All the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Films Ranked
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has finally seen an actually exciting development; a new film with funding intended to kickstart the terrors of Leatherface once more. Despite taking 12 years from the initial film for the first sequel to make its way onto the screens, the franchise has enjoyed a fairly long life with a whole host of different approaches to the morbidly exciting psychopathic Sawyer family hiding out in nowhere, Texas.
Here we’ll be putting together our own ranking of the franchise, from the horrible lows to the horrifying highs, and all the dark humour and insanity in-between. Outside of a few of the films, there are a lot of polarizing opinions on where they sit in relation to each other, spanning a breadth of sub-genres underneath the horror umbrella and clutching at occasionally ridiculous extensions on the original plotline. It’s part of the beauty of the franchise, such a wide variety of entries to be found within and different lines to follow depending on what you enjoy. So rev up your chainsaw, and join us diving back through the whole franchise.
9. Texas Chainsaw 3D
Deciding to do away with the rest of the franchise, Texas Chainsaw 3D picks up as a direct sequel to the original film, cutting forward to 2012 and focusing on a Sawyer family child who was taken away after the family home was lit on fire by townsfolk.
There are mirrors to the original, and leaning into camp and the modern setting does help the film somewhat. But Texas Chainsaw 3D fades away as rather by-the-books horror fare without much substance outside of the violence. The plot also begins to take strange turns as things go on, and character traits and the film’s own themes start to get muddled. It’s a muddy ending, with some horrible CGI.
The writing is shoddy at best, feeling like not much effort was put into things. Despite being set in 2012, well over 30 years since the events of the original film, the obviously-meant-to-be-young-20s main character is meant to be that taken child, the timeline wasn’t thought through. Add on to this a lack of substance behind the bits and pieces of violence and a half-hearted storyline that goes off in a very weird direction, and we get a very mediocre horror film.
In saying that, it’s not an entire write-off. There’s a bit of fun to be had with the camp, and the acting is decent across the board, but all in all a forgettable entry with no style ends up at the bottom.
8. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
A Californian couple have a confrontational encounter with a voyeuristic and quick to anger gas station attendant, rescued only by a mysterious Texan who distracts him long enough to escape. Unfortunately, this is far from their only worry, and quickly the Sawyer family make themselves known deep in the wilds of Texas. Join the duo with a survivalist dragged into things, and there’s at least some chance of fighting back and making it out the other side.
You can really feel the vast amount of cuts and producer interference that gimped Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. It’s rather tame in delivery, though decent acting for the most part and some interesting characters make it an alright time. The lack of oomph to everything due to insane amounts of cuts and censorship, as well as the absence of absurdist dark humour as a focus, make this one a very forgettable affair though. It does bring back a bit more tension, and the tale of survival is captivating enough, but everything feels just not quite there. Things don’t need to be a bloodbath of course, but when it’s all just very obviously and awkwardly cut away from it takes the wind out of certain scenes.
A young Viggo Mortensen does fairly well in his deranged role. Kane Hodder dons the Leatherface garb as R. A. Mihailoff’s stunt double, which is a great little detail, and a bit of a mark out moment for slasher fans. The female lead’s breaking point, and her vicious fighting back, are also particular highlights. There are bits and pieces of quality here, and the series doesn’t feel too messy just yet, so it ekes it out over Texas Chainsaw 3D.
Four inmates from a mental hospital escape during a violent riot, with the two more aggressive ones kidnapping a nurse and dragging them all along for a crime spree with the goal of freedom. A road trip of sorts, only filled with snaps of violence and pursued hotly by a violent and vindictive lawman. Oh, and one of these inmates just so happens to be a young Leatherface, before donning his first skinned face.
Good acting, an interesting way to approach the backstory of the Sawyer family, and the help of modern-day effects for the wet and gory. Unfortunately, it all comes together as just an alright horror flick set in an interesting time period, and honestly changing only a few things here and there you would never guess it was related to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise whatsoever.
The backstory of Leatherface is interesting to think about, but it really does rob the character of a lot of the terror he has. The mystery behind the faces, the unpredictable nature, the animalistic monster built by severe mental issues and his deranged family. Going through the character’s childhood and revealing the way he was hurt enough to turn into a killing machine always feels unnecessary and also takes away from how terrifying the figure is.
And on top of this, Leatherface makes a backstory that ignores a large portion of the franchise and the lore already set up. Since it’s all over the place, to begin with, that’s not the most egregious thing, but what comes out feels like it would have benefited from leaning into its own ideas and not anchoring itself to an existing franchise. At least there are some unique ideas at play here, and the acting does elevate this entry somewhat and make the film have a bit more staying power than the previous entries on this list.
