Between the recent movement to celebrate August 18 as Texas Chain Saw Massacre Day due to the film’s events taking place on August 18th, 1973, the 43rd anniversary of the film’s initial release on October 1st, 1974, and a highly-anticipated prequel headed our way in October, Leatherface seems to have more longevity than any of his other fellow horror icons.
While the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise hasn’t spawned nearly as many as films as counterparts Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or Freddy Krueger, the series has undergone a much bigger transformation than any other horror franchise. Beginning with the seminal shocker classic, the series has added numerous backstories, injected humor, a ton of gore, a reboot, and even an Illuminati-like secret society in cahoots with the murderous Texas family.
In anticipation of the upcoming Leatherface, we revisited and ranked all seven Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies from worst to best:
7) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
Set around four years prior to the events in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), this prequel opens with the gruesome birth of Leatherface, or Thomas Hewitt in this iteration. Thirty years later, a grown Leatherface and his twisted family waste no time torturing a pair of brothers and their girlfriends. On the one hand, the prequel nails a brisk pace. It’s nihilistic in its dispatching of the characters, and that we get more R. Lee Ermey on screen is great. However, save for the weak attempt at unnecessary backstory to the Hewitt family, it’s almost a carbon copy of the previous entry in this series. Knowing how “Sheriff Hoyt” got his sheriff’s uniform wasn’t as shocking as it was meant to be, and felt more like filler than anything relevant. We also never really learn about the victims, save for that the brothers have been drafted into the Vietnam War much to the disappointment of the younger brother, so we never manage to care what happens to them either. Slick in style and gore, but a bit repetitive and soulless.
6) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
The first and only of the series to be written and directed by original co-creator Kim Henkel, The Next Generation is also one of the most panned. Light on gore and heavy on cartoonish characters, this entry keeps Leatherface mostly relegated to the background while Matthew McConaughey chews the scenery as main villain Vilmer. McConaughey’s performance is so exaggerated that it moves past comical into grating territory. The reveal toward the end that an Illuminati-like organization hires the family to show victims the meaning of horror, offering a sort of transcendental experience to the unwitting victims, is a strange twist that doesn’t quite work for the series (it didn’t quite work for most people either, just a year later, with the Cult of Thorn controlling Michael Myers in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers either). Why isn’t this ranked the worst? Renee Zellweger’s final girl Jenny is surprisingly one of the best characters of the entire series. Despite her nerdy appearance, Jenny demonstrates a knack for calling out bullshit from the outset. From calling out a classmate’s goofy claim that a lack of sex will cause cancer to standing up to her attackers, Jenny’s mental toughness makes her a character worth rooting for.
5) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
There’s a lot that’s wrong with this entry in the series. That it ignores all other films and sets itself up as a sequel to the original isn’t a problem; continuity has never been this series’ strong point. But it does ignore all logic, like having Alexandra Daddario play what was supposed to have been a woman approaching 40. In short, Texas Chainsaw 3D is dumb. However, it’s also admirably ballsy in its dumb choices. The decision to make Leatherface a sort of anti-hero is insane and the constant tease of nudity feels completely out of place here. Yet, there’s a sense of fun and enough nods and cameos from the original cast that die-heard series fans can enjoy. It’s a very, very flawed movie, but it’s not afraid to try something completely different and have fun while doing it. Somehow it manages to nail its entertainment factor despite everything that’s wrong with it. It’s the type of bad movie you enjoy watching, even when logic says you shouldn’t.
4) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
This remake set off a whole series of horror remakes from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a brutal, no holds barred take on the classic with sleek modern polish. It takes a little while to kick into high gear, but when it does it’s unrelenting. That this version is completely devoid of any humor bothered many critics upon release, and they also cited a cast of unlikeable characters as well. I disagree. While we may not fully get to know most of them, the group of five friends that find themselves in the Hewitt family crosshairs are likable enough. There’s a loyalty among them that’s endearing, and Jessica Biel’s a compelling enough final girl to maintain the film’s intensity. The story does drag on a bit longer than it should, and young David Dorfman’s (The Ring) performance as Jedidiah Hewitt is just as weird and out of place as the ridiculous fake teeth that he’s forced to wear. In terms of remakes, it’s pretty decent.
3) Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Released by New Line Cinema as an attempt to capture the success of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise by pushing Leatherface into the spotlight as the series’ star, the studio had to trim down the graphic violence after the MPAA slapped an X rating on it, reducing the final film to an R-rating. Even without the additional 4 and a half minutes of gore, this sequel still ranks high on this list. Why? The more traditional approach to the slasher formula with perfectly timed moments of humor makes this one of my favorites in the series. This sequel also boasts the best chainsaw of the bunch: a golden beauty engraved with the memorable quote, “The saw is family.” While Kate Hodge’s Michelle is a mostly dull final girl, Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, The Devil’s Rejects) more than makes up for it as the badass Benny. Of the entire series, his is the only character smart enough to bring a better weapon into the fight for survival. Also, Matthew McConaughey should’ve taken a page from Viggo Mortensen, as Tex Sawyer manages to equally charm and menace without being too cartoonish. Look for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo early on by Caroline Williams; seems like Stretch made it out of her encounter in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and became a news reporter.
2) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
How do you top the gritty, minimal horror that captured the attention of audiences everywhere? Well, if you’re Tobe Hooper you realize that you probably can’t, so instead, you push the horror into overdrive by hiring Tom Savini to handle makeup effects and head firmly into dark comedy territory. The gore and over the top humor turned a lot of people off from this sequel, yet Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel originally intended to take the story much further by featuring an entire town of cannibals in a satire of Motel Hell. Of course, the studio wasn’t on board and their interference lead to the sequel we know today. Wacky humor aside, the sequel offers more continuity than the rest of the series; the remaining Sawyer family retreats to an abandoned carnival ground in the aftermath of Sally Hardesty’s escape and Lt. Boude Enright is the Hardesty siblings’ uncle seeking revenge. The sequel even brings back the Hitchhiker, now a dead puppet named Nubbins, lovingly toted around by Leatherface and Chop-Top Sawyer, a memorable addition to the family thanks to Bill Moseley’s performance. Dennis Hopper may have famously hated this movie, but his take on the chainsaw-wielding Enright is perfectly eccentric. This wasn’t the sequel everyone expected, but I’m glad Hooper went with his instincts to deliver one memorable horror comedy.
1) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
No surprises here; this is by far the best in the series. Why wouldn’t it be? Without this classic, there would be no sequels, prequels, or reboots. Over forty years later, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains one of the most influential horror films in history. Sally Hardesty still ranks high on the list of cinema’s best final girls, and her brother Franklin can’t be beat in terms of horror’s most annoying characters. There’s really nothing I could else I could add here that hasn’t already been said before, but I think it’s safe to say we’re all in agreement on this particular spot on the list.