The True ABCs of Death: C is for Chainsaw




Suggested Audio Candy


[1] Wayne Bell & Tobe Hooper “Soundtrack Suite”

[2] Tino Casal “Eloise”



The True ABCs of Death series trundles on and, three letters in, as tempted as I am to proclaim that C is for Cookie, I just don’t feel that it has the mileage to explore in any depth. Therefore it is the turn of an extraordinary piece of machinery; a tool which Leatherface struggled desperately to keep under control and Ash demonstrated his MacGyver skills by wearing like a wristwatch. The chainsaw is one of the most ill-mannered weapons in the tool shed and, while other tools can be rather delightful at limb subtraction, nothing gets the job done like dozens or razor-sharp teeth all whirring in unison. To tell its story effectively we will be required to travel back to 1972 and, in particular, the best little slaughterhouse in Texas.

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In the early seventies, taking a wrong turn was nothing to fret over. That is until a group of fun-seekers in a battered up camper van paid the ultimate price for veering off the beaten track. At first it appeared they had hit pay dirt; the idyllic locale offered the perfect abode for them to engage in unprotected sex and smoke a little harmless pot together. How misguided they were. Despite the fact that the place had its own bird sanctuary, this haven was far from safe as they found out in no uncertain terms. They attempted to flee from the terror, all but whiny Franklin who discovered you can’t out-wheel a chainsaw wielding maniac with the brakes on, and all but one became slaughterhouse surplus as Leatherface unleashed his beast.

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Back then, Tobe Hooper could never have gotten away with showing the carnage created by this toothed tool of DIY death and most of the horror transpired behind that ominous sliding door. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was actually relatively bloodless but still few films have made me feel so sick to the pit of my stomach. One scene, in particular, left me utterly breathless and it did so without resorting to grue. Having discovered that her friends have fallen foul to good old-fashioned Texan hospitality and, after watching her wheelchair-bound brother slaughtered in his chariot, Sally Hardesty took a leaf out of Forrest Gump’s book and set off on an exhausting expedition through the foliage with Leatherface in close tow. To this very day, precious few scenes chill the blood in my ventricles quite so effortlessly and it left its grimy mark on my young psyche forevermore.

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In the same year, John Collingwood also put his mechanical monster to good use. Wes Craven’s The Last House on The Left was a mean-spirited affair and Collingwood’s hospitality was taken to its extreme as he discovered his house guests were responsible for the death of his beloved daughter Mari. Krug had it coming and daddy dearest possessed more than a hint of the unhinged as he revved up for the final showdown. Presumably he had misplaced a few of his marbles on account of the godawful banjo lick that recurred each time the bumbling cops were frittering screen space. Like Hooper’s enigma, this chose to hint at the atrocities as opposed to spelling them out but that just made it all the more internalized and potent.


Meanwhile, as the Texas series strode forth defiantly, more and more of the jagged edge of Leatherface’s play thing was revealed but this was largely to its detriment. Since Marcus Nispel’s relatively uninspired but enjoyable 2003 reimagining the chainsaw has been provided with a new lease of life and is now afforded free artistic freedom to slice and dice without cut-away. The subsequent films left little to the imagination, with only Jonathan Liebesman’s 2006 prequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning doing it anything near justice, inheriting much of the original’s raw appeal. When it was called upon it was introduced to maximum bone-sawing effect, with a brutal leg dismemberment that made the desired impact.


By the time John Luessenhop’s Texas Chainsaw 3D hit the cinemas it was business as usual, opting for extreme splatter over anything resembling substance. Here, we were treated to a full-on motorized banquet as one of the hapless quarries was cut raggedly in half by the whirring blades in full view of the audience. However, this was far less foreboding a proposition than the ominous audio garnish to Sally Hardesty’s cross country marathon forty years previous. As misguided and sickeningly glossy as this 2013 misfire was, it still didn’t fathom the lows of Kim Wenkel’s risible Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation in which a cross-dressing Leatherface was robbed of any remaining foreboding entirely. The chainsaw has had its fair share of exposure over the past four decades but for Keeper it’s what we didn’t see occurring behind that sliding door that will always remain most mortifying.


