As far as horror franchises go, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a pretty damn interesting one, comprised of installments that each tell very different stories about the Ed Gein-inspired lead villain, and his whacky clan.
As a result, the depiction of the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface varies greatly from film to film, with both his look and personality changing and evolving throughout the seven installments – which include a four film original franchise, a two film reboot franchise and of course, a recent sequel that brazenly returned the series to its roots.
Which depictions of the character are the best, and which are the worst? The answers to those questions vary from fan to fan, but this is my personal ranking of one of the most hulking brutes to ever slice up the silver screen; from frightening best to downright embarrassing worst.
You're free to agree or disagree, and we encourage you to voice your opinion in the comments section below!
Ranking Horror Icons - Leatherface
As is the case with most of the big horror icons, it's almost impossible to start a list such as this off at any point other than the very beginning. When it comes to Leatherface, the beginning was of course in Tobe Hooper's original 1974 classic, which is still to this day the most utterly terrifying depiction of the character. Horror villains are always a whole lot scarier when you don't know all that much about them and in the original
Texas Chainsaw Massacre we know very little about Leatherface, portrayed by Gunnar Hansen as being an animalistic brute who's good at one thing and one thing only; brutally slaughtering anything with meat on its bones. Leatherface's original incarnation is not just the best depiction of the character but it's also perhaps the best depiction of a horror villain that we've ever seen.
It's only natural that most remakes get a whole lot of flak from the community, and Marcus Nispel's 2003 version of
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is no exception. Personally, I feel it's one of the very best horror remakes of all time, effectively washing the taste of Next Generation out of our collective mouth and once again making Leatherface genuinely scary. Texas Chainsaw 2003 is the closest the franchise has come to matching the terror of Hooper’s original, with Andrew Bryniarski's intimidating performance and a nightmarish redesign of Leatherface's iconic human skin mask reminding us why we were so terrified of the character in the first place. Leatherface is a truly vicious monster in the Chainsaw remake, and I feel that a terrific job was done in upgrading the character for modern times.
I've always felt that the 1990 sequel
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 is the unsung gem of the franchise, and a truly underrated horror sequel. Disregarding the events of Hooper’s follow-up, the third installment makes an admirable attempt at making Leatherface scary again, with the filmmakers seemingly intent on turning him into a bonafide slasher icon. No longer the whipping boy of the family that he was decades prior, Leatherface in Part 3 has developed a mind of his own and takes no shit from anybody, making this his most badass outing of all. With long hair, an ornate chainsaw and a gnarly mask that reflects his more mean-spirited personality, the 1990 version of Leatherface comes off like a total rock star, and R.A. Mihailoff's depiction of him is to date one of my favorites.
Not only did the tone undergo a big time change from
Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part 2 but so too did Leatherface (aka Bubba) himself, who became a whole lot hornier in the decade since we had last seen him. In Part 2, Bill Johnson's suitably over the top performance feels like an extension of Leatherface's final moments in the original film, where he was 'dancing' around with the Chainsaw, and the goofy portrayal imbues the character with a vibe that's not all that scary, but it damn sure is fun. I particularly like Leatherface's mask in this installment, created by Tom Savini and his crew, which looks to be patched together from parts of various different faces. An entertaining depiction of the character all around, which shows us how the big guy acts when he's smitten with a potential victim.
I typically get a lot of crap for not hating
Texas Chainsaw 3D, like most fans did, but I nevertheless stick by my opinion that it's a pretty cool little movie, and one that should at the very least be respected for returning to the continuity of the original film. Though I totally understand why many felt the attempt to humanize Leatherface and make him sympathetic was corny - it was, in many ways - there's no denying that the portrayal of the character was very true to the original film. I'm not going to say Leatherface's mask in this one is my favorite of the bunch - though I did like the aspect of it being literally sewn into his face - or that Dan Yeager was overly intimidating in the role, but I very much appreciate the way that the character feels like a decades-later version of the one we first met in 1974. Again, you have to at least respect that.
Taking the remake's attempt of adding a backstory to Leatherface one big ole step further, the 2006 prequel - subtitled
The Beginning - showcased the early years of the horror icon, even going so far as to show us his bloody birth. Essentially, The Beginning sets out to answer questions from the remake that none of us were really pondering, and like most horror villain origin stories, it's a fairly pointless and unnecessary film. Like I said earlier, the less we know about a villain, the scarier he is, and The Beginning suffers from showing us more than we needed to see. Regardless, Bryniarski's performance is once again menacing and effective, and I'm glad they brought him back to reprise the role - making him the first and only actor to play Leatherface in more than one film. Ultimately though, R. Lee Ermey's Sheriff Hoyt is the star of the show here, despite the fact that this is Leatherface's origin tale.
I think it's safe to say that my choice to cap off the list with the Leatherface from 1994's
The Next Generation is as expected as my choice to kick it off with the original film, as those are really the only logical book-ends for a list such as this. Original Texas Chainsaw Massacre co-writer Kim Henkel was the man behind the franchise's most maligned sequel, writing and directing a whacky story that played up Leatherface's cross-dressing ways. Not surprisingly, such a bizarre twist on the series ended up being a bad idea. After all, who the hell wants to see a whiny Leatherface rocking a horrible mullet and wearing women's clothing? The fourth installment is notable for Matthew McConaughey's performance and for possessing its own set of oddball charms, but it's best to forget about its whacky portrayal of Leatherface (played by the late Robert Jacks).