This is a set of reviews that were written during the Cinefessions Summer Screams Challenge. Each film of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre film series is reviewed. There is no synopsis given, but the general story of each film is a group of teenagers stumbling upon a backwoods Texas house that happens to be Leatherface’s family. This will not bode well for the teenagers. Ever. The reviews are generally spoiler-free, but anyone who has seen even one of these films should know what to expect.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, dir. Tobe Hooper)
Though The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t perfect, it’s still a great film that stands out as unique and special.
My first trip to Texas with Leatherface was with the 2003 remake, and I fell in love. There is no doubt that the remake of this classic slasher film is a great movie itself. I didn’t actually check out the original until afterwards, and to be honest, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I did on this viewing.
What’s so special about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the wonderfully screwed up atmosphere that Hooper is able to create. The cinema verite style was something that hadn’t been seen in the horror genre before – at least, done as well – and it still holds up today. The five teenagers stand out as likable characters, which is highly unusual in this sub-genre nowadays. To be frank, the gore effects are incredibly tame by today’s standards, but I still respect how shocking this must’ve been in 1974.
The only problem I have with the film is how easy the resolution comes about. It’s a small complaint, but keeps this from being perfect. That said, there’s no doubt The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is special.
Oh, and always remember: broom > hammer.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986, dir. Tobe Hooper)
I hadn’t realize that I’d seen this movie before until it started. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is nothing like the original. Hooper trades in the cinema verite, realistic look and genuine terror for comedic one-liners and a glossy, studio-looking finish. As a horror comedy, TCM2 is just fine; as a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel, TCM2 is a bust.
That said, Bill Moseley is absolutely awesome as the psychotic killer Chop-Top, and Bill Johnson makes a great Leatherface. I also liked the small homages made to the original film. It’s hard to call The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 a disappointment because it is a fulfilling horror/comedy film, but I wish Hooper would’ve gone the serious route with this one like he did the original.
Oh, and Dennis Hopper is a ball to watch in this as well.
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990, dir. Jeff Burr)
Leatherface restores the tone of the original film, and delivers in a surprisingly strong way.
Most of the comedy is tossed aside (with a couple characters being an exception to this) in the third entry of this series, and Leatherface and his family once again become a force to be reckoned with. Unlike the previous films, which had three male family members, Leatherface has three brothers(?), a mother, a daughter or young sister, and, of course, Grandpa. This larger family is the most interesting of the three films so far, and delivers that female dynamic that had been missing previously.
My biggest complaint about Leatherface is that I’m unsure how everyone is related. The two other male character (aside from the titular Leatherface) both resemble characters we’ve met in the past (Alfredo acts like The Hitchhiker in the first film, and Tinker acts like Bill Moseley’s character from #2, but neither are the same), and the little girl is left unexplained. IMDB lists her as “Leatherface’s Daughter”, though, so take that for what it’s worth.
That complaint aside, the rest of the film is pretty damn good. The script works well, and the acting is good (Ken Foree is great). The gore is more minimal than in the past, but I didn’t mind that. This is a bit of a mix of the first and second film: it’s got some of the glossiness of the second film, plus the serious tone of the original. It’s a fun film that’s definitely worth checking out.
Remember, “the saw is family”.
Note that I watched the Unrated, 86-minute version of the film.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994, dir. Kim Henkel)
Wow, this is an obnoxiously terrible film. Continuity is thrown out the window, as are (almost) any acting skills.
This film was written and directed by Kim Henkel, who co-wrote the original screenplay, and she said that she was trying to create the “real” sequel to the original with this film. If the movie ignored Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, that would be fine, and this film’s story might make a little sense. Instead, the director decides to make mention of both those films in the first 30 seconds of the movie, establishing this as a continuation of that universe.
The problem is that there are two new brothers for Leatherface that never get explained (who are these guys?), and Leatherface has – for some unexplained reason – become a cross-dresser. How in the hell are any of these choices justified in this script? The short answer is that they aren’t.
