Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not only one of the longest-running horror franchises, it’s also one of the most violent. Killers like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers make short work of their victims. An impalement through the chest, a slice of the throat, and then it’s over with. Leatherface and his cannibalistic family don’t follow those same guidelines. They’ll stun you, or set you aside on a giant hook, and they’ll save you for later. Getting turned into barbecue sounds almost funny on paper, but it requires a lot of work. And you’re kept alive for at least a good chunk of it.
Part of what makes Texas Chainsaw Massacre so scary, especially the original, is that the victims are undergoing the same treatment as cattle in a slaughterhouse—which, I think, was likely a very intentional move on Tobe Hooper’s part. They’re being strung up, they’re being cut up, they’re even being brained over a bucket. The imagery is very clear. It’s not subtle and it doesn’t have to be.
Throughout the course of seven movies, we’ve been subjected to some truly disturbing scenes. Some of them have had an undercurrent of dark humor, some of them have simply gone for the raw, visceral gut punch. Both approaches have proven to be memorable.
With Leatherface coming soon from the filmmakers behind Inside, it’s clear that the series will continue its gory, blunt depiction of gore.
The hitchhiker’s suicide – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
The remake took a very different approach to the hitchhiker. She’s not luring them to the house, she’s begging for them to go the other way. But she’s also scared, frightened and almost incoherent. They don’t know what she’s talking about, and she’s been through too much to properly explain what’s just happened to them. So she pulls a gun out from between her legs and shoots herself in the mouth.
We’re treated to an innovative, completely gross shot pulling out through the back of her head and out of the van. Not only is it disgusting, it’s the moment that lets audiences know that they have no idea what to expect from this remake.
Leatherface’s introduction in the original film is one of the most unforgettable, terrifying introductions of any villain in horror history. He opens the door, we get a quick shot tilting up to his face but we never stop, we never linger on the image. He hits Kirk over the head with a sledgehammer and that’s when the scene gets really disturbing and uncomfortable.
There’s nothing clean about this kill. Leatherface hit him over the head, Kirk drops to the ground and immediately starts convulsing. It’s shockingly, disturbingly realistic and mesmerizing for that reason alone.
Ryan’s death – Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
I remember passing this one a lot in the video store and imagining how bad it had to be. This VHS promised one of the most disturbing films ever made. But Leatherface had a rough production and a hell of a time with the MPAA. The result is a movie that’s actually not terribly gruesome when all is said and done.
But if I had to pick one moment to really stand out as the disturbing feather in Leatherface’s cap, it would be Ryan’s death. He’s strung up, they’ve got a contraption rigged to bust his face in. And they give the honor to their youngest member, a sweet & bubbly little girl.
Leatherface sewing the mask into his own face – Texas Chainsaw 3D
For all of the rough stuff in Texas Chainsaw 3D, it’s peppered with little moments like this that make the price of admission worth it. There are a few honestly strong scenes or images that feel like things that had to be in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre film eventually and make you wonder how they went this long without including them. One of those scenes is this little moment of Leatherface putting on his mask. We don’t see his face, that’s not what’s scary. It’s how he puts the mask on—by sewing it into his own cheek.
Chop Top slitting his own throat – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
This one, admittedly, is a personal one for me. As a kid, I’d love to watcher gory horror movies but I couldn’t stand throat slitting. I still have some issues with it from time to time. I couldn’t believe this moment when I first saw it. First, Chop Top stops chasing Stretch to just stand in front of her and slit his own throat. Then, on top of that, he does it two more times.
That grossed the hell out of me when I first saw it, so much that I thought I might actually pass out. But as a scene on its own, I think it shows the complete lack of fear in the character. Chop Top isn’t afraid of dying and there’s nothing you can do to him that he’s not willing to do to himself.
“Even ‘em up!” – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
The prequel to the remake actually boasts a few pretty disturbing scenes. There are some strong kills, like the chainsaw going up through Eric’s stomach. But this moment—one of its better, actual prequel moments—wins out, for me. We meet Monty in the remake as an amputee so when we watch The Beginning, we know he has to lose his legs at some point. It’s the execution of the thing that really makes it stand out.
Monty’s leg is wounded, so Hoyt volunteers Leatherface to amputate. When Leather goes to work on taking off the leg, the chainsaw nicks the other leg. A deep cut, but nothing too terrible. Hoyt gleefully declaring that the legs now need to be “evened up” is kind of chilling, as is watching Leatherface obediently hack the perfectly healthy leg just so Hoyt can prove a point about who’s really the most powerful figure within the household.
Stretch wearing L.G.’s face – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s push for grim humor allows it to be a little more over-the-top and gory than the original. While there was very little bloodshed in that first feature, the sequel boasts buckets of gore. As great as the opening kill is, the most disturbing scene from the film has to be Stretch discovering her radio partner L.G., faceless but still alive. She’s sort of being held captive by Leatherface, who has given her a mask made from the face of none other than L.G. himself. It’s a bizarre, uncomfortable and wholly disturbing reunion scene.
Pam gets hooked – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
I mean, this is the big one. This is iconic. And even though it’s referenced or recreated in every single sequel and remake, it’s still just as disturbing as it’s always been. This is one of the most infamous moments in horror history. We barely have to see anything for this to work as well as it does, and that’s a large part of what makes it so impressive.
The remake showed all the grisly details of being impaled on a hook, the original gives you the close-up of what really matters in order to sell a scene like this: Pam’s face as she’s put on the hook, screaming and writhing in pain. It’s scarier than a straight-up gore shot and remains absolutely haunting even now.