Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is one that has always lurked just behind horror big-wigs like Friday the 13th and Halloween in the public consciousness. The gruesome adventures of Leatherface and his cannibalistic, incestuous family have exhilarated and revolted audiences for close to five decades, and carved out their own strand of horror in the process. Never before the 1974 release of the original film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, had on-screen violence felt so real.
Originally marketed as exploring a true story, audiences lapped up Hooper’s original offering with equal doses of revulsion and thrill. Since then, the Texas Chainsaw IP has stayed strong, with eight further entries.
What makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise stand out is the impact it had on horror filmmaking; an impact still felt today. It truly is the daddy of the slasher subgenre, landing four long years before the brutality of Michael Myers in Halloween. It was the first time a group of unassuming teenagers were picked off, one by one, by a deranged killer – and as we know, it was far from the last.
Considering how greatly indebted contemporary horror is to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it’s only right to look back at the franchise that started it all.
To celebrate Leatherface’s legacy as one of horror’s most defining icons, in this edition of Ranked we’re ranking the nine Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, from the 1974 original to 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, from worst to best in terms of artistic achievement and overall quality.
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9. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
The Next Generation is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise’s ugly duckling: the one that producers shelved for years after it was complete, only to strike when the proverbial iron was hot.
Starring Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger in performances that were put to film long before they made names for themselves in Hollywood, the film deemed too shoddy to release only saw the light of day once its makers realised they could capitalise on the star quality of its now famous leads.
Even aside from its cynical production and release, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation simply isn’t a good TCM movie. It takes cues from other slasher franchises like Halloween in updating its horror to a high-school setting, focusing on the grisly aftermath of a prom – but that’s where the interesting elements end. The Next Generation is a dour 90 minutes that entertains but fails to use the characters or property in any meaningful way, instead leaning on tired slasher pacing and uninventive dialogue. It is especially marred by a notoriously egregious third-act twist: that the Sawyer family are under the surveillance of a shady government organisation of Men in Black, who run a worldwide cannibal-killing ring.
8. Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Texas Chainsaw 3D already feels like it has aged terribly, despite being less than a decade old.
In an effort to capitalise on the 3D boom and reboots of franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Lionsgate produced the edgy Texas Chainsaw (sans Massacre this time) to reinvigorate the franchise. It’s no masterpiece, but fans of the original film will adore Texas Chainsaw’s opening sequence, which lovingly recreates the aesthetics and locations of the original 1974 film as something of an epilogue to the first entry.
Aside from this loving ode, Texas Chainsaw meanders with melodramatic teen romance, a baffling bloodline-related plot twist, and some truly dreadful dialogue. There are some cool sequences sprinkled about – Leatherface wreaking havoc in a carnival is undeniably fun – but this 3D entry tanked the franchise for a reason.
Never again should TCM fans have to hear the bone-chilling line, “Get him, cuz!”
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7. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
The third entry in the Texas Chainsaw franchise isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just painfully average. While The Next Generation at least tried to do something unique (albeit terrible), Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is as close to a carbon-copy of the original as you can get. That is except for all the nuance of the first film – the engaging characters, gritty atmosphere, real-life aesthetics. It makes for a methodical, saturated end product.
The best part of Leatherface: TCM III is an early-career highlight from Lord of the Rings star Viggo Mortensen, years before he would don the wig and become Aragorn. His turn as one of the deranged Sawyer family’s most eccentric members is brimming with spark and vibrancy – but any time he’s not on screen, it goes back to the dull, dreary sequel that it is.
You can tell that nobody involved in the first two films returned for this third entry, and it shows: this is Texas Chainsaw Massacre as mass-produced to fill quotas and hit targets, not a film made in the pursuit of artistic achievement or to shock audiences. It’s saturated, unimaginative, and less deserving of attention than its inferior sequel.