A dusty, lonesome Texas road. The heat of the sun. The dryness of the air. Absolutely nothing for miles and miles... And then there's the cannibals.
In 1974, Tobe Hooper unleashed one of the most terrifying killers upon the screen. A man-child with hulking strength, carrying a razor-sharp chainsaw and wearing the face of your friend upon his own. He's gone by many names: "Junior", "Thomas", "Jedidiah", but most know him simply as:
Sure, Michael Myer's blank mask is scary. And if I ever saw Freddy Krueger in real life, I would scream. But nothing, and I mean nothing, is more horrifying than someone wearing the face of another person. But while ole Leather has remained terrifying, the films in which he stars have varied in quality throughout the years. So it can be tough to know which ones are worth a watch. But rest assured, The Holy Goof is here to remedy that. Keeping with our yearly Halloween tradition, this year we rank the entire Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise from worst to best.
08. Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Sitting at the bottom of the barrel is this pile of garbage some affectionately call a "film". The idea of a legacy sequel is something that the horror genre has played around with a lot recently, with sequels like Halloween (2018) and The Exorcist: Believer (2023) ignoring previous sequels and linking directly to the beloved originals. Texas Chainsaw 3D attempts to do this by introducing the idea of a young woman (played by Alexandra Daddario) who has ties to the Sawyer family. She is established in the opening scene as a previously unknown baby that was present during the events of the '74 original. But any effort to craft a watchable story ends there. Filled with the most thinly written characters of the franchise (and trust me, that's a hard feat to accomplish), this film feels like it was written in about 2 hours by a drunken frat boy. It also features some truly terrible moments of 3D effects.
However, the film's biggest problem is the fact that it seems to go out of its way to confuse its audience. If the opening scene takes place in 1974 (like the original film), then Alexandra Daddario's character should be in her 40s, not the sexy 20-something she is portrayed as. This could be easily fixed by setting the film in the late 1990s. Except there are iPhones present. So this clearly takes place in 2013. An old newspaper has a blurry date of 1984 (perhaps an attempt to alter the original date in order to make the timeline work), except that would still make her in her 30s. So still too old. All in all, it's best not to think about it. There are two moments of genius hidden in this steaming pile - the song about Jesus in the beginning, and Leatherface's room-full of neckties. But that does not justify sitting through this whole film. In fact, Texas Chainsaw 3D did so badly at the box office that the two films that followed didn't even get wide theatrical releases. Ouch.
07. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. The first attempt at a legacy sequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre failed miserably. So 9 years later, Netflix tried it again. Another attempt to erase previous sequels and start afresh with only the original as a connection brings us the newest entry in the franchise. And while it is better than Texas Chainsaw 3D, it's nothing to rev a chainsaw at. The characters have potential, but the actors aren't given enough material to make them worth the watch. There are a few moments of life, such as some satirical humor aimed at Gen Z, and a couple very gnarly kills. It also features one of the funniest endings of recent horror movie memory. But these small lights in the darkness are not enough to raise this tired franchise out of its grave. Hopefully a fresh pair of eyes can resurrect Leatherface's corpse with a genuinely exciting tale in the future. But until then, you're better off watching one of the other entries in the series.
06. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
The '90s were not exactly kind to the horror genre. After the overly gooey splatter horror of the '80s, the MPAA revolted. This resulted in dozens of horror films during this decade being heavily censored. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is one of the victims of this censorship. One scene in particular is edited into oblivion. Which means that in order to experience this film to its fullest, you need to track down the Unrated cut on DVD or Blu-ray. But even still, this is not the best the franchise has to offer. Bland cinematography and as weak story hurt what could have been a perfectly serviceable sequel. The main girl has a solid enough arc, and Ken Foree puts in a pulpy performance as one of the only characters in a Chainsaw film that gives Leatherface a decent fight. Also, young Viggo Mortenson plays the charming Tex just a year or two before his turn as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. And some decent black comedy peppered throughout keeps it from falling into the abyss; such as a hilarious scene where Leatherface is using a Speak-N-Spell to identify a clown as "food" only to be told he is incorrect over and over again. Also, the new saw is seriously badass. Chainsaw III is the weakest of the original four films, but I still don't fully hate it. Must be the fancy boxers... "California, am I right?"
05. Leatherface (2017)
Although it was technically created with connections to Texas Chainsaw 3D, this prequel film simply titled Leatherface works well enough as an origin to the series proper. Set in 1965, this film tells the tale of a budding young Leatherface (in this continuity named Jedidiah) and how the monster came to be. And to its credit, it isn't half bad. This film does a pretty good job of portraying young Leather as a sympathetic character. While the killer from the remake films was born with a horrible skin disease, this version is more emotionally disabled rather than physically. This is a young man who has been tortured and manipulated by everyone who says they care about him. No wonder he's a giant emotional baby by the time the original takes place. It also does not skimp on the gore, treating us to buckets of blood. But it doesn't really feel like a Chainsaw movie. More like Natural Born Killers.
