The Saw is Family: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise

After over 40 years, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains among the most influential horror movies ever made. Tobe Hooper’s classic is the rare example of a movie that has lost none of its ability to shock with time. Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street – each of these movies owes some debt to the saw. Yet for all its influence, as a horror franchise, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has struggled. As compared to the movies it helped spawn, the Chainsaw Massacre has arguably produced more misses than hits. To date, the series includes three ‘sort of’ direct sequels, a remake with a prequel to the remake, a proper prequel, and a sequel that ignored other sequels. So where does your favourite Chainsaw Massacre fall on this list of nine movies spanning over 40 years?

9 – Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

Congratulations, fans of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. It’s not the worst movie in the series. No, that honour goes to this lazy reboot, the 2013 Texas Chainsaw 3D. In fact, the filmmakers were so lazy, they didn’t even include ‘Massacre’ in the title. Like Halloween 2018, Texas Chainsaw 3D positions itself as a direct sequel to the original. In addition to poorly executed scares, Texas Chainsaw 3D is plagued by bizarre gaps in logic. The worst of these gaps is the confused timeline. In addition, the sequel features one of the worst lines of dialogue in recent memory: ‘Do your thing, cuz.’ Yes, it’s as painful as it sounds.

8 – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

Sorry, Next Generation apologists, but it’s still a bad movie. Kim Henkel, a co-writer on the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, pulls double duty on this long-shelved sequel. Though Henkel had interesting ideas buried in his movie, he couldn’t bring them together into coherent, good movie. Dark humour and subversive commentary are under-baked and tonally jarring. Neither scary nor intentionally funny, The Next Generation still remains most famous as the movie Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger didn’t want you to see.

7 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Critics and fans alike gave the 2003 remake a lot of grief. Not surprisingly, a prequel to an unwanted remake didn’t fare much better. Reviews were savage, and The Beginning took in about half of the remake’s box office haul. Absolutely no one was begging to find out how Leatherface got his mask. Unfortunately, The Beginning offers little else story-wise. Instead, the prequel delivers mean-spirited torture and violence at high production values. Released at the tail-end of the 2000’s ‘Torture Porn’ cycle, The Beginning was very much a product of the time period.

6 – Leatherface (2017)

On paper, the Leatherface prequel had a lot going for it. First and foremost, filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury were perfect candidates for a new Chainsaw prequel. After all, Bustillo and Maury’s Inside promised a harder edge to Leatherface. Early optimism, however, gave way to concern when Leatherface was inexplicably shelved with no trailer or release date.

It also suffers the same problem as many horror sequels – it places too much focus on the antagonist.

Not necessarily a bad movie, Leatherface wastes both its ‘road trip’ premise and ‘which one is Leatherface’ mystery. It also suffers the same problem as many horror sequels – it places too much focus on the antagonist. Among its problems, there are few scares, little tension, and some ugly violence. However, Leatherface is also briskly paced with decent acting performances. At the very least, the prequel is head and shoulders above the dreadful Texas Chainsaw 3D.

5 – Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III (1990)

If The Next Generation was the movie they didn’t want you to see, then the 1990 Leatherface is the Texas Chainsaw sequel you can’t see. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) notoriously butchered the movie for its excessive violence. After the MPAA finally awarded the sequel with an R-rating, New Line Cinemas barely released it. Today, horror fans will have a hard time finding an unrated Director’s Cut on DVD.

Though it boasted a legendary teaser trailer, Leatherface is largely a rote rehash of the original.

Though it boasted a legendary teaser trailer, Leatherface is largely a rote rehash of the original. It adds a few more family members and features far more explicit gore, but Leatherface adheres closely to the blueprint. You’ll catch a young Viggo Morgenstein slumming it along with genre favourite, Ken Foree. Not great by any means, but a watchable horror movie with a grimy ‘90’s VHS aesthetic.

4- Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Better than expected, but too divisive to rank higher. Hence, Netflix’s 2022 Texas Chainsaw Massacre legacy sequel sits here on the list. Plenty doesn’t work in David Blue Garcia’s efforts to streamline the franchise. Leatherface confronting Zoomer influencers and gentrification hamstrings itself with dropped story ideas and a few plot holes. And Sally Hardesty’s return just doesn’t work. But if Texas Chainsaw Massacre lacks the 2003 remake’s tension, it makes up for it with plenty of gory deaths and violence. Just the tour bus scene alone warrants this sequel a look for diehard horror fans. Garcia gets just enough right to make this a better-than-expected series entry.

3 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes’ Studio kicked off the 2000’s horror remake trend with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Director Marcus Nispel brought his glossy music video sensibilities to the franchise. While the visual result seemed incongruent with the spirit of the original, Nispel drenched his remake in the same nihilistic tone. No remake was ever going to touch Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece. Nevertheless, the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of the better remakes produced. R. Lee Ermey is terrifying, while Leatherface is more hulking brute this time around.

2 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2

Over a decade after the original, Tobe Hooper returned to his masterpiece. But the result was arguably one of the more misunderstood sequels ever committed to the screen. In part, Hooper refused to give audiences a traditional sequel. In contrast to most horror sequels, Part 2 is a completely different beast from its predecessor. More dark comedy than straight horror, Part 2 is a gonzo movie experience that feels like a true descent into madness. The violence is shocking, the performances are appropriately over-the-top, and the final third is Grand Guignol horror at its best.

1- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973)

Did you really think any other Chainsaw Massacre movie would bet at the top of this list. At this point, what else can be said about Tobe Hooper’s classic? Along with filmmakers like Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and William Friedkin, Hooper pushed the genre in new direction. Not as violent as the title suggests, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre gave us one of horror’s most frightening villains. With the recent success of the Halloween 2018 sequel, perhaps we might finally get the Chainsaw follow-up the original deserves.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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