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
Two brothers and their girlfriends are off on a cross-state trip, with the destination of heading to serve in Vietnam after enjoying their last bit of time together. When they get into an accident, their road trip is cut short as they’re dragged into the clutches of the psychotic Sawyer family and the chainsaw-wielding maniac hiding within their farmhouse.
Building on the success of the remake, and due to an influx of questions from fans about the backstory of a whole bunch of different elements, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning came to life to fill in all the gaps. Unfortunately, whilst it’s interesting to find answers to all these little mysteries, illuminating the unknown actually lessens the power of terror from the murderous family. The vicious torture of the brothers though does bring at least a bit of the terror back.
It’s certainly not a bad film, it’s actually very enjoyable, but feels rather unnecessary and doesn’t hit any of the highs of any titles ahead of it on the list. The gore and practical effects are a certain highlight, feeling vicious at times. This and the remake do have the benefit of funding and a more modern system of filmmaking to give a bit of polish. Though it does end up suffering from the same problems as the remake, lacking the raw power and weighty sense of horror of the original. Add on to that the issues with feeling unnecessary, and pretty much retreading the remake’s plotline past the initial 20 minutes, and The Beginning finds itself just on the low end of our ranking.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
A group of teenagers crash their car on the way to prom, unfortunately finding themselves stumbling into the Slaughter family (they renamed the Sawyer family for this film for some reason) and their house of horrors. The cannibalistic psychopaths are out for their blood, though something sinister seems to lurk behind even this dangerous family.
The most controversial entry on my ranking I must imagine. Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, in a shoddy mess of a film that still manages to be a load of fun. The acting is campy, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation doesn’t take itself too seriously at least. There are so many little issues here and there, and a real lack of attention to detail. But there’s also a lot to like about what this movie tries to do, as a cynical reimagining of the first film whilst passing off the sequels as ‘minor unrelated incidents,’ and as a commentary on the decline of horror films and the ineffectiveness of Leatherface’s murderous attempts.
It’s a bad movie in a lot of senses, but I do have a soft spot for it. It’s a more enjoyable time than Texas Chainsaw Massacre III before it and doesn’t shy away from the action anywhere near as much. Embracing the dark comedy again is also a winner decision, even if it adds to the incredibly campy and amateur aura around the film. There are also themes surrounding female empowerment, sexuality, and a deeper exploration of Leatherface’s mental instability and how he takes on personas based on his victims. There’s so much to unpack here and a lot to gain from diving into this film, as much as it comes off as dumb and poorly executed, there’s enough under the surface to make this one of the more interesting films in the whole franchise.
In saying that, the film does fail on almost every level in what it’s trying to be. Great ideas at the core, and a whole lot of fun to unpack, but terrible execution and a lot of missed humour as well as a lack of any sort of real tension or terror make for an awful, but interesting, film that I can’t help but love. Maybe it’s because I just need to try to understand it, but this one sticks with me way more than most of the other films in the franchise. Like a car crash, you just can’t look away, head into it with an open mind and enjoy this batshit insane entry.
4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
The newest installment, and one I really didn’t know what to think of, to begin with. It does away with the rest of the franchise once again and decides to make the 4th separate continuity in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, which is honestly probably the best way to make a new installment. It’s a polarizing entry at the moment, not capturing that feeling of the original, but also not leaning on traditional fare and trying to find its own story to tell. We may be in the minority here, but we do rate this one quite highly.
After nearly 50 years, the young man Leatherface once was has become highly sheltered and hidden away in a town that has deserted around him. A group of influencers with plans to gentrify this small town find themselves severely disrupting his life in a bubble, and invoke his full and unbridled rage.
The acting is pretty good throughout, and Mark Burnham does a fantastic job as an angry and distraught Leatherface brought back to his killing ways for revenge. Whilst the setup is quite solid, unfortunately, the writing is shaky in places. Things are overcomplicated quite quickly, and there’s a muddiness to some of the story elements. Despite Olwen Fouéré looking the perfect part of an older and determined Sally Hardesty (the final girl of the original film), her part doesn’t really feel well-executed, borrowing from the recent Halloween Kills but not really doing anything of substance with it. The ending is also very unsatisfying and feels like an unearned last jab.
What is very satisfying about Texas Chainsaw Massacre though, outside of the acting, is the pace and action. The pace could be seen as a contributor to the poor writing, but this film gets into the action and doesn’t let up until the finale, if there had been less bloating of the storyline it would have felt nice to get right down to things. The action, wet and bloody with a ferociousness to it, set well against the bits and pieces of dark humour, a staple of the franchise. And whilst there are many problems with the film’s writing, there’s a very powerful and well-maneuvered core of trauma that can leave a shadow over one’s life and transform them.
