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With the loss of R. Lee Ermey, we’ve lost a truly great horror villain.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is an interesting one, as the villain isn’t merely one monster but rather an entire family of them. In each of the Chainsaw movies, Leatherface is flanked by colorful characters that he calls family, which sets him apart from lone wolves such as Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. While Leatherface himself may be mute, characters like Chop Top, Drayton, Tex and Vilmer serve to bring a whole lot of personality to the proceedings; I’d go so far as to say that the success of any given Chainsaw movie is largely dependent on those secondary antagonists, who are the proverbial teeth of the big guy’s chainsaw.
It takes a special kind of actor to outshine the iconic Leatherface in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, and I don’t suspect you’ll argue with me when I say that R. Lee Ermey did just that in the 2003 remake of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic.
The casting of R. Lee Ermey as “Sheriff Hoyt” in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ’03 was nothing short of a stroke of brilliance, as it essentially allowed Ermey to channel his most memorable role: Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, a performance that nabbed the late actor a Golden Globe nomination. Ermey’s Hartman is unquestionably one of the most imposing and intimidating characters in the history of cinema, so much so that there are times when Full Metal Jacket feels like a full blown horror movie. You could say that Sergeant Hartman was the role Ermey, a real life Gunnery Sergeant, was born to play; and you could say the very same thing about Sheriff Hoyt, a war vet himself.
As Sheriff Hoyt, Ermey essentially took his Golden Globe-nominated performance to a whole new level, bringing to the screen a horror villain who hardly even needed Leatherface as his muscle in order to be truly terrifying. When it comes to Sheriff Hoyt, the fear isn’t that Leatherface is surely close behind, it’s that Sheriff Hoyt is right in front of your face, screaming in your ear and asserting his dominance over you. Hoyt doesn’t need a chainsaw. His voice alone cuts right through his victims, with its shocking, on-a-dime upticks in intensity proving more intimidating even than Leatherface’s iconic weapon of choice.
Take, for example, what is easily the most chilling and tense scene in the entirety of Chainsaw Massacre ’03. After Hoyt arrives on the scene, discovering the body of the young woman who blew her brains out, Hoyt makes Morgan get back into the van and re-enact the suicide; he forces Morgan to put the gun in his own mouth and demands he pull the trigger. Ermey is at his terrifying best in the scene, and if actor Jonathan Tucker wasn’t genuinely intimidated by his co-star as the cameras rolled, he damn sure could’ve fooled me.
The likely reason the ’03 remake spawned a prequel in ’06 rather than a sequel is that Leatherface had his arm lopped off in the final act of the remake, but you could make the argument that the prequel was the best route if only because it allowed for Ermey to reprise and expand upon the role of Sheriff Hoyt – he was pretty definitively killed off in the remake, you may recall. Ermey’s performance is once again the star of the show in Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, the actor solidifying that he’s maybe the single biggest reason the remake was a success. Hoyt becomes an even stronger character in the prequel, as we learn the backstory behind his cannibalism and discover that, well, he’s not actually the real Sheriff Hoyt.
Just try to imagine either of those Texas Chainsaw Massacre films without R. Lee Ermey. Like Full Metal Jacket, you simply can’t. And that’s the truest testament to Ermey’s one-of-a-kind screen dominance. There will never be another like him. And we were fortunate that he spent some time in the world of horror, giving us an unforgettable horror villain for the ages.