A Brief History of the 'Texas Chainsaw' Franchise

A Brief History of the 'Texas Chainsaw' Franchise

Jan 03, 2013

The first major new movie of 2013 is Texas Chainsaw 3D, which, according to various rumors, could be either a direct remake of, or a direct sequel to, the 1974 original. What we do know is that it is the seventh official entry in this long-running franchise. But this is no mere slasher series just like any other. It's unique, and in some ways, prestigious. A look back reveals that these movies have a rich and varied history with many key players.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Director Tobe Hooper exploded onto the scene with this original, a massive hit on the drive-in circuit and a huge influence on popular culture. On the flip side, it was banned in some countries and received angry responses from many squeamish viewers and critics. Like Hitchcock's Psycho, it was based loosely on the real-life killer Ed Gein, though Hooper included some of Gein's more gruesome behavior, like making masks of human skin. Hooper shot with a documentary-like grittiness, though still took time for a certain tone and insidiously effective compositions.

Notable Personnel: Marilyn Burns, one of the greatest screamers ever committed to celluloid, who, unfortunately, didn't have much of a career after this; Gunnar Hansen, who played "Leatherface" and went onto a couple of dozen more horror films; John Larroquette, who narrates, and went on to fame on TV's "Night Court."

Memorable Moments: The steel door slamming, Marilyn Burns' screams mixed with the roaring of the chainsaw.

Quotes: "If I have any more fun today, I don't think I can take it!"


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

After 12 years, no one bothered with a sequel until 1986, when Hooper signed a three-picture deal with Cannon Films that resulted in Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and this. It's a bit more comical than the original, but not bad. Dennis Hopper stars as a Texas Ranger, and a relative of some of the original victims, who is now on the trail of the killers.

Notable Personnel: Dennis Hopper, who was also in Blue Velvet and Hoosiers the same year (and received an Oscar nomination for the latter); L.M. Kit Carson, the screenwriter who also wrote Paris, Texas.

Memorable Moments: The entire sequence in the weird underground lair, decorated with spider webs, bones and Christmas lights; Leatherface's disturbing, wiggly little dance just before he strikes.

Quotes: "I've got a real good eye for prime meat. Runs in the family."


Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

By 1990, Leatherface had become enough of an iconic figure that he could be the name above the title. Unfortunately, Hooper was gone and director Jeff Burr (Stepfather II) had little to offer the series. It more or less retells the first movie, with a carload of innocents wandering into the killers' den. According to rumors, the movie was drastically cut to earn an "R" rating, and perhaps reshot by others; the result is fairly gutless.

Notable Personnel: Viggo Mortensen as "Tex;" Ken Foree, who had been in the original Dawn of the Dead, as a survivalist.

Memorable Moments: The trailer, which does a pretty good twist on Excalibur.

Quotes: "So? How do you like Texas?"


Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)

The cowriter of the original film, Kim Henkel, made his directorial debut and ended his directorial career at the same time with this film. Henkel claimed it was the first "official" sequel to the original, though, once again, it's more of a remake. It's notable for two up-and-coming stars, Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, who, according to rumor, tried to suppress the film's release. Marilyn Burns has a "surprise" cameo at the end.

Notable Personnel: Zellweger and McConaughey.

Memorable Moments: McConaughey's amazing overacting; Zellweger's bizarre prom dress.

Quotes: "Family values have gone straight to hell."


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Alas, gone was the era of endless cheap sequels and thus began the era of endless, more expensive remakes. This first official remake was directed by music video maker Marcus Nispel, who routinely makes the worst movie of the year in whatever year he releases a movie. It lacks everything that made the original great, concentrating more on mindless gore than on mood, characters, or terror. Yet it has many fans, and is probably the second most-loved of all the films in the series.

Notable Personnel: Jessica Biel, R. Lee Ermey

Memorable Moments: Jessica Biel in a tiny little, midriff-revealing white tank top (which grows steadily grimier as the film goes on).

Quotes: "I don't know about you guys, but I happen to like my teeth right where they are."


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

Now we have a prequel to the remake, which more or less tells the origin story of Leatherface. And, as we now know, learning the origins of our slashers usually just makes them far less mysterious and, subsequently, far less interesting. Jonathan Liebesman directed and Michael Bay produced, and it was the most expensive entry in the series by far. However, both Hooper and Henkel signed on as producers, and hopefully they earned a nice paycheck for doing so.

Notable Personnel: Jordana Brewster, the return of R. Lee Ermey, and model Diora Baird

Memorable Moments: Jordana hiding from Leatherface in a tank of pigs' blood. Yuk.

Quotes: "I like your new face."


Other Media

In addition to movies, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has inspired comic books, a movie companion book, CD soundtracks, T-shirts, Halloween costumes, action figures, and even a 1982 video game for the Atari 2600, which is now a huge collector's item. If Texas Chainsaw 3D is a hit, there could be even more stuff on the way. Depending on your point of view, this could be very cool... or very scary.

Categories: Features, Horror, In Theaters
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