In the end, I can see why this is a polarizing entry. But the visceral energy of it, the breakneck pace with a fresh look into things, the direction they decided to take things; this new installment comes out feeling fresh. This and the next entry on our list feel neck and neck, but time may sway things in one direction or the other.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Five friends pick up a hitchhiker on their way through Texas, mirroring the original’s iconic beginning. The traumatized girl won’t listen to reason and lets the group know “You’re all gonna die” before ending her own life. Somehow this isn’t the worst part of their day, as their unwillingness to simply leave the body by the side of the road drops them right into the clutches of a deformed chainsaw-wielding madman, and a family of psychopathic killers.
This film came out during the start of the slew of classic horror film remakes in the 2000s, and unlike a good few of the others, it manages to come together as a fantastic reimagining that doesn’t feel like a soulless cash grab. There’s a focus put back on to the family, whilst not taking away from the imposing figure of Leatherface. The modern budget and techniques, as mentioned before, do allow for a lot more polish on everything.
The dark humour tinge is still there, hints here and there closer to how the original kept it on the peripheral. Violence and ramping tension are the core, and the 2003 remake does a good job capturing that again. Though that being said, the remake comes out as gorier but less scary than the original. There may be more polish, but the raw and uncut energy of the original doesn’t translate into this remake.
It may not have the same charm as the original but builds itself a spot in the franchise wholly of its own. Taking the serious route with dark humour in the peripheral makes for both a respectful and unique remake. It may not have such immense and oppressive tension, but it does stick in the mind with some iconic scenes and great performances all around.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
A radio host finds herself being terrorized by the cannibal family we follow through this franchise after she broadcasts a tape of victims calling in to the station in an effort to catch the killers. Alongside this we have a former Texas Marshall hunting the family in kind, wanting to rid the world of these simple-yet-brilliant maniacs.
Tom Savini coming on board gives us some more gory delights as the film embraces the splatter. Leaning wholly into the black humour that the first touched upon, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 knows exactly what it is, and has loads of fun with that. Even down to the poster art for the film mimicking The Breakfast Club, such a ridiculous premise but one I love so much. It’s entirely unlike its predecessor, but builds something new from the pieces it takes as a sequel and comes out as a classic fusion of comedy and horror.
It may be a far cry from the tense powerhouse of the first film, but with some solid comedy, an interesting cast of characters, and Savini lending his fabled macabre makeup art the first sequel in the franchise stands out as just a bunch of fun. The absurdness crosses over into pretty dumb territory at times, and the raw and terrifying atmosphere of the original is almost entirely lost here, on top of this the acting does leave a lot to be desired, but being a good time is still very important for a film. As a follow-up to the original, it does fall short. As a satire of Tobe Hooper’s original, he’s done well to have so much fun with it.
When the film was released was just about when the slasher craze had entered the creative-but-ridiculous phase. It was a perfect direction to go in, not attempting to match the horror of the original but instead taking the very subtle dark humour hiding at the edges of the original and honing in entirely on that. Despite having such different energies, the original two films are well worth a watch back to back, like a sweet chaser easing the tension back.
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
A group of young friends on a road trip have their day evolve from strange to deadly. Beginning with a string of grave robberies in the area, as well as a very unsettling encounter with a deranged hitchhiker, before they stumble into an equally deranged and increasingly violent family living nearby who intend to make them their next meal.
The tension built up by the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is incredible, the bits and pieces of comedy and the rather over-the-top nature of a few scenes don’t take away from a real nail-biter of a film. It’s a straightforward concept brought to life expertly even on a shoestring budget. The soundtrack is a great example, unsettling but very subtle, the majority of the soundtrack isn’t instrumental music but instead bits and pieces of industrial sounds, designed to sound like what an animal would hear in a slaughterhouse.
The film does not shy away from getting into the wet and gory, but at the same time doesn’t overplay that card. There are certainly some disturbing moments, but it’s not a splatterfest, there’s real pacing and evolution throughout the story. The violence is brutal, but often quite swift, and a large amount of it is not explicitly shown. What we do see is raw, realistic, and viewed completely head-on though.
This is seen as one of, if not the greatest horror film of all time. There’s good reason for that, capitalizing on every single thing at its disposal. Things born from almost manic improvisation became iconic terrors, from Leatherface’s menacing loping run to the chainsaw dance, to what is one of the most memorable scenes in film history: the dinner scene. Perhaps lightning in a bottle, never again did the franchise capture this incredible and intelligent subversion of the idea of ‘Elevated Horror,’ forever altering the genre and influencing hordes of films to come.