Ranking “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Franchise
In October 2019, Flickchart journeyed to Texas and experienced one of the most horrific occurrences in all of film. Ranking these eight films, Flickchart endured a terrifying and uniquely desolate experience. With each ranking, new terrors were unfurled. This ranking monstrosity would go on to be known, as the Texas Chainsaw Flickchart Ranking Massacre.
If there’s a Big 4 of slasher horror villains, it might be Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Leatherface. For the last three Halloweens we ranked the undeniable Big 3, and now we turn our attention yet another iconic masked killer: Leatherface and his cannibal family in the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. It is one of the most distinctive franchises, having limited sequels, long periods between films, and a unique actor playing the famed killer in each installment. Let’s get ranking!
Take the same approach as the 2003 remake film, remove all of the interesting scenes, and shoehorn in pointless explanations for questions nobody asked about the remake film’s plot. That gives you The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006). Even R. Lee Ermey can’t save this train-wreck of a film, designed to take whatever subtlety the remake did have and chuck it out the window. Reportedly, R. Lee was ad-libbing half the film and was a major contributor to the plot, much to the film’s detriment. The added gore designed to make this movie as nasty as possible just feels like a child jumping up and down and screaming for attention.
It’s a shame, too, because there were a few good ideas. Our usual cast of disposable teenage victims are two brothers this time, one a Vietnam draft dodger and the other newly called for duty. This might have allowed some interesting commentary on war and violence. The actors are purely awful, though, and the film’s grandiose sense of importance in showing how Armey’s character got his sheriff uniform and Leatherface first picked up a chainsaw are laughably awful. Dramatic, dark music plays as Leatherface stitches his first human skin mask together, as though showing this for the first time actually means anything dramatically. It makes the entire exercise feel exhausting. The film rightfully tanked at the box office and destroyed the remake continuity.
- Global Ranking: #7,406
- 5/11 on Flickchart’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filter
- Wins 24% of its matchups
- 35 users have it in their top 20
The writers of Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) felt sufficiently liberated after The Beginning tanked to ignore all other films in the franchise and write a direct sequel to the original film. Perhaps they were inspired by Halloween‘s famously convoluted continuities. Taking place in the modern era, this sequel jumps ahead decades from the original to follow characters returning to the famous Texas locales when Alexandra Daddario‘s character gets a letter from her dead grandmother leaving her an inheritance. One might guess where this is going.
While this entry managed to recruit some decently high-profile actors in the form of Scott Eastwood, the aforementioned Daddario, and Richard Riehle, the writing quality does not match. The sheer stupidity of this movie is only surpassed by The Beginning. The film’s tepid attempts at social commentary regarding the police, mob mentality, and the Sawyer family are all laughably shallow. We are forced to again endure a version of the famed dinner scene. 3D‘s most glaring flaw is its glorification of Leatherface. He almost becomes a semi-hero of the show by the end as Daddario casually tosses a chainsaw to Leatherface in absurd action-hero style. It’s worth a laugh after you finishing banging your head against a wall thinking about how far this franchise has slid. This movie maintains the remake’s decision to give Leatherface a facial deformity and therefore reason for wearing the skin masks. But reason is the enemy of the mystique in horror, and 3D is symbolic of those poor decisions.
- Global Ranking: #39, 653
- 8/11 on Flickchart’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filter
- Wins 30% of its matchups
- 6 users have it in their top 20
Written to continue the continuity established by Texas Chainsaw 3D, the writers deliver yet another prequel in the form of Leatherface (2017). A prequel to both the original film and the 3D sequel, Leatherface once again goes through the process of making Leatherface into a mildly more sympathetic figure by giving him a tragic backstory. This one engages in the same overexplanatory nonsense as The Beginning, but at least it provides mildly more interesting explanations. Here, Leatherface is a decently normal and kind person struggling in a mental health facility after his family was thwarted by the authorities when he was a child. He is forced back into murder and destruction when his family tracks him down and busts him out. That’s the entirety of the film, aside from more cop shenanigans.
