Teenage rebellion can manifest itself in numerous ways, each one more terrifying than the last. As a teacher, I encounter this every day in the form of eye rolling, hair flicking and a general malaise that is almost impossible to remedy. For me, my teenage transgressions took the form of an obsession with heavy metal music and gruesome horror films. As a result of this, I have seen movies like The Exorcist and The Evil Dead over and over again to the point that they have lost all meaning. I have recently made an attempt to return to my horror franchise roots by taking in some of the lesser known lights in the macabre world that is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. Here is what I leaned…
8. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)
When I embarked on this chainsaw based cinematic odyssey it was partly out of a return to what I loved about trashy horror sequels in the first place and partly a genuine curiosity about how a story about a deformed family of Texan cannibals could possibly be stretched out across eight movies. Most of all though, I just wanted to see something terrible… like really terrible… like #47 on IMDB’s infamous bottom 100 movies list terrible.
The fourth entry in the Texas Chainsaw franchise is by far the most preposterous. Featuring a fresh faced Renee Zellwenger and a never more unhinged Matthew McConaughey, The Next Generation ‘s more outrageous moments include, but are not limited to, a secret society subplot, one character possibly being an android, a man showing up in a limo and then revealing that his chest is covered in bullrings and Leatherface parading around in lipstick and pearls. In short, this is one of the most bizarre cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. Marvellous.
7. Leatherface (2017)
The idea of a Leatherface origin story is not a terrible one. Sadly, it isn’t an original one either. By the time Leatherface came out in 2017, there had already been two movies that focused on the genesis of horror’s most misunderstood serial killer, so it seems a little disingenuous that anyone thought a third origin story was necessary.
The main problem here is that the more we know about Leatherface, the less scary he becomes, particularly when this film takes us all the way back to his teenage years. The whole thing is a messy, tortured undertaking that just doesn’t work.
I am actually really up for another Texas Chainsaw movie but it needs to be nothing like this one.
6. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
The third entry in the Texas Chainsaw franchise saw New Line Cinema take over the rights for the film in an attempt to turn Leatherface into the next Freddy Krueger. The result is a movie that often feels like a bland retread of the original whilst still being creepy enough to justify its existence. The presence of horror legend Ken Foree and a young Viggo Mortensen also help things along nicely.
The decision to have the third act abandon the slow burn in favour of becoming a heavy metal soundtracked gore fest is perhaps a questionable one,, but on the whole Leatherface is a decent entry in what is a pretty consistent franchise.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
For better or for worse, horror loves a backstory. When the sequels being to become a little stale, the filmmakers will invariably cast their eye over what makes a homicidal maniac with a bag over his head a homicidal maniac with a bag over his head. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning runs with this concept and actually executes the whole thing pretty well.
We are treated to origin stories for Leatherface R. Lee Ermy’s Sheriff Hoyt as well as some grisly murder and a couple of nice tie ins to the reboot. The Beginning follows are a lot of familiar slasher tropes while still feeling like a Texas Chainsaw movie and for that it should be applauded. If not for its originality then for its implementation.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (1986)
Despite the fact that this belated sequel shares the same director as the game changing original, there is little else to connect the two movies, certainly not thematically. Horror had changed a lot in the decade and change since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had wowed and appalled audiences in equal measure. This was no longer the era of raw video nasties, that chainsaw sharp horror replaced by overblown nonsense… and there is a bucketload of nonsense in this movie.
Bizarre moments in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II. A list: Dennis Hopper infiltrates an underground layer armed with two chainsaws and a maniacal grin, the return of the Cook from the first movie but this time he has become a kind of hillbilly Sweeney Todd figure and a scene in which the heroine has to wear a mask made of another characters face will Leatherface tries to kiss her. It’s a weird, weird movie.
3. Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
With a title like Texas Chainsaw 3D, the penultimate entry in the franchise must be shit right? Must be? Well actually, it’s pretty good.
When some girl (I’ve encountered so many similar looking teenagers in these franchise that they have now all merged into one) inherits a big old scary house, her and her mates (and a hitchhiker – natch) travel down to the house where they encounter a sodding Leatherface chilling in the cellar. And then Leatherface does what Leatherface does…
The plot occasionally ties itself up in knots in terms of the bloodlines and family history of the characters but it is fun trying to work out how they will make it all (barely) work. Some preposterous dialogue aside – at one point someone refers to Leatherface as ‘cuz’ – Texas Chainsaw 3D is actually a lot of fun.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
I count myself among the tiresome film snobs that find remakes to be sacrilegious… but not when it comes to horror. I’m not sure why the hypocrisy here but there is no doubting that while some horror remakes are dreadful, enough of them are good to keep me on side. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre falls squarely into the latter camp.
This remake was criticised in some quarters for its unrelenting grimness but the original is hardly a ray of sunshine either and in Jessica Biel and R. Lee Ermy, we have a cast that combines star power with frightening intensity. This Michael Bay produced reboot is far from subtle but it is a worthy addition in an ailing franchise, and it’s huge financial success is a testament to that.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
As previously stated, I have seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre many, many times (he boasted). I haven’t seen it at all since the days of Nirvana t-shirts and bad haircuts however, circa 2005 perhaps. Revisiting it as a (supposed) adult allowed me to fully appreciate the visceral power of Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece and I was shocked at just how much it shocked me. The grainy, documentary style direction has become hugely influential and it is easy to see why. This, combined with a relatively unknown cast, gives The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a rawness and an edge that grabs your eyeballs, still blinking, out of the comfort of their sockets and forms an attack of the senses that is part circus top insanity and part hillbilly revulsion.
There are sections that are genuinely difficult to sit through and it is this discomfort that defines a film that is deservedly considered a horror classic. Utterly breathtaking and completely unforgettable.
And there we have it. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve cut teenagers in half with a chainsaw. Coming up next – The Omen franchise.