Apart from the absurd story and continuity problems, this film has some of the worst acting I have seen in a very long time. The teenagers in the movie are laughably terrible. Renee Zelwegger is decent, but she is terrible at playing the “tough chick” that she turns into later in the film. The only saving grace of the movie is Matthew McConaughey as a lunatic. There’s no doubt he goes over-the-top, but at least he’s enjoyable to watch unlike all the unemotional teenagers in the film.
This is a cinematic atrocity. There is no reason this movie should’ve been released, and is the black mark on the TCM franchise. From the story to the acting, to the terrible editing (it was as if the director didn’t get enough coverage, and so she couldn’t show any reaction shots that are essential in a horror film), there is no doubt this would place in my 50 worst films ever seen list, if I had one.
Thankfully the remake and the prequel are next in the series.
Note that I watched the cut American version of the film that runs 87 minutes, not the uncut 95-minute original because it is damn near impossible to get your hands on in the US.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003, dir. Marcus Nispel)
This movie is the reason I will always give remakes a chance, and one of the main reason I am a remake sympathizer. Though it does a lot of things differently from the original, it still stands up on its own two legs as a solid, frightening horror flick.
The biggest difference to me has to be the fact that Platinum Dunes attempts to justify a lot of Leatherface’s actions (skin disease, got teased in school, and so on) where as in the original, Leatherface is just a psycho with a chainsaw. There’s something scarier about a random psycho with a chainsaw than a guy who got bullied into doing these atrocious acts.
The other big change from the original is the size of the family. The “family” is much larger in this film than ever before. It is as if Platinum Dunes combined the original film with its three sequels to create the size of this remake’s family. But I don’t mind that because the first film, without a matriarch of any kind (aside from a dead corpse), felt like it needed a mother or grandmother to help maternalize the family. The addition of the other unexplained relatives could’ve been more fully fleshed out, but it is fine as it is.
When the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre released in 1974, it shocked audiences with its violence and brutality, not to mention its cinema verite camera style, so the challenge for Platinum Dunes with this remake had to be doing the same thing – shocking audiences – but with the 2000s market in mind. That said, watching this film in theatres in 2003, I remember being stunned at the amount of violence I was seeing on screen. Watching it today is a much tamer experience simply because I have now lived through the short-lived era of torture porn, and am now seeing the beginning of what some are dubbing the “Extreme Wave” of horror filmmaking with movies like The Human Centipede, Martyrs, and A Serbian Film. The influence that this remake had on the torture porn genre is clear, though, and one year later we would see the release of Saw.
This Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake manages to be scarier, bloodier, and faster than the original, which is exactly why it did so well in 2003. I loved it when I watched it on release day then, and I still think it’s a great movie now. The original will always be a classic, but when it comes to replayability, my pick goes to this version.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006, dir. Jonathan Liebesman)
What a difference three years can make. I mentioned in my Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) review that the gore was relatively tame because it was still pre-torture porn. That craze was alive and well in 2006, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning doesn’t pull any punches. This is an absolute gorefest, and it’s a blast because of it.
The biggest weakness with this prequel is that it completely ignores what the original did, and is simply a prequel to the Platinum Dunes remake. Fans of that remake, though, are in for a treat because virtually everything that is present in the remake is explained here (like amputated legs, job statuses, and so on). It also does a whole lot more justifying, which I ragged on the remake for doing because this series doesn’t need it, and it lessens Leatherface’s impact.
Speaking of Leatherface, Andrew Bryniarski does a great job as the chainsaw wielding maniac. He does such a great job that I didn’t even realize it was the same actor behind the mask from the remake. He walks differently, and his presence is much stronger in this film, making him my favorite actor to dawn the human mask since Gunnar Hansen in the original film.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is absolutely a product of the torture porn/extreme gore phase that was big in the mid-2000s thanks to Saw and Hostel. Fans of that type of film, and anyone who enjoyed the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake should find a hell of a lot to like about this fun prequel.
The average star rating for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre film series is…2.67.
Best Film of the Franchise: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Worst Film of the Franchise: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.