Finn Jones of Game of Thrones fame gets a part, as does Lili Taylor playing Leatherface’s mother from 3D. Neither one of them do much to elevate the blandly-shot, digital-looking funk. There are some strong moments, but the film again feels the need to overdramatize Leatherface’s tragic background for some reason. Sympathy for the devil is a perfectly fine approach, but these prequels play the moments of Leatherface getting a chainsaw and wearing a human skin mask with reverence as though they are important in of themselves. Without compelling character reasons, they simply fall flat. Not to mention Leatherface was never an interesting character to begin with. This has mercifully been the last and latest film in the franchise, and it bombed enough that nobody has attempted a new entry. Yet.
- Global Ranking: #64, 721
- 11/11 on Flickchart’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filter
- Wins 40% of its matchups
- 1 user has it in their top 20
5.The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
This article series has covered several remakes of horror classics, including several produced by Michael Bay‘s Platinum Dunes. But it was the massive financial success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) that made all of the others possible. Director Marcus Nispel‘s slick, modern-looking gore-fest played to the early 2000s’ horror mentality well and scooped up the bucks. Unfortunately, Nispel and co. took everything distinctive and interesting about the first film and smoothed it out of existence. While perhaps technically “better” than the original, this film’s plain ugly to look at. Doused in cool color-coding and shot to accentuate grime and dirtiness, it’s just annoying to watch. Not to mention the emphasis on visceral chainsaw murders makes it indistinct from dozens of other lesser gore pictures.
Sure, Leatherface has more prominence and actually kills someone with the chainsaw (something that essentially never occurred in the original series). And Andrew Bryniarski‘s hulking presence does fill the screen. But the film loses most of the eerie and off-putting quality that made the original work. There are a few scenes of genuine nastiness in the form of R. Lee Ermey’s sheriff character. The Full Metal Jacket actor may have been typecast, but it’s a type he does well. Nasty balls of sweat drip down his face as he intimidates a teen in one of the film’s best scenes. Another great moment is Leatherface wearing his mask of one of the victims, thereby causing Jessica Biel to discovering her friend’s death in this manner. Little moments like these do capture some of the tone and quality that makes this franchise tick.
These moments are few and far between, though. The remake is mostly a bland, forgettable nothing of a film that doesn’t even match some of the sequels for sheer entertainment. It set a low bar for remakes that remove all of the personality of their source material. It also helped turn Jessica Biel into a star, and that is hard to forgive.
- Global Ranking: #6,151
- 4/11 on Flickchart’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filter
- Wins 24% of its matchups
- 189 users have it in their top 20
Leatherface has all of the ingredients of a slasher killer — a distinctive mask and weapon — but the films never really place much focus on him, despite this one’s title. Leatherface is also played by a different actor in almost every film, unlike the tendency to stick with one or two actors in the other iconic slasher franchises. The original run of sequels doesn’t exhibit quite the same degree of commercial flatness that marred other horror franchise sequels, and director Jeff Burr does try a slightly different tack with the characters in Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990), which features future star Viggo Mortensen. Unfortunately, the “twist” of him being one of the redneck killers is visible a mile away.
This is certainly the most forgettable of the original films, tracking the old plot beats without Hooper’s commitment to unrelenting terror and atmosphere. It takes the snuff film aspects of the first film and throws more budget at them, but removes some of the more interesting killers. We get a repeat of Leatherface hanging people on meat hooks and a dinner scene with the final victim, but without any new twists or any more depth. Despite the first film’s reputation, it was actually highly minimalist with its gore. This film, by contrast, is full of gore but lacking in character. Its most positive aspect is that it isn’t quite as awful as some of the later entries in the franchise.
