The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most iconic and influential movies of all time. There’s no real argument against it. It came in and changed cinema, furthering the conversation that had begun with “Night of the Living Dead” and commenced with “The Last House on the Left”. Leatherface is one of the most well known and iconic movie monsters in horrordom.
But this franchise is one of the most confusing and misremembered franchises in all of horror. Even from the start. The original is remembered as being on of the most graphic and bloody horror movies ever, which is far from the truth. “Chainsaw Massacre 2” is this weird little oddity in the series in that it’s a straight up comedy, but it’s almost been forgotten. Hell, most of the sequels have been forgotten.
Aside from gaining a cult fanbase, none of the sequels are really well known or remembered. “Chainsaw Massacre 3” is a decent enough movie that just kind of existed. “The Next Generation”, the fourth part, is a misbegotten trainwreck of bad ideas and horrible execution that was shelved for years because two of its stars ended up becoming A-listers, a barely seen mistake. The only movies that are really remembered in any big way is the Platinum Dunes remake, being that it made a crap ton of money and helped kick off the remake craze of the 2000s.
The big problems with this franchise is three fold. One, the titling of the series is beyond nonsensical, giving the “Rambo” titles a run for their dumbass money. Two, there wasn’t really a franchise until a sequel was made 12 years after the original, a case of too little too late. Thirdly, and maybe the biggest problem, is that there is no connective tissue to these movies in almost any way.
The first sequel is a movie that thumbs its eye at the original in every way, going broadly comedic in a 180 from the original’s southern fried brutality. The third and fourth ones are essentially reboots, as the family is killed at the end of 2, where 3 ignores part 2 and 4 ignores part 2 and 3.
Then we are launched into an official remake, then a prequel to the official remake, than a sequel to the original that ignores 2. The continuity and world building in this series is beyond broken and essentially nonexistent, so there’s nothing to latch onto. Each movie is different than the last, and not by design (2 excluded).
Two events have inspired the creation of this list. One, there is a new movie in the series coming out. Leatherface (yes, a second movie in this franchise will have this name) is another continuity forsaken movie that is a prequel to the original movie, which is almost like a dare at this point.
There is some level of hope that it will be good since two modern-day horror luminaries (Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury) are tackling it, although the botched released and dumping onto DirecTV don’t signify the greatest product in the world. But who knows?!
The second event is the passing of Tobe Hooper, the man who birthed the original into the world and even gave us the pleasure of having the insanity is part 2 into our lives. So now that “Chainsaw Massacre” and its legacy has been thrust back into the limelight, let’s take a look back at the broken franchise and some of the pleasures found within.
7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
This movie is an embarrassment on every level. Of all the horror franchises, this may be the worst sequel of the lot to be released in theaters (so excluding the majority of the “Hellraiser” sequels). There is not a single thing worthwhile in here. It’s a cheap and ugly looking movie, but without a sense of it being purposeful.
Looks more like a cheap TV network’s knockoff of a “Chainsaw” movie. The acting is all terrible, like community theater horror, except for Matthew McConaughey, who seems like he is the only one on this movie’s wavelength and gives it his scenery-chewing all (including an early in his career Alright Alright Alright). There aren’t even any good kills to hang its hat onto, no gore effect porn that most horror sequels will lean on to hide the fact that there’s nothing to it.
However, the worst element and the most baffling is the very weird plot inclusion at the end here. For some godforsaken reason, Kim Henkel (who co-wrote the original with Hooper) decided it would be a good idea to include some global conspiracy bullshit into the proceedings.
What seems to be a horribly executed version of a rote “Chainsaw” massacre movie turns into a movie with the reveal that an Illuminati type group has hired the killer family to do some dirty deeds as some religious experience. It’s all just gobbledygook bullshit.
Not a single element here is worth a damn, except for maybe McConaughey. But otherwise it’s no surprise that this franchise sat dead for damn near a decade until an official remake came about that felt more in line with the original series. It must bear repeating. This is easily one of the worst theatrically released franchise horror movies ever and one of the many reasons why this franchise has been a particularly weird beast in cinema history.
6. Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
This movie comes close to the narrative nonsense of “The Next Generation”. Not too close that sci-fi or globalist conspiracies come into play, but mainly narrative conveniences and turns that assassinate characters and the series’ own history. In another of this series’ bizarre insistence on jumping throughout a jumbled timeline, this is a direct sequel to the original movie that ignores the second film but is set about 20 years after the first, yet it looks like it’s set in 2013.
The modern day feel is most likely due to a cheap production and a lackadaisical effort put into the filmmaking. But it doesn’t really matter, seeing as the entire movie is one of narrative convenience of the highest order, where a young girl who just so happens to be Leatherface’s cousin comes back to a house that was left to her, but is also housing Leatherface in the basement all this time with no one noticing a big hulking mongrel lurking about.
Also, the narrative convenience has her as an orphan who absolutely hates her adopted family enough to decide to switch sides way too quickly into becoming a killer too. It tries to pull a move akin to “The Devil’s Rejects” in trying to get us to side with the killer family, but it never works because the moves they make never fit into what we know about the series in any way. Leatherface has essentially become a vigilante who only kills bad people, but also kills these teens that enter his house? It’s just nonsense of the highest order.
The addition of 3D should be a fun one since horror movies have the leeway to go silly with the introduction of the extra dimension, but it doesn’t. This is a bad movie. Laughably bad. The only thing that is going to be remembered about this movie is the horrible scene where our main girl throws Leatherface his chainsaw and says “do your thing cuz” as he kills a corrupt cop. It’s a next level bad moment that sums up everything wrong with this movie.
5. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
We’ve now officially moved out of the window of absolute travesties of cinema and have moved into the window where the movies are just immensely forgettable pieces of competent detritus. For this movie is not offensively bad in any real way. The biggest thing is that the movie does nothing special. On any level. It’s really quite astounding what a bland piece of white bread this movie is when it was supposed to be the movie that got back to basics and was really gritty and nasty.
Now, it never really hits those goals because of the troubled post production it had with the MPAA, giving it an X rating for violence, essentially forcing it to trim out all the nasty bits, which added up to roughly four minutes of movie being deleted. So what’s left are the meat and potatoes, and they are warmed-over nothing. If all your movie has is blood and guts, you don’t actually have a movie.
Sadly, this isn’t a movie. By moving away from the truly deranged outing that Hooper had previously delivered in part 2, it forgoes character for a diluted brand of mimicry. Because this movie really wants to be the original movie. The structure is essentially the same, minus a handful of potential victims.
There’s a hitchhiker substitute played by Viggo Mortensen, there’s a more grim version of Chop Top. They even bring the withered corpse of Grandpa back for yet another piece of deranged dinner.
It all leads to the final girl fighting her way to survival as she rides off in a truck while Leatherface watches her ride off into the sunset. It’s all rote and flavorless. It tries way too hard to be grimy and nasty, but it never elevates itself past wannabe status. What doesn’t help it are the apparent budgetary issues, as it’s all set at night in nondescript locales as if to hide how low the budget is.
The cinematography is flat as well, all making it feel very rough, and not on purpose. The characters are boring, barely even qualifying as one dimensional. You can even tell the movie was reshot with new material, as the ending just doesn’t make a lick of sense with what has come before. The whole package adds up to a boring bit of nothing, fine enough for a rainy day where nothing else is on, but that’s about it. It’s a rough first draft that should have gone through a few more passes before it went to screens.