The saw is family.
Leatherface has never garnered the immense popularity of his peers. While Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers have collectively produced over 25 feature films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series had, by 1990, only regurgitated a solitary sequel (Tobe Hooper's gory follow-up The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2). New Line Cinema, home of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, attempted to spawn another gruesome franchise with Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. A much maligned sequel, Leatherface quickly sank at the box office upon its theatrical release. Horror fans will finally be able to see what all the fuss is about with New Line's "Platinum Series" DVD edition of Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.
Facts of the Case
At the end of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, Leatherface and his demented kin were slaughtered in their underground lair by a crazed, double chainsaw wielding Dennis Hopper. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III picks up sometime later with Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff) assimilated into a new cannibalistic Texas family. In an unlucky turn of events, a twentysomething couple stumbles across the back roads of Texas on their way from California to Florida. After stopping at a local gas station and encountering a whacked out attendant (Tom Everett, Pearl Harbor) and a seemingly friendly cowboy (Viggo Mortensen, The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Michelle (newcomer Kate Hodge) and her boyfriend Ryan (William Butler, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood) are chased down by a mysterious truck. When their car breaks down they attempt to fix the tire only to come face to face with the vile Leatherface and his mammoth chainsaw. Michelle escapes with the help of a survivalist nut (genre staple Ken Foree, Dawn of the Dead) but Ryan isn't so lucky: he's dragged away to become Leatherface and company's Sunday dinner. Michelle makes the deadly mistake of finding a house in the middle of nowhere and banging on the door for help. The house turns out to be owned by Leatherface's bizarre new clan, including the gas station cowboy, a warped little girl, her wheelchair bound grandmother, and good old grandpa who's gone but not forgotten (in fact, his corpse still resides at the kitchen table).
Can Michelle escape the nightmare that is Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III?!?
I have a soft spot in my heart (and intestines, and liver…) for Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. I realize that as far as sequels go, it sucks. I know that it's not revered among the horror community and stands as a testament to what happens when too many fingers poke around the pie. And yet there's something endearing and noble about this effort—the sight of the gibbering Leatherface running around the woods with a chainsaw, well, it just brings salty tears to my eyes.
To be sure, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III doesn't rise to the occasion when compared to the first two films. Tobe Hooper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was an experiment in visceral horror. Amazingly, TCM ended up being void of almost all gore effects. The reasons it was scary was a no-brainer: atmosphere and mood. Not so with Hooper's follow-up The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2; what the original lacked in sleazy grizzle the sequel made up for tenfold. Dismembered bodies, skinned victims, and cannibalized chili all made an appearance in what I consider to be an overlooked classic. And by "overlooked classic," I'm sure we're all hip to the fact that I mean "cheapie horror sequel about a crazed killer loping off teenage heads with a wood cutting implement."
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III feels like a reworking of the first film more than a true sequel. Aside of Leatherface adapting into a new family, Chainsaw III sports all the elements of the first film: a rural setting, backwoods cannibals, a girl in distress, grandpa, a house decorated in dead bodies, and of course the ever present buzz of the "saw." There isn't much new here, but what there is tends to be more fun than a barrel of monkey spleens. Find me a horror fan who doesn't get a lump in his throat while watching a small child pull the lever that will thrust a sledgehammer into the side of a man's noggin. Or how about that scene where Leatherface attempts to learn his vocabulary on a picture speak-n-spell only to assume the picture of a C-L-O-W-N is F-O-O-D? It's these small touches that make Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III a truly demented film experience.
I guess if you really want to pee on the party, you can say that Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is a botched and pointless sequel. True, they don't really explain Leatherface's mysterious return from the dead at the end of the second film. Nor does the film seem to have a cohesive story or consistent characters. But when you've got Viggo Mortensen grinning for all he's worth, pre-Rings, how can you complain in good conscience? The good news is that Leatherface is head and shoulders (pun intended) above the breathtakingly bad Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Casual fans may want to pass, while hardcore horror nuts will find this a worthwhile flick.
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen with an anamorphic enhancement. Fans will also have the option of watching the film in either the R-rated or unrated version. The transfer itself looks far better than it has any right to—New Line has always been kind to the DVD format and has put some TLC into this image. The colors are all well rendered without any bleeding into the images. Black levels are sharp and defined with shadow detail appearing constant. The only minor flaw I spotted was a slight amount of grain during a few key scenes. Far from perfect, this picture should still please fans that've waited years for Leatherface to see the light of DVD.
The soundtrack is presented in—get a loada' this—Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround and DTS 6.1 Matrixed, both in English. Either of these tracks should work well on whatever home theater system you own. There is some fine channel separation (especially when things start to get bloody 'n' loud) and the track is clear of major distortion. In fact, for what this film is (a low budget sequel), Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III sounds pretty dang good. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track in English, as well as English subtitles.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III has come back to home video (via DVD) with a vengeance in New Line's coveted "Platinum Edition." What's that mean for you? Extras out the wazoo! Here's a rundown of what's been included on this disc:
Commentary Track: This commentary features director Jeff Burr, New Line production executive Mark Oroesky, stars R.A. Mihailoff and Bill Butler, writer David J. Schow, and special effects genius Greg Nicotero. Everyone is very chatty about what it was like to shoot this film. So chatty, in fact, that more honesty than usual penetrates this track—no one tries to cover up the fact that this was a difficult shoot (the director was often lambasted) and that the film didn't turn out the way everyone had hoped. Fans will most surely get a kick out of this commentary track, if only to hear everyone's separate take on the film.
"The Saw is Family: Making Leatherface" Documentary: This nearly half-hour documentary/retrospective features interviews with all of the above cast and crew, as well as producer Jeff Engleman. This is one of the best featurettes I've seen in a long time—it covers everything from the inception of the film (David J. Schow's first screenplay) to the pre-production (only 30 days to shoot this sucker!) to post production and finally the film's release. (Burr's recollection of hearing how badly the film did is heartbreaking…or as heartbreaking as one can feel for a movie about a cannibal chainsaw killer.) Like the commentary, no one covers up the fact that this was a grueling shoot from the get go with too many varying opinions tainting the final product (the ending, where one character who is clearly dead comes back to life, is mind blowing). This is a great documentary for those interested in what happens when everything that can go wrong does.
Deleted Scenes Featurette and Alternate Ending: The short deleted scenes featurette includes director Jeff Burr and other commenting on why certain cuts were made. Interspersed throughout are various deleted scenes, including that horrid scene where the sledgehammer is thrust into…well, you'll just have to see the movie to find out. Ewwwwww. The alternate ending is slightly different and worth watching if you liked the film.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer for the film, plus an extended trailer for other New Line horror hits.
If you own the first two films in this series, I can heartily recommend Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III to complete your collection (and by all means skip the fourth and worst film in the series). New Line has done a great job on this disc proving that they know exactly what fans are looking for.
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is worth checking out if you're interested in seeing what happened to Leatherface after the second film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• "The Saw is Family: The Making of Leatherface"
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