Keynote Lecture: Massacring Texas Chain Saw: The American Horror Franchise as a Study in Seriality

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From Tobe Hooper’s seminal The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) to Leatherface (Maury & Bustillo, 2017), Chainsaw has become the quintessential modern American horror franchise, and its instalments coincide with significant developments in the genre’s evolution over almost fifty years. Hooper’s film epitomised Robin Wood’s ‘golden age’ of politically engaged horror in the 1970s, before a sequel was released—followed by two further films—more than a decade later at the height of the trend for retroactive serialisation. A commercially successful adaptation (Nispel, 2003) initiated the post-millennium remake boom, and, along with a prequel (Liebesman, 2006) provided a figurehead feature for the much maligned, remake-led production company Platinum Dunes. Texas Chainsaw 3D (Luessenhop, 2013) and prequel Leatherface attempt to rectify the narrative transgressions of the sequels and remake, returning the series to its roots to form a trilogy with Hooper’s original. Chainsaw provides an ideal case study for serious examination of the remake and reboot trend in the 2000s and 2010s. Its strategic production and promotion relied on the popularity of the original series among horror fans, and its notoriety and brand value among unfamiliar audiences. Rather than simply overwriting or erasing the significance of the original, the remake appealed directly to fans and wider audiences through a careful process of recalling franchise mythology and resurrecting an iconic antagonist. Thematically, it has been claimed (as with other remakes of 1970s horror) as both a meaningless copy which disposes of any allegorical commentary, or otherwise aligned with a cycle of new American horror suggested to reflect post-9/11 America in an equivalent way to the 1970s films. Closer analysis of the Chainsaw franchise, however, highlights a number of problems with crediting any definitive political sentiment to the films of either era, not least that these interpretations are retrospectively imposed, and assume that audiences only engage with the films on account of some deep, socio-cultural resonance. This paper will use the Chainsaw films to explore some of the issues which arise in studying remaking as a significant trend in contemporary horror cinema, and will examine the tensions between our desire to retell (and rewatch) familiar stories in new ways while demanding new versions respect old classics.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2018
EventFear2000: Horror Media Now - Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Apr 20187 Apr 2018


ConferenceFear2000: Horror Media Now
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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