Comic Book Curious

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Look Back

October 29, 2021

Hey folks, my name is Frank and I am your new friendly neighborhood horror fiend reporting for duty. This is my time of year without a doubt. I’ve watched horror movies all year long since I was a tween. So when the rest of the world comes along for the ride for one month of the year it is the most wonderful time for me to be able to share my passion with y’all.

So with that said I have been given the blessing of writing this article about the grimiest, darkest most “effed up” franchise in horror history, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You might excuse that last sentence if you come from a more reasonable sensibility. Calling it “effed up” and grimy is a compliment from my corner of the internet where we constantly chase the next endorphin rush from scenes too despicable to describe in polite public.

Leatherface holding a chainsaw above his head

Credit: Bryanston Distribution

In my opinion The Texas Chainsaw Massacre can be retconned into being the first slasher of the era. A lot of folks think Michael Myers was the archetypal slasher but Leatherface appeared on screen 4 years earlier in 1974. The thing is, Leatherface is part of the Sawyer family so he wasn’t a lone masked stalker like Myers, Jason and Freddy were after him.

However as time rolled on and sequels got released, it slowly but surely moved the focus squarely on Leatherface with the rest of the family as supporting members to his slasher-esque rampages of dismemberment. So while the 1974 film didn’t directly inspire the slasher craze of the 80’s like Halloween did, in retrospect Leatherface has become the oldest and most classic slasher character in the annals.

With all of that said, here are my takes on the franchise that makes DC continuity look easy to follow, hold on tight, this one has a lot of twists and turns.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The original classic film that inspired so many copycat titles from Slumber Party Massacre to The Funhouse Massacre and going as specific as the Long Island Cannibal Massacre the naming structure alone has become a thing of legend spawning countless “Massacre” themed films. But the other two words in the title are just as strong. “Texas” and “Chainsaw”.

These three words together are more powerful than Tobe Hooper could have ever known when he started making the film. The way the idea caught the imagination of the nation and has continued to maintain its place in horror lore is beyond anyone's wildest dreams. And that is because the movie doesn’t only bank on its title, it truly delivers what audiences would expect from those three magic words strung together.

The movie begins with a van full of teens heading to visit Sally and Franklin's grandpa's grave to investigate reports of vandalism and grave robbing. Afterwards, they visit the old Hardesty home. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker who shows multiple warning signs of the horrors to come before they have to kick him out.

Before getting to the old house they stop at a gas station where the owner tells them that the pumps are empty, another ominous sign of things to come. When they get to the house one of the couples (right on queue) heads to an old swimming hole and soon stumble upon a house where the dude for some reason decides to walk in to the front door.

This is where the movie grabs you and doesn’t let go until the very end. The first kill scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is so simple but one of the most brutal and animalistic things I have ever seen. The way the hammer in Leatherface’s hand so effortlessly falls down on Kirk's head leaving him limp and lifeless seemingly out of nowhere sits as one of the greatest kill scenes in all of horror history.

From here we see Pam enter the house and discover a room filled with furniture made from human bones. She attempts to run, but Leatherface catches her and impales her on a meathook which back to back creates two of the most iconic kills in cinema history. The meat hook scene, again, is so simple with so little actual graphic detail. But it is more effective than any CGI kill scene made in the past 30 years.

Slowly but surely each of the other teens goes out looking for their friends only to find similarly gruesome deaths until poor Sally gets it the absolute worst. She gets to meet Leatherface’s family, learning that the hitchhiker from earlier is Leatherface’s brother and that he lives with his old desiccated grandpa who sucks blood from Sallys finger and then tries to smash her head with a sledge hammer over a bucket as the other men hold her still.

