The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a slasher film franchise that began in 1974. To this day, the original film is a hallmark of the genre, largely based in the fact that it's actually good.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre serves one purpose and one purpose only: to scare anyone and everyone away from the Deep South. Gone are the archetypical notions of the "Good Ol' Boys" and noble Texas Rangers, replaced instead by freakish mental images of improvised slaughterhouses and inappropriate uses of meat hooks. The first film did for the Great State of Texas what Deliverance did for the Appalachians, though it is arguably less horrific as you aren't treated to the sight of a shirtless Ned Beatty.
A helpful comparison.
Though a pioneer of the slasher genre, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre does not fall pray to most the standard cliches of its bloody brothers; we are introduced to a band of decent young people, none of whom are smoking ganja or sexing it up with each other. One of them is even a neglected, wheelchair-bound invalid. Of course, he dies. There's not a lot of gore, either, which is, one should say, fucking surprising for a film titled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hell, only one character is actually killed with the aid of said chainsaw.
However, as TCM is a slasher film, it has a legal obligation to fall prey to one (1) of the many slasher platitudes, and so our characters lack any Darwinian sense and venture off one-by-one into the Texas backwoods, looking for gas to trade for but discovering only the most fucked-up household since that of the Marquis de Sade. And within? A very likely retarded butcher with a fetish for handmade leather and sliding doors.
Needless to say, things do not turn out well. In fact, if we were to define "things," we would get "two deaths by blunt force trauma, one by meat hook, and one by chainsaw." That's right, folks: in a movie titled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, only one person gets whacked by a chainsaw. Of course, back in the 70s you could get away with calling a movie anything regardless of its content. Scarecrow, for example, contains a startling lack of scarecrows.
Like any slasher film that falls into the subjective realm of "good" (Halloween, The Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had a parade of sequels, each one naturally worse than the last--though, weirdly enough, worse in their own ways.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: though directed by Tobe Hooper, who co-wrote and helmed the original film, TCM2 couldn't be any more different from its predecessor. The original Texas Chainsaw made its mark through masterfully-crafted tension, gritty cinematography, believable performances, disturbing imagery and implied rather than explicit violence. It was, in a way, an arthouse horror flick.
Hooper, being at least moderately intelligent, realized he couldn't replicate or even play off the key elements of the first film without violating his artistic integrity. Thus, like James Cameron with Aliens, he opted to take the sequel in a different direction. But where Jimmy Cameron packed his goods into a souped-up mac truck and drove it down a cinematic four-lane highway, Mr. Hooper consumed what could only be described as "high-grade hashish" and took his rustbucket jalopy over the nearest cliff--and he did it with the help of arguably the most insane actor to ever grace the Silver Screen.
Like it could have been anybody else.
Hooper's original had a truly terrifying chase sequence, using tight angles to emphasize proximity between the pursuer and the pursued to amp up the level of intensity; as well, there was the single most deranged dinner scene in the history of cinema--even by today's standards (we're guessing that Saw VI: My Dinner with Jigsaw will be a let-down). His sequel had a chainsaw fight. A fight... with chainsaws... it's a fucking chainsaw fight, people.
Like this, but with Dennis Hopper and substantially less awesome.
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III: With this film begins the two-movie trend of casting serial killers with actors who by no means could ever fit the bill--thus pre-Lord of the Rings Viggo Mortensen seems ridiciously out of place amongst Leatherface's messed-up family, largely because he is. Most people bought The Vigg as a reluctant king-to-be (The Lord of the Rings), as a Russian mobster (Eastern Promises), or as a man with a violent history (like I'm offering this one up). But as a crazed, cannibalistic hick?
To Leatherface's credit, it was more in line with the tone of the original film, and had the added benefit of featuring Ken "Remember-when-I-starred-in-Dawn-of-the-Dead?" Foree. But truth be told, one could hurl any comment (or criticism) at this film and it'd still be redundant, because for all intents and purposes the third film at its worse is still miles better than...
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation: Jesus Hell, where to begin?
Well, there's a start.
Next Generation was, technically and somewhat officially a sequel, but it essentially tried to emulate the first film--the definition of "emulate" meaning "rip off and somehow fail horribly in the process."
One could attempt to describe the true, unintentional horror that is this film, but Cracked apparently has a policy against subjecting its readers to scarring psychological horror without waivers signed in triplicate and observed by a notary public. Keep in mind that the writer could only compose this section by watching Next Generation's trailer in place of the film proper, and even then only after downing an entire bottle of Jameson.
Dampening the blow c. 1780.
In 2003, Mr. Bane of Movie Quality himself Michael Bay opted to produce a New Line Cinema remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and though first time film director Marcus Nispel was hired to helm the flick it otherwise abandoned most of the indie sensibilities of the original, namely by bringing Jessica "7th Heaven" Biel on board, as well as R. Lee Ermey of Full Metal Jacket Fame.
While the film looked to be a total clusterfuck ahead of time, in truth it's pretty damned decent, though it has not as of yet reached the cult acclaim of its forebearer. What can we chalk its success up t?: Is it the decision not to produce the film in the "torture porn" fashion of its Saw brethren? a motley crew of character actors as the cannibalistic Hewitt family? Aside from it's okay quality, what could poss--
Oh. Well. There you go.