This is a road movie, with young Jed taken hostage during a hospital breakout; an event that gives birth to the horrifying killer in the process. What adds an extra spice is the mystery element. Young Jed is taken away from his family at an early age and when we meet back up with him, he has a different name. So the entire film teases which character is truly Jed. Who will turn into Leatherface? It's a nice element that adds to the film; even if it loses some of the oomph during a rewatch. Stephen Dorff and Lili Taylor also provide excellent performances. But the new take clashes with the typical Chainsaw exploitation, meaning that the gore and nudity sometimes feels out of place. Which is its biggest problem. The film also features none of the trademark black humor that features throughout most of the series. Meaning there is no levy to let you breathe between the violence. That makes Leatherface a very intense (and mostly well made) prequel film that offers something new to the franchise.
04. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
Once the remake Texas Chainsaw Massacre blew the box office wide open in 2003, it was clear a second film was coming soon. But instead of continuing the story, the decision was made to turn the clock back and show the origins of Leatherface. Right from the opening scene, you can tell this film's entire motivation is to gross you out. Just as with the original sequel, this film ups the gross factor... and the black comedy. The fact that the film opens with a joke that smash-cuts into the credits is a bold choice. The Beginning walks a tight rope between funny and disturbing throughout its runtime. R. Lee Ermey shines as much as he did in the first film, but this time he's given even more disturbingly funny things to do and say. Leatherface is depicted as a hulking man with a skin condition that leaves him quite hard to look at; hence the reason for the masks. In point of fact, the film does a great job of fleshing out the entire Hewitt family unit. Director Jonathan Liebesman brings a nastiness to the directing that feels right at home in the Chainsaw franchise. This is genuinely hard to watch at times. The film's biggest problems are its lead teenagers and predicability. Even a young Jordan Brewster can't elevate the thinly written dialogue. And the mere fact that the film is a prequel means you already know how the ending has to go. Still, this is a gross (and at times grossly funny) good time. If you can stomach it.
03. The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)
I may get mobbed for this opinion, but The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (its original title) is highly entertaining. Original screenwriter Kim Henkel returned to write (and also direct) the fourth entry in the franchise, and he raised the satirical bar to astronomical heights. It takes a lot of guts to parody the very franchise you started, but Kim takes a few pointers from Tobe Hooper's Chainsaw: Part II and triples down on the outrageous humor. Led by ridiculous performances by Renee Zellweger and Matthew MaConaughey, this film is pretty much an outright comedy. One of the family members orders pizza, another listens to rock and roll music as they run a victim over far too many times, and there is a remote control battle near the end that had me rolling on the floor in stitches. Leatherface even wears stockings and lipstick. This film is completely off the chain. And I LOVE IT. Be sure to find the unreleased director's cut to get the complete version. It features an excellent subtext about abusive families which makes Zellweger's arc much stronger than in the theatrical cut.
02. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
This is the film that scared me so much as a child I almost gave up on all horror movies right then and there. Thank God Freddy vs. Jason came along and showed me horror can also be fun. But to this day, the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre stands as one of the best horror remakes ever made. Producer Michael Bay and director Marcus Nispel jettison any humor the franchise had and deliver the gnarliest, most intense film they could. Once Leatherface shows up, you are treated to non-stop brutality. Leatherface is terrifying once again, and his family is just as disturbing as him (led by the always immaculate R. Lee Ermey). You truly root for Jessica Biel to make it out, and I hold my breath every time I watch those final 10 minutes. It's nerve racking! This is the only "serious" Chainsaw film to be successful, and it seems like every attempt to take the material seriously after this has fallen apart. So be sure to check out the one truly terrifying entry in this classic horror franchise!
01. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part II (1986)
When The Texas Chain Saw Massacre came out in 1974, people were terrified and disgusted. And clamored for a sequel. But Tobe Hooper was upset that no one caught onto the black comedy laced throughout the film. So when he finally set upon a sequel 10 years later, he made damn sure that everyone saw the satire this time around. Everything is cranked up to 11 in this sequel. Which is part of why I love it so much. This is my personal favorite of the series, and I will defend it to my death. This is the Evil Dead 2 of the Chainsaw franchise. A perfect blend of horror and comedy. And I think it is just as good as the original (for very different reasons). Tobe revs the chainsaw at the yuppie culture, capitalism, even Texas bbq. The opening sequence is one of the most terrifyingly entertaining scenes in a horror film. And it only gets wackier from there. From Leatherface using his chainsaw as a phallus symbol, Chop Top shouting about Vietnam flashbacks, or Lefty singing "Bringing in the Sheaves", each scene stands out. And the performances of Dennis Hopper and Bill Mosely are just the perverted icing on the cake. This does everything a good sequel should do. And it's one of my all-time favorite films.
01. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
In 1974, Tobe Hooper created a film that burned into the collective conscience of the American family unit. A film that shocked and startled people so badly, that it forever altered the landscape of horror films. But the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn't the gore-fest that many remember it to be. Tobe very cleverly leaves most of the carnage to the viewers' imagination (which is sometimes far more graphic than reality could ever be). The choice to use 35 mm film also gives the film a grimy, dirty quality that only adds to the discomfort. And the subtle dark comedy gives a layer of sick jokes to the proceedings (such as Grandpa's overly long ordeal simply holding a hammer). And the characters have remained iconic afar all these yers. Overall this is a film experience like no other. One that leaves viewers unnerved and shaken. Much like its protagonist.