I mentioned that these movies were “effed up” right? Well they also created the trope of “The Final Girl”. Because after going through all that torture and losing all her friends and her brother, Sally escaped the madness and hopped on the the back of a pickup truck while Leatherface rampaged in the middle of the road flailing his chainsaw violently against the thin air. Another scene that is burned in the consciousness of America.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the greatest films ever made. Not just one of the greatest horror films, the fact that it is horror is inconsequential. This movie is hard to watch even for a seasoned horror aficionado. It is a brutal, absolutely relentless film with no moments of humor and no time to take a breath. If you consider yourself a horror fan and have not seen the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre you need to change that ASAP.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

This is the film that retroactively made Leatherface and his family slashers. The whole idea of a slasher wasn’t even a thing in 1974, but after Halloween and Friday the 13th the folks who made Texas Chainsaw Massacre saw the perfect opportunity to bring the Sawyer family back. However this sequel plays as more of a parody and a dark comedy than the original which was not funny even in the slightest.

Released in 1986 it was during the height of Freddy and Jason mania so horror was a little more lighthearted at that point. Another important detail to know up front is that director Tobe Hooper did not get final cut and because of that the mafia run production company made some editing decisions that made parts of the film feel unfinished at times. However even with all of that going against it the first sequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre stands up over time.

The film begins with a race along a desolate stretch of Texas highway, where two drunk guys are on the phone with a radio DJ named Stretch. While they talk to her, Leatherface emerges from the back of a truck driving by their side and rips up the roof using his chainsaw. They try shooting Leatherface with their revolver but Leatherface kills them and causes the car to crash.

A bigshot Texas Ranger named Lefty shows up from out of town to investigate the deaths and it ends up he is the uncle of Sally and Franklin from the first movie and he has been looking into where his nephew disappeared by investigating reports of mysterious chainsaw killings across Texas. The DJ from the night before contacts the Texas Ranger to bring him a copy of the audio tape from the attack.

The Sawyer family catches on that Stretch has a recording of them so Leatherface and his brother Chop Top show up at the station. Leatherface corners Stretch and is about to kill her, but she convinces him to spare her. This is where the movie kinda loses control … Stretch and Lefty and the Sawyer family somehow all end up in the Sawyers underground cave bunker system of a home.

Lefty of course arrives equipped with chainsaws and proceeds to trash the home before he finds Franklin's remains. Everything from here is bonkers madness with chainsaw fights and more grandpa (and grandma!) action and massive cave-ins, plus lots of weird dialogue and an epic chase scene at the end. I’ve seen this movie so many times and I still have no idea what really happens in the last half hour.

And that is the appeal of this movie. It is so crazy, so absolutely out there, that you just can’t dislike it for the reason that you would normally dislike a movie. It grows the lore of Leatherface and his family, they are given a chance to kill and battle in really epic ways and it delivers with a bonkers level of excitement. Just don’t expect for it to be a well made movie with a clearly defined plot, that’s not what this movie is.

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

This movie came out before the idea of reboots and remakes were a thing, but for all intent and purposes this is a reboot. New Line Cinema bought the rights to the franchise and just kind of went in their own direction with the films retconning things and creating new characters. For all intent and purposes it is still in the same timeline as the first two films, but you can excuse the casual viewer for thinking it is a whole different universe.

The film follows Leatherface and his family stalking a motorist couple in the backroads of Texas. We are introduced to “Tex” in this movie who is just randomly dropped in as a new member of the family while Chop Top is mysteriously left out. The entire Sawyer family feels off in this film, like instead of being grimy and gritty suddenly the movie is being made for general audiences by a Hollywood studio. The whole plot is super convoluted and there is a lot of time given to characterization of folks who should ultimately just be kill fodder.

I’m not going to go over the plot of this film in great detail because it's really not great. There are some good kills, we get to see Leatherface which is always a good time, but overall this is the most lackluster of the entire franchise and every time I watch it I instantly forget large chunks of it. This is a terrific example of studios taking a great idea and homogenizing it until it becomes so average that it has no soul.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)

Well, this film is famous for having Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger in it and also turning Leatherface into a "tortured drag queen” so I’ll say right up front, this is a must see. The movie itself is not great, but everything about it demands it to be viewed. Additionally the co-writer, Kim Henkel, of the original 1974 film came back to direct this film giving it a bit more credibility.

