4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
A movie that just begs the question: why? There is absolutely nothing about these movies that demands clarity or backpedaling to explain away details. Finding out why Leatherface has a leather face is uninteresting.
Why R. Lee Ermey and his family of nasty nitwits like to eat people isn’t that interesting in a feature setting, the mystery of the why being more scary than an actual explanation. This movie goes through the motions of explaining away things the prior one doesn’t even set up as questions. It does the typical prequel thing of just wasting time on things that aren’t needed. The movie isn’t awful, just unneeded.
What we get is a movie that is able to aesthetically stay up to par with the first one, really grimy and nasty. The sense of dread is palpable. Being a prequel, the sense of dread works for it as we all know that it can’t end in anything but the innocents being wiped off the face of the earth. It adds a nice change of pace for this series, as every other movie fits into a mold set forth by the original. The kills are good and painful. It’s short and painless on run time, so it’s a good watch. It’s never offensively bad. One word rules the day in the end. Why?
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
The movie that helped to kickstart the remake craze in the 2000s, this is one of the best of the bunch. In the first entry in this wave of movies for the franchise that could be considered good, it is a back-to-basics entry that spends more than a weekend scribbling out ideas on a dirty napkin like the lesser movies in this franchise. It is a remake but smartly doesn’t just do a beat-for-beat redo. It’s got that structure and the tone and the nastiness down pat, but they don’t put in repeats of characters or set pieces.
Aside from Leatherface, there’s no real repetition within. R. Lee Ermey is fantastic as the patriarch of this newly minted cannibal clan. The group of youths we follow to their demise aren’t annoying so we feel bad when they go. The kills take a real hard turn from the original movie, going all out with the blood and the gore. It’s a smart move, as it knows it will never capture that fly-on-the-wall feeling Hooper managed to capture. It’ll never feel as realistically dangerous as that one or as truly sad.
However, it takes a more cinematically dirty turn, turning up the visual aesthetic to heighten that nastiness. It feels more genuinely dirty and dangerous than the other movies here. The new Leatherface is a really frightening presence, pure bulk and deranged singlemindedness. It’s the only movie in the franchise since the original to feel genuinely scary. There’s a danger on display. The filmmakers took their time to really make sure it felt within the realm of what the original did.
Marcus Nispel does real good work here to bring the pain and get good work from his performers. After the last two movies in the franchise, it would be very hard for it not to have been a huge step up. But this even managed to overcome those meager expectations to deliver a really solid horror flick that stands above the pack in a dire decade for mainstream American horror.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Tobe Hooper returned to the franchise that kickstarted his career after a long time away and delivered one of the most insane franchise entries ever. It’s a giant thumb in the eye of expectations. Where that original movie is a down and dirty docu-style horror movie with a grim tone, he comes back with a more cinematic looking movie that is like a deranged joke.
It plays like a spoof of its own series. Hooper has no interest in repeating himself and wanted to make a joke out of it all, and he succeeded. But it really works. It’s a bizarre movie with a ridiculous balancing act that manages to play very straight but also play very off kilter.
Set years after that original movie, it follows the family’s murderous exploits as they’ve moved their camp to an underground cavern as they use their murderous hobby to fuel a new found BBQ business.
After overhearing a murder over the radio, DJ Caroline Williams is thrown into the mix after vengeance obsessed cop Dennis Hopper gets involved. What follows is like lurid dream logic, as it’s all really weird and nothing like the original movie. Leatherface is more goofy and clunky. He’s like a big child. But the real personification of the movies insanity is Bill Moseley as Chop Top, a chrome (literally) domed Vietnam veteran that is beamed in from another galaxy. This stands as a weird entry in the whole series, as it’s the only one that is intentionally supposed to be funny and off key.
It’s also only one of a handful of successful movies in this franchise that comes in and achieves what it sets out to do. It would be weird to say that the series needs to be as deranged as this one, as only Hooper could have truly delivered this exact thing. But the series needs to look at it in the way that it is a rebuttal to expectations and as a green light to plow your own course.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The landmark movie. A game changer. One of the granddaddies of modern horror cinema. At this point in time, it’s almost essentially impossible to talk about this movie in a new way. Not many movies have been as dissected (I’m so sorry) as this one has. The ripples it sent in cinema were felt immediately, and it’s easy to see why. There’s nothing like it. Especially at the time, when horror movies weren’t really allowed to be as dirty and realistic as this one.
There’s a bone deep terror to what happens here, as it’s all undeserved brutality. These are good kids and they are picked apart for no other reason than they were there. The family feels like they were ripped out of Titicut Follies or some other insane asylum. That it manages to terrify without a single drop of fake blood or any graphic murder scenes is something else. Hooper would never be as in control as he was here, delivering a tight movie that fires on all cylinders. What else is there to say, really? It’s a perfect movie and one that rightly stands tall in horror history.