Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

By the end of the 1980s Freddy Krueger had become a sad parody of what he had once been.  The son of a nun raped by a thousand maniacs who murdered children, got off on a technicality and died at the hands of vigilantes, only to come back and kill his killers' children in their dreams had becomes little more than a cartoon.  Slashers had gone about the same way with the more "anything goes" horror films like The Lost Boys gaining in popularity.  

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was well known, even if it wasn't too easy to find it at video stores due to rights issues.  The second movie had stirred up some controversy when it was released unrated to theaters and had a bit of that gonzo attitude of the time.  New World, looking for a new property to exploit, was able to buy the rights to the franchise and hoped to turn Leatherface into the next Jason.  Problem is they really didn't think things through.

Michelle (Kate Hodge) and her boyfriend Ryan (William Butler) are traveling from California to Florida where she is beginning a new job.  Amid reports of mass graves found in the area the couple stop at an isolated gas station run by a strange attendant named Alfredo (Tom Everett) who makes inappropriate advances toward Michelle.  She is rescued by a stranger named Tex (Viggo Mortensen), but things escalate and the couple decide it's best to get out of there.

Back on the road - a road suggested by Tex - they find themselves pursued by a truck and run off the road.  While changing their tire Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff) shows up and attacks them.  They escape, but soon go off the road again in an effort to avoid a bloodied Tex, meanwhile hitting a Jeep driven by survivalist Benny (Ken Foree).  At first Benny doesn't believe them but then he meets Tinker (Joe Unger), the driver of the truck, and Leatherface.  Michelle briefly escapes but, unfortunately, ends up finding the Sawyer family home, where she finds out that she and Ryan are on that night's menu. 

I am not going to lay a lot of the blame with director Jeff Burr.  In fact, he does a good job filming what he can of Kim Henkel's script, and it is serviceable.  The most egregious part of the movie was re-shot without his knowledge and even came as a surprise to him when he saw it in the theater.  That this movie got a theatrical release was one of the few surprises it had coming because I only remember that at some point it popped up in video stores and had poor word-of-mouth.  Thus, I ignored it. 

There was some effort put into returning the series to its more serious roots rather than the comic book tones of Tobe Hooper's second movie.  However, the fact a trailer was shot before the movie ever had a director (with Kane Hodder, who was stunt coordinator for the film, playing Leatherface) and Burr was told he was under no circumstances to speak with Hooper are major red flags.  

What truly went wrong is that the MPAA, as they had done with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, slapped Leatherface with an X rating.  Unlike what Hooper did and just release the movie unrated New Line decided to kowtow and make cuts, to the point where what was supposed to be a bloody, brutal film is quite anemic.  While it is true the first was pretty much bloodless, that was by design, and the movie we see is the movie Hooper meant to make.  With Leatherface nearly a quarter of the movie is missing, with many of the best scenes either removed or never filmed at all, including a much better finale.

The ending itself was reshot due to comments from test audiences and that goes about as well as one would think.  Even worse, when reshooting, someone forgot to reshoot other footage so that the ending would make sense, as one of the people that makes it to the end is seen brutally murdered in a swamp not too long before.  In fact, so much was cut that little of the movie makes sense, the pacing is completely off and no one has the same chemistry the original actors had.  Even worse, it pretends like Hooper's second movie never happened. 

While still marginally better than what came after it Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III was a major box office disaster and New Line jettisoned it shortly after, having finally got their hands on Jason Voorhees and largely doing pretty much nothing with him as well until they finally figured out a way for him to fight Freddy.  Ken Foree is always fun, Kate Hodge would be a great final girl if this was a better movie and it's interesting to see what Viggo Mortensen was stuck doing before he played Satan in The Prophecy, but this adds nothing to the first two movies except disappointment that New Line didn't just do the smart thing and bring Hooper back, or at least wait until he had time to do it. 

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Time: 85 minutes
Starring: Kate Hodge, Ken Foree, William Butler, Viggo Mortensen
Director: Jeff Burr



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