The plot follows four teenagers who encounter Leatherface and his murderous family in backwoods Texas on the night of their prom. The events of the previous two sequel films are addressed in the opening as "two minor, yet apparently related incidents” which still tied all the continuity together. This was the final installment in the original series, with the next entry being the 2003 remake of the original film.

The plot of this one is much simpler than the previous installment. Four teens go to prom, later that night they discover an old farmhouse. While exploring they are attacked by Leatherface. So far so good, classic set up… am I right? We even get some good sledge hammer and meat hook action like the OG. The rest of the film from here gets a bit wacky though leaving it a little more complicated than the original.

We find out that the Sawyer family are employed by a secret society to terrorize people that may cross their path. So yeah, this movie goes in some weird directions and tries to create a rationale as to why the Sawyers do what they do. It gets away from the whole “we just eat people” vibe entirely and it creates a whole new level for the films that I am sure some executive somewhere was hoping to explore.

However they were never given the chance as the idea was stupid and no one liked it. This movie came out in 1997 (after being on the shelf for two years) and it was only 6 years later that we would see Leatherface on screens again. However for some reason it felt like it had been a lifetime since we had really last seen him.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

I am pretty sure the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake is what started the whole remake trend. Sure, Psycho had been remade a few years earlier, but Platinum Dunes came out of nowhere in the early 2000’s and really tore the horror scene apart with their controversial remakes of classic franchises. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was followed by Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

It appeared as if we were on the precipice of a new horror golden age. Yet, somehow the only franchise that made it out of that time period was Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Freddy and Jason and the likes all lost steam after just one outing, but Leatherface has continued to pump out sequels continually since this 2003 resurgence. And rightfully so, because the remake is an amazing movie all on its own while paying classy homage to the original.

The movie is not a shot for shot remake like Psycho was, but it holds true to the spirit of the 1974 original by opening with a van full of teens picking up a weird hitchhiker. Only this time the hitchhiker blows her brains out in the back of their vehicle and they are left with her dead body as they drive around looking for a police officer to report the death. The opening sequences of this movie reveal to you just how gory and brutal it is about to get.

The film also took the opportunity to rename the family from Sawyer and give Leatherface a full name. We learn that his name is Thomas Hewitt in this entry of the franchise. We also get to know all the other members of the family much better as the entire family gets in on the action throughout the flick. The teens are all chased down and tortured and killed slowly but surely until we are left with our traditional final girl again.

This remake takes the general idea of the original and the most iconic characters and moments and recreates them for a modern audience. It is brutal but easier to stomach than the original because of the shiny glossy Hollywood feel it has. Even though it is more Hollywood than the 1974 indie classic, it still has a way of being one of the best entries in the entire franchise. If you have avoided this one because you think remakes stink, think again.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

The 2003 remake did so well that it spawned a prequel! The first prequel in the franchise, but not the only one to date at this point. This film's story takes place four years before its predecessor. Because of its poor reception in 2007, Platinum Dunes announced that the company would not be producing the third film in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot franchise, leaving this segment of the timeline complete after this entry.

We are given a history of Leatherface all the way back to his birth where he was left in a dumpster and found by a woman of the Hewitt family. We also get to see Thomas' early life working at the meat plant and his first murder. Like clockwork a group of teens driving cross country get caught up with the Hewitt family and are slowly but surely killed off. Since the movie is a prequel and we know that Leatherface will definitely live to kill again, they don’t even try to give the impression that he is dead at the end.

Leatherface wins in this movie, period, the end. It is a tale of how he became the crazed lunatic killer that he is. It’s short and brutal and to the point and it doesn’t leave the viewer with much to the imagination. While it was not given a great critical reception, I have no problems with this movie. It accomplished what a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie should accomplish in my opinion, it just didn’t break out of any boundaries while doing it.

Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

In 2013 Lionsgate took over from Platinum Dunes and created a third timeline in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. The first timeline is TCM 1-4, the second timeline is the remake and the prequel to the remake and the third timeline is Texas Chainsaw 3D which acts as a direct sequel to the original 1974 film ignoring all the other sequels. I know, I know you’ve all heard this before because Halloween did it in 2018, but Leatherface did it first!

Following the events of the original film, the town sheriff arrives at the Sawyer house demanding for Leatherface to surrender. The scene turns into a massacre and the entire Sawyer family is seemingly burned to death inside their home except a baby who is saved from the fire. Cut to present day and we meet our modern day kill fodder along with the baby who was saved years earlier.

The now grown baby receives a letter about an inheritance from her grandmother passing away which sends her and her friends on their way to Newt, Texas. They pick up a hitchhiker and go to an old farmhouse and do all the things we expect to happen at the beginning of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. But really, how can a true horror fan ever get sick of seeing Leatherface skin the flesh from a cadaver and use it to create a new flesh mask.

Every couple years it’s just nice to see someone else’s take on a classic tale. The movie wraps up with a chase and fight scene and dramatic reveals about characters we didn’t expect. All the things we would want from a giant epic movie setting itself up for additional entries in a decades old franchise. It was nice to see someone trying to wrap up the lore and the continuity all in one nice package after 3 sporadic sequels and a remake and a prequel to the remake.

Someone came in and said “Stop! Here is the official story, here is what happened after the events of the 1974 classic film” and in my opinion it worked. This movie didn’t blow away the horror scene the same way Halloween (2018) did, but it created the formula that franchises will follow from now on. Remakes are a thing of the past, from now on we will get reboots that acknowledge the original movie but ignore subsequent sequels.

And then we’ll get additional sequels to the reboots that retcon relevant continuity from previous sequels in the franchise. I know how confusing that all sounds, read it again and think about it.

That brings us to the second prequel in the franchise…

Leatherface (2017)

In 2017 Lionsgate came back with a follow up to their 2013 reboot. Leatherface acts as a prequel to the 1974 original classic film intentionally creating a brand new trilogy of movies out of Leatherface, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Texas Chainsaw 3D and subsequently finalizing the third timeline in the franchise since Lionsgate has lost the rights and won’t be adding another film to their ranks.

But before the franchise moved hands creating a soon to be forth timeline, we got a vicious look back at the origins of Leatherface as a child again.

The prequel follows Leatherface in a mentally competent state, enduring trauma that transforms him into the intellectually disabled murderer seen in the previous films. The plot is strong and unique for the franchise. It is a coming of age horror tale about one of the most storied slashers in all of horror history. The final scene is of a young Leatherface donning his first skin mask in front of a mirror as he applies lipstick.

The film then ends with him smashing the mirror at the sight of his reflection. Between Texas Chainsaw 3D and Leatherface I am comfortable saying Lionsgate crafted a strong trilogy of films surrounding the 1974 OG. They didn’t redefine the genre or bring the franchise in any great new direction, but they kept the legend alive and didn’t do the franchise any harm.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

2017 was the last time audiences got a chance to see Leatherface, although it was as a child. At this point it has been nearly 10 years since the last classic entry in the franchise. The last time we really saw adult Leatherface do what he does best was Texas Chainsaw 3D in 2013. Next year we get Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) from Legendary Studios. Legendary intends to create another direct sequel to the 1974 film ignoring all subsequent sequels which will of course create the 4th timeline in this franchise.

A timeline for all Texas Chainsaw Massacre storylines

I’ll be ready to watch it the moment it is released and if CBC will have me, I would be happy to submit a follow up to this article reviewing the 2022 reboot and seeing how it compared to the first 3 timelines created over the past 50 years! Leatherface has had films in every decade since the 70’s. At some point we need to start treating Leatherface like the icon he is. Like the respected universal monsters from earlier in the 20th century, one day people will talk of Leatherface in the same regard they mention Frankenstein and Dracula.

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