- Global Ranking: #5,609
- 3/11 on Flickchart’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filter
- Wins 31% of its matchups
- 8 users have it in their top 20
Though not a particularly great movie, this manages to be unique enough to make itself distinctive. The co-writer of the original film, Kim Henkel, steps into the director’s chair and attempts a satirical send-up of the franchise and slasher films as a whole. This is known for its bizarre third-act introduction of a “men in black” group, suggesting that the cannibalistic killers from the earlier films are part of some vague government experiment to give people transcendence through fear. Such a literal interpretation, though, misses the film’s meta commentary about why audiences keep watching movies about chainsaw-wielding cannibals. The movie is highly parodic, with the opening titles referring to the previous sequels as “minor, yet apparently related incidents.” If one buys into the jokey tone at the start, one may find aspects of this enjoyable, even if the satire is only partially successful in the end.
This one is also known for featuring Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger, continuing a trend of sequels getting fairly high-profile or up-and-coming actors. These two definitely elevate their cookie-cutter characters. McConaughey hams it up, even throwing in one of his soon-to-be-trademarked “Alright, alright, alright”s. These actors’ subsequent fame is responsible for this film getting buried by the studio due, since the actors’ agents reportedly did not not want this film associated with their clients. It’s far from high art, but it’s an interesting watch because of all the little oddities about it. For example, Leatherface’s cross-dressing, only lightly touched on before, goes all out here, for whatever that’s worth.
- Global Ranking: #11,151
- 6/11 on Flickchart’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filter
- Wins 19% of its matchups
- 7 users have it in their top 20
There are some who would argue this sequel is the high point of the series, and they might have a point. For those less entertained by Hooper’s relentless terror of the first entry, the satirical black comedy of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) might be more to taste. Indeed, Hooper agreed to come back over a decade later to make a sequel largely because he wanted to emphasize the comedic aspects he felt were missed by audiences of the first film. Gone is any sense of subtlety in this sequel as Hooper brightly announces his comedic intent.
From the over-the-top performance from an always fun Dennis Hopper, who seems to be in his own movie separate from the Sawyer family, to the sick chuckles of “The Cook” winning a chili competition in Dallas using human meat chili, the film takes a skewer and wields it loud and proud. Leatherface is a side character and not the main attraction the way the iconic killers of the other main slasher franchises are, and indeed it may be something of a stretch to call this a slasher movie at all. While it is certainly entertaining, it doesn’t do enough to surpass the adrenaline-on-cellulose quality that the first movie had. Hooper’s ambition oversteps his ability to execute, and this effort ultimately loses sight of itself despite providing chuckles.
- Global Ranking: #2,497
- 2/11 on Flickchart’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filter
- Wins 40% of its matchups
- 28 users have it in their top 20
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre(1974)
The original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) was filmed in the desolate hot Texas prairies outside of Austin in the middle of July. As anyone whose experienced a Texas summer knows, these are hardly ideal conditions even for walking from one air-conditioned building to another. Imagine throwing on layers of makeup and costuming and filming all day long. The tortuous conditions reportedly resulted in most of the cast not speaking to director Tobe Hooper for several years afterwards.
The misery certainly seeped into the film. Filmed on cheap 16mm stock, it looks like the snuff film of nightmares. Lack of money helped make this into one of the more visceral movie experiences out there. It looks and feels real. Hooper’s wide shots capturing murder are almost perfunctory, adding to the gritty realism that closeups and buckets of blood can’t ever truly replicate. Using actors with very limited work confined to the state of Texas, Hooper could truly sell this as the record of a unique and horrific event. What may surprise some is the lack of centrality of the famed Leatherface. This was made in an era where slasher flicks weren’t yet a concept. His iconic imagery would motivate sequels only a decade later, after all the other slasher killers began raking in money.
This stands as the best of the franchise due to the true talent behind the camera. Tinges of dark humor aside, the movie is a nonstop thriller once it gets going. The famed hitchhiker scene starts off a feeling of unease that never lets up and soon explodes into full-bore terror. It truly does feel like getting a glimpse of hell. Not necessarily fun to watch, but one of the most horrific viewing experiences you will ever have, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a true horror classic.
- Global Ranking: #683
- 1/11 on Flickchart’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filter
- Wins 43% of its matchups
- 549 users have it in their top 20