Behold, the chainsaw. This impressive piece of equipment is commonly used today for chopping down trees, but it was invented in the late 1700s – in a much smaller form – for use on the human body. It was a surgical implement that grew in size and power until using it on human flesh became catastrophic instead of helpful. But that hasn’t stopped horror filmmakers from showing us all that bloody violence!
Yes, fans of the horror genre know a thing or two about chainsaws. They know that, in a pinch, they work perfectly well as prosthetic hands (note: don’t actually test this at home). And that’s because, as more and more filmmakers began using chainsaws as an implement of horrifying danger, the need to be creative with these tools expanded. Using a chainsaw to kill somebody will always be pretty shocking, but using two chainsaws in sword fight officially elevates a scene to total badassery. (Again, don’t actually test this at home.)
Believe it or not, there are still surprisingly few chainsaw duels in movie history, but god knows I have spent my whole life tracking down the best, and the time has come to share the fruits of my labor. These are the greatest chainsaw duels – that is to say, duels between two or more chainsaws, not just duels in which one participant just happens to have a chainsaw – in the history of the cinema medium. If I’ve left anything out please, please, PLEASE tell me, because I think the world needs more chainsaw duels (so long as, again, you’re not testing the theory out at home).
HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS
Few movies have more accurate titles than HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS, a film that takes place in Hollywood and features many characters who are prostitutes who happen to worship chainsaws, in a cult led by original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE star Gunnar Hansen. It’s not a particularly classy movie but again, I invite you to look at that title and celebrate the truth in advertising.
HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS was directed by the prolific schlockmeister Fred Olen Ray, who has spent his whole career giving audiences what they want in films like ATTACK OF THE 60 FOOT CENTERFOLD and the completely bug nuts POSSESSED BY THE NIGHT, so you know that if he’s making a film about chainsaws he’s not going to be boring about it. Which means that, yes, the film does climax – and climax hard – with a chainsaw duel between iconic scream queens Linnea Quigley and Michelle Bauer.
It’s cheap, it’s trashy, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Fred Olen Ray joint. It may only be the fifth best chainsaw duel in movie history, but it’ll still give you a buzz.
Nine years after he directed the ethereal and hard-to-explain PHANTASM, cult filmmaker Don Coscarelli finally returned with PHANTASM II, a film which was even more badass but equally hard-to-explain. The saga of a kid who confronts an otherworldly undertaker with an army of killer dwarves and floating orbs of brain-drilling death, set against a backdrop where the rules of our reality no longer apply, was still nightmarish but the emphasis shifted to taking arms against the bad guys instead of fleeing in terror and hoping for the best.
Which makes sense: in the years between the first two PHANTASM movies, the “splatstick” horror genre had officially blossomed thanks to auteurs like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. The influence definitely shows. PHANTASM II featured makeshift weapons like a double shotgun and a homemade flamethrower, and eventually it culminated in a series of kickass, ultraviolent confrontations, like the chainsaw duel between Reggie Bannister and one of the Tall Man’s gas-masked minions, which features a gag where one of the fighters narrowly avoids taking a chainsaw to the groin, and another gag where one of the fighters… well, they don’t avoid taking a chainsaw to the groin at all now, do they?
This fight is wince-inducing and totally amazing, and somehow it’s still only the fourth best chainsaw duel in movie history.
If you ever pass by the world’s famous “Motel Hello” (mind that neon sign, the letter “o” tends to short out a bit), stop on by! Farmer Vincent makes the best damned fritters in the county, maybe even the whole state, maybe even the world, and if you’re a little unclear on what a “fritter” is don’t worry about it. You don’t want to know.
But, since you asked, it’s people. That’s the premise of this classic horror comedy from Kevin Connor (THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS), a film which culminates in a meat processing processing plant where a heroic local sheriff has to rescue the heroine from Farmer Vincent, who attacks with a chainsaw while wearing a giant pig’s head as a mask. (Never mind why, the movie certainly doesn’t.)
Well, there’s nothing else for our hero to do, is there? He picks up a chainsaw of his own and they start battling over the body of a young woman as she’s pulled steadily by a conveyor belt into a deadly buzz saw. High stakes, the unexpected appearance of a creepy mask and some killer gore make this chainsaw duel from MOTEL HELL the third best in movie history.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2
Another long-gestating horror sequel that careened at top speed directly into crazy town, Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 abandoned the semi-plausibility of the original horror classic in favor of an over the top aesthetic. The story of a badass radio DJ who runs afoul of the cannibal Sawyer family from the original film, beginning a descent into (maybe) literal Hell, and while her story is the crux of the movie – and absolutely riveting – it doesn’t give us the second greatest chainsaw duel in movie history.
For that, we have to turn our eyes towards Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright, played by Dennis Hopper, who has been on the hunt for Leatherface and the rest of the Sawyers for 13 years. Lefty has gone a bit demented as his search wore on, and decides that the best way to fight chainsaws is with more chainsaws, and brings several to the film’s big climax so he can duel with Leatherface on the villain’s own terms, on the villain’s own turf.
Just to clarify: this is Academy Award-nominee Dennis Hopper, dueling with Leatherface, and they’re both using chainsaws. It’s a hallucinogenic experience in principle, let alone in glorious practice. Tobe Hooper films the hell out of every single part of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 and the fight is no exception. It’s a must-see, but even this chainsaw duel isn’t nearly as amazing as the one in…
TIGER ON BEAT
It’s not a horror movie, but stick with me on this, because TIGER ON BEAT has one of the most stunning action climaxes in movie history. Which is rather unexpected, since the film itself is a pretty forgettable buddy cop thriller about a kung fu detective, played by Conan Lee (LETHAL WEAPON 4), and a “gun fu” detective played by Chow Yun-fat (THE KILLER). They’re mismatched but they take on the bad guys anyway, in a plot that’s not very interesting and honestly sometimes pretty uncomfortable in its attitudes towards women.
Frankly, I don’t recommend watching all of TIGER ON BEAT, but I do recommend skipping straight to the film’s bravura finale, in which Chow Yun-fat fights bad guys by turning his shotgun into a yo-yo – which is as cool as it sounds – and Conan Lee fights the great Gordon Liu (KILL BILL) in a knockdown, dragged out chainsaw duel to end all chainsaw duels. They swing these suckers around like whips, for crying out loud, and use the chainsaws to completely wreck their surrounds and change the playing field. It’s so irresponsible it’s legitimately nerve-racking, and I think you’ll agree that it’s not just one of the best chainsaw duels in movie history… it’s one of the best fights in movie history, period.