Around the time I was being totally underwhelmed by Texas Chainsaw 3D, Fede Alvarez decided to step into Sam Raimi’s loafers and reenact Evil Dead. This he achieved with startling accuracy; his film got pretty much it’s full quiver straight in the bullseye and, in particular, it gifted us a moment of true chainsaw superiority. It left precious little to the imagination but, in keeping with the rest of the carnage, that suited it down to the ground. Our damsel became caked in cruor as she used every last drop of gas in her tank against those dastardly Deadites in a conclusion which threw everything at the barn door in some style.


The tracks had already been laid at that point as Raimi’s Evil Dead II provided downtrodden hero Ash with a makeshift right hand after he was forced to remove it from its bloody stump. A few of the eggs had evidently departed the basket and Ash portrayed such a wonderful mesh of insanity and clarity through each muscle within his gloriously elongated face. With his piano playing days now in severe doubt, he attached said chainsaw to his wrist and used it to wade through the pesky Deadites as though they were butter. In 1988’s Army of Darkness, Raimi took full advantage of the lighter tone to afford him the chance of going positively medieval with it and it supplied devastatingly effective side garnish to his boomstick.

The chainsaw also made an appearance in Buddy Cooper’s cheap 1985 nasty, The Mutilator. The most memorable thing about Cooper’s film was the tag line: “By Pick… By Axe… By Chainsaw… BYE BYE”. In truth it was kinda fun as long as you could overlook the appalling acting and the splatter made up for any lack of substance. The chainsaw in question was used against one poor douche as he investigated a nearby barn door flapping dubiously in the wind. Will they ever learn?

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Michelle Soavi’s superior 1987 slasher Stagefright decided to keep it under wraps initially as we were never actually made privy to the carnage down in that darkened drop box at the midway point. We watched it jump-start and heard it purr but, in a rare moment of stinginess, Soavi decided to follow Hooper’s lead and leave it to the addressees’ imagination. Later, the obnoxious Peter was put to task in a far more munificent manner, first suffering the indignity of having his right arm subtracted, before losing his head for the ultimate final curtain. However, frustratingly the chainsaw in question ran out of gas at the pivotal moment.


Jason Voorhees didn’t have much need for a chainsaw (or rather there wasn’t a gas station for several miles), and instead preferred to use his trademark machete to hack up the casualties and as for Michael Myers, let’s just say it’s far too chaotic an approach for his refined tastes. Fred Krueger hankered after using one, but he was too puny to lift it off the ground and would likely have come a cropper trying to grasp it with his scissored death mitten. However, Derek managed to outrun the men in white coats just long enough to drop in on Emperor Crumb in Peter Jackson’s mad-as-a-hatter 1987 low-rent gruefest Bad Taste and he certainly had the hang of it. The hinges were already way off the wagon as he fastened a belt around his exposed cerebrum and was “born again”. Granted, it did appear that he was dissecting Mr. Blobby but, considering this film was made on the money it would cost to bag a hand-job from a crack whore, it remained mightily impressive.


There is no feasible way to even refer to this weapon without discussing eighties scream goddess, Linnea Quigley. She practically slept with her chainsaw and her morning stretches were performed whilst clutching one. Her Horror Workout in 1990 was a considerable success and far more beneficial than any “inspirational” contemporary fitness videos in circulation. She’d clearly gained a taste for it after headlining Fred Olen Ray’s tongue-in-cheek Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers in 1988 and causing males worldwide to feed their fleshy monsters.


William Friedkin’s forgotten flop The Guardian was universally blasted and was admittedly more ludicrous than an amputee on a pogo stick but as far as Keeper is concerned it had a certain absurd charm which served it well. The recipient here was actually a tree, a tree that bleeds no less, and it glugged forth the grue with gay abandon as it felt its beleaguered tormentee’s retribution. It’s no surprise that trees eventually had their ‘venge. This film is well worth seeking out for 98 minutes of irreverence and, despite its numerous flaws, was never once less than entertaining.


