what terror looks like. It’s impossible not to cheer her on as she trips, stumbles and is nearly sliced to ribbons as she narrowly escapes the Sawyers with her whole life and just a shred of sanity.
This is the not only the best Chainsaw entry, but it is considered the greatest horror film of all time by Malevolent Dark. It’s legacy may never be toppled and it it continues to serve as an icon for bloodthirsty horror fans around the world. This film launched a franchise that, despite its stumbles, is still relevant nearly 50 years later.
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