Sorry, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, But Evil Dead Is The Greatest Chainsaw Movie Franchise

Consider the chainsaw.

A piece of motorized machinery that moves sharp, metal teeth along a chain, rapidly cutting its way through just about anything you could reasonably want to cut. To many, the chainsaw is a piece of gardening equipment, perfectly suited to chop down trees. But to horror filmmakers, the chainsaw is a weapon of mass tissue destruction, a gory death-dealing device wielded by maniacs and, occasionally, maniacs heroically fighting those other maniacs

The irony is that horror filmmakers are a little bit closer to the chainsaw's original intention. Invented in the 1780s by doctors John Aitken and James Jeffray, the device was originally intended to saw through human tissue. But in a well-intentioned, medical way. Not in a creepy "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" way.

And yet, by putting "Chainsaw" in the title (or "Chain Saw" if we're being specific), Tobe Hooper's incredible horror classic pretty much claimed chainsaws as part of its identity. The original film concluded with the villainous Leatherface dancing violently in the middle of the highway with his high-powered murder weapon, an image as disturbing as it is oddly beautiful. It could be argued that "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is the ultimate chainsaw movie franchise.

But I sure as hell wouldn't do that. Not while "The Evil Dead" exists.

The saw is family

There have been nine films in the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" series, and while they vary wildly in tone (and quality), you can find a chainsaw in every single one of them. Usually, these devices are wielded by Leatherface, a hulking murderer who wears the human skin of his victims over his own head. These chainsaws are used for horrifying ends. They penetrate and splatter. The demonic Sawyer family may claim, over and over again, that "The Saw is Family," but their concept of family values is nightmarish.

To be fair, scenes like the ending of the original "Texas Chain Saw Massacre," or the outlandish chainsaw duel at between Dennis Hopper and Leatherface at the end of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2," are amongst the most iconic in the horror genre. Even the most recent, largely maligned entry in the series, David Blue Garcia's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2022), found exciting ways to make the murder weapon feel fresh again. Watching victims flee the blades like a reverse shark fin, as it slices through floorboards searching for people to kill, was one hell of a set piece. The liquefaction of a whole party bus is another.

To declare "The Evil Dead" to be the greatest chainsaw movie franchise ever is no slight to the "Texas Chainsaw" series. The "Texas Chainsaw" movies made chainsaws scary.

The saw is fabled

But the "Evil Dead" movies made chainsaws heroic.

With rare exceptions, the "Evil Dead" movies haven't historically made chainsaws a thing to be feared. They are, instead, the hero's most useful tool against the armies of the really-very-evil dead. The only wait for Ash Williams, played by the great Bruce Campbell, to destroy his enemies and free his loved ones from demonic possession is to completely dismember them, and there's no better way to do that than with Ash's trusty chainsaw.

In the "Evil Dead" movies, the chainsaw is a tool of purification. He uses it to cut off a right hand that was very much offending him, after all. And at the end of "Evil Dead 2," we discover that an image of a chosen one in the Middle Ages wielding a sword like Excalibur was, in fact, Ash wielding a chainsaw from the future. A chainsaw which, by the way, he was able to mount on the stump of his right arm like a cyborg, and which magically locks itself in place when a wizard throws it to him in "Army of Darkness."

In the "Evil Dead" movies, chainsaws aren't just bloody accouterments. They are cool. They are heroic. They are close, strangely, to the very reason chainsaws were made in the first place. To tear apart the human body for the sake of healing, not just for the sake of cruelty, or for the sake of clearing thick foliage out of your backyard.

The "Evil Dead" series may not feature the coolest chainsaw scene in movie history — that, my friends, would be the epic chainsaw duel between Gordon Liu and Conan Lee in the 1988 thriller "Tiger On Beat" — but it's the best chainsaw franchise. Hail to the king, baby.