Zack Snyder’s stellar Dawn of the Dead reboot featured a superb chainsaw mishap as Monica received the full brunt of the getaway van hitting that speed-bump. It entered horizontally through her shoulder-blade and continued its course until it nestled somewhere in her sternum. Poor bitch; she had managed to evade the posse of sprinting flesh-crawlers but ironically met her face via a man-made tool.


Adam Green’s Hatchet II holds the record for the most ridiculously lengthy blades as Victor Crowley brandished a preposterously proportioned forest depleter. If Leatherface had issues with juggling his hot potato at the roadside while Sally Hardesty hitched a ride with Sherman Klump, then this was a blazing meteor in comparison. His victims never even saw him coming as he negotiated the shrubbery with precision, sliding it into not one but two huntsmen right around Johnson territory and proceeding to slide it northbound. Utterly ludicrous, and plainly a hoot to boot, this left nothing whatsoever to the imagination.


The chainsaw wasn’t exclusive to the horror film either as attested by Brain Palma’s Scarface and a scene which was every bit as horrifying as anything in Hooper’s grim classic and similarly restrained. A simple drug deal turned awry and Montana was forced to watch on as his buddy Angel was shackled to a shower rail and received a chainsaw to the side of his grill for his insolence, in broad daylight no less. De Palma offered us full creative control as he left the entire scene to our imagination and this proved to be a winning tactic as the sheer intensity of the slaughter ensured it left its stain.


Speaking of stains, not wishing to blemish his Armani suit, Patrick Bateman decided to wield a chainsaw naked in Mary Harron’s American Psycho. Where most would enjoy a fine Colombian post-coitus, he plumped for a Jack Torrence-like jaunt down the halls as he pursued his fleeing quarry. I would be a tad concerned for the old fella dangling mere inches away those vicious teeth as one wrong move and you’ve got yourself three nuts in the sack. However, Bateman controlled his weapon with aplomb and even found time to drop it three flights down a stairwell where it applied finishing touches to his deep red masterpiece for one helluva fist bump. To this very day, none have achieved such sniper-like precision with their instrument as our favorite bachelor.


A quick mention must go to Alex Chandon for outlandish title alone although his 1988 short Chainsaw Scumfuck is little more than a somewhat crude curate’s piece. In addition, Shinji Mikami and Hiroyuki Kobayashi’s Resident Evil 4 led the charge for video game carnage as a chainsaw-wielding madman in a burlap sack was allowed to go free range, leading to one of the most sickening game over screens ever to grace the home console. Epic Games later repeated the feat with Gears of War although it applied sci-fi logic when pairing the blades with the formidable Hammerburst Assault Rifle. Enter all manner of wonderful chainsaw duels as players fought for every last square inch of deathmatch turf.


Paco Plaza’s [REC] 3: Génesis earns itself bookend status as it managed to take the entire cart off its tracks. Newlywed Clara had endured perhaps the most chaotic wedding nuptials in cinematic history by the time she tugged the starter rope and, when she did, Plaza’s wonderfully entertaining deviation kicked into full throttle. Leatherface would have no doubt been proud although, if The Next Generation was anything to go by, he would likely have had his eyes on her thigh garter to tie his outfit together.

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Fuck you Cookie Monster. C most certainly isn’t for Cookie and neither will O be for Oreo. The chainsaw is where it’s at and I would suggest you take up any grievances with Ash or, better yet, Leatherface if you can tear him away from America’s Next Top Model. No weapon can strike fear into our hearts quite so effortlessly and we owe it all to Sally Hardesty for her 1500 m woodland hurdles. Long live the chainsaw or at least until the fuel tank is depleted.




Click here to read D is for Disembowel


Chain Gang




Welcome to the obligatory gallery and here I intend to continue revving the monster, including numerous pictorials in homage to the ultimate widow maker. I often wonder how many more massacres will play out in Texas and next time perhaps it would be wise to leave the lip gloss behind Leatherface. I’m all about expression and it’s great to see you using your initiative and the God-given tools you were provided through inbreeding. However, I would advise leaving the heels to Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and getting back to your bread and butter.


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