Thursday, October 26, 2017

Texas Chainsaw Week: 'Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III' (1990)

With Tobe Hooper completely out of the picture and New Line Cinema (home of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises) picking up the rights, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III ended up a generic slasher movie, as the studio tried hard to turn Leatherface into the next Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees (hence the prominence of his name in the title). As different as they may have been from each other, the first two TCM movies were each bold, unique visions, but TCM3 is never anything more than a pale copy of other horror movies of the time, and not even good ones at that. (Although it does have a bitchin' theme song by metal band Lȧȧz Rockit.) Mired in controversy at the time over supposed extreme violence that got it slapped with an X rating, it now comes off as tame and rote, going through the motions of what some executives decided were key elements of a horror franchise.

For the third time, the movie opens with a text crawl and somber narration, although it's already rewriting continuity; while TCM2 indicated that none of the perpetrators of the original crime had ever been caught (and that the Sawyer family was considered a sort of urban legend), here the movie claims that one of the Sawyers was tried, convicted and executed in 1981, and that the case was assumed closed. It also says that original Final Girl Sally (whose uncle, played by Dennis Hopper, was out for revenge in TCM2) previously died in 1977 in a "private health care facility" (presumably an insane asylum), although there was no mention of her death in the previous movie. All of this is more or less irrelevant anyway, as the movie introduces an entirely new Sawyer family whose relation to previous characters is unclear, although they do have their own Leatherface (now played by R.A. Mihailoff). Is he the same Leatherface as in the previous two movies? No one involved in making this movie seems to care.

All they care about is lining up a few new hapless victims to be slaughtered by Leatherface and his homicidal family, including three new brothers (one of whom is played by Viggo Mortensen), a kid sister and a wheelchair-bound mother. The cannibalism and meat-processing angle from the first two movies is downplayed in favor of indiscriminate murder, as the Sawyers stalk a road-tripping couple (Kate Hodge and William Butler) and a military-trained survivalist (Ken Foree) through the Texas backwoods. There's a brief nod toward character development with the bickering couple at the beginning, but otherwise the movie is just a grim march toward death for the main characters, along with some hammy acting from the various Sawyers (although Mortensen comes off fairly well).

There's not nearly as much gore or graphic violence as one might expect from the ratings controversy, nor is there the kind of prolonged torture of the finales of the previous two movies. When Hodge's Michelle is held captive by the Sawyers and forced to sit at their twisted family dinner table, it's just an obligatory box to check off, like Freddy invading a previously good dream or Jason popping back up after being seemingly defeated. Those characters developed into iconic horror villains not because of some studio mandate, but because audiences responded to them and filmmakers added creative elements to their depictions. Leatherface is a horror icon, too, but this cynically calculated attempt to make him a household brand name is not the reason why.


Steven Millan said...

I vividly remember when it was released and nearly everyone hated it,but as years have gone by and the likes of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE;THE NEXT GENERATION,TEXAS CHAINSAW,and LEATHERFACE(which[despite the monstrous theatrical success of TEXAS CHAINSAW] was dumped onto Straight-To-VOD/DVD/Blu Ray territory) have proven to be truly inferior entries(to the series) time has been very kind to LEATHERFACE:THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 as it has been to HALLOWEEN 3:SEASON OF THE WITCH and(courtesy of the the Original Director's Cut[which saw a bootleg VHS video releases{and its uncut scenes,including the original ending,released on its DVD's Deleted Scenes section])has proven to be a pretty decent entry(which also introduced the filmgoing world to the talents of Viggo Mortensen{ala the fourth TCM film introducing both future Oscar winners Renne Zellweger and Matthew McCanaunagh}}).

Josh said...

I think time has only made this movie seem more dated and empty, and I think that pretty much every subsequent entry in the series is superior, or at least more interesting to watch. From my perspective only The Beginning is worse. Mortensen is just about the only bright spot here.