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Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

As you’ve probaly figured out by now, I love THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Hell, I’d go so far as to call it the DIE HARD of horror. The Mohammed Ali of horror. The Bruce Lee of horror. I also love part 2, not as fond of part three, hated part 4, fucking DESPISED the remake.

This week they got the prequel to the remake coming out. I’m sure I’ll probaly hate it, but who knows. In some ways it doesn’t sound as bad as the remake, and since it’s not a remake you can hold it to the lower standards of a sequel. And lucky for it, there have been two not so hot sequels already to lower the bar. So I came up with a plan. First, I devised a method by which I will see the prequel without Michael Bay getting any of my money. Then I rented parts 3 and 4 so I can have them fresh on my mind while watching the prequel. That way I will have the maximum possible open-mindedness when I see the new one and might be able to appreciate it. The only problem is I watched Part 3 here and it’s not as bad as I remembered.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3LEATHERFACE (which is a dumb fucking title) is not really a disaster. More like a small accident, a minor fenderbender. Nothing to be proud of, but we’ll get it fixed. The beginning of the movie has Leatherface creating his mask, shot exactly like the opening of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET where Freddy constructs his glove. This is important because that’s the context this movie was made in. New Line Cinema had the rights to make a Texas Chainsaw sequel. They had just released A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD and it had done only okay. And they probaly knew that NINJA TURTLES shit couldn’t float forever, so they had to come up with a new Freddy. That’s why the title puts the emphasis on Leatherface. Leatherface is Freddy, the mask is his hat I guess, the saw is his glove. Give us money.

The extras on the DVD for LEATHERFACE repeat what director Jeff Burr said in the documentary THE SHOCKING TRUTH, that Peter Jackson (who had only done BAD TASTE and MEET THE FEEBLES) was New Line’s top choice for the movie. That sure would’ve been a weird alternate reality if he had taken the job, but after he and others turned it down they went back to Jeff “STEPFATHER 2” Burr, who they had rejected before, and gave him only a couple weeks before he had to shoot the script they had already developed. Then when it was done New Line made them cut stuff out because they were worried about the ratings, and when they submitted it to the MPAA (11 times) they had to cut out even more. If you take all that into account you can understand why it doesn’t work but you can admire the little bits here and there that Burr managed to pull off.

The main characters are a couple driving from L.A. to Florida. They stop off for gas in some Texas-themed part of California where they have signs that say “Don’t Mess With Texas” and “Texas Road” but the landscape still looks like California. The gas station is run by Alfredo (Tom Everett), a weird mumbling pervert with a novelty skull toy, a peephole into the gas station restroom, and a weakness for the ladies. He has a polaroid camera around his neck, so you know he’s supposed to be the substitute for Edwin Neal’s hitchhiker character. This guy is definitely the most CHAIN SAW character in the movie, he does a great job of mumbling crazy shit to himself, having that Edwin Neal balance of creepiness and black humor, but with an added edge of misogyny and general hostility.

But then Viggo Mortensen shows up. His name is Tex (after the state that California is supposed to resemble in this movie). He sort of rescues the girl from Alfredo while her sissy boyfriend is in the bathroom, and they flirt. Alfredo gets jealous and pulls out his shotgun, Tex stands between them, the couple make a run for it. And from that point on their road trip is fucked.

First they get a flat tire. Which is bad enough. But then to make matters worse, Leatherface comes after them in a huge truck with the brights on. This is sort of what happened in part 2, but this time they added the new touch of a truck-bra made out of stitched together human skin. He saws up their car and magically tears the trunk lid off, but they get away. Then they almost collide with a Jeep, which happens to be driven by the great Ken Foree (Peter from DAWN OF THE DEAD, later Charlie Altamont in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS). He turns out to be some kind of survivalist, which explains why he has some weapons. He mentions having a ranch or compound or something with a couple of buddies – I wish the end of the movie was him going and getting his buddies and then come back with a fuckin arsenal and declare a civil war against the Sawyer family. That would be a different movie from all the other ones. It would be the ALIENS of the Chain Saw series, maybe. But that’s not to be.

But the three of them get attacked together so they sort of become a team. At one point, Foree runs into the crazed last survivor of a previous chain saw massacre, an idea that was used again in the remake.

After various horror and etc., the boyfriend and girlfriend both end up in captivity at the new Sawyer house, where we meet the all new family. I guess maybe Leatherface somehow survived his stomach-sawing and hand grenading in part 2 and went to live with some cousins or something. (Actually I think his squeaky legbrace is supposed to tell you this is a direct followup to part 1, where he saws his own leg.) This time there’s a little girl (possibly Leatherface’s daughter) who plays with a doll made out of a baby skeleton. There’s a mother in a wheelchair who talks through a tracheotomy deal and looks at Leatherface with the eyes of a proud mother. There’s sort of the macho uncle with an earring, Tink, who builds “Junior” (Leatherface) a badass tricked out chrome chainsaw with “THE SAW IS FAMILY” engraved on the blade. Also he is responsible for the new headpounding contraption they use to make their lifestyle more convenient in the more technological age of 1990. And then there’s Tex, who you would have to be an idiot to not expect to end up in the family, even though he was really good at passing himself off as a respectable member of society. Viggo does a good job with a couple good lines like “How you like Texas?” and “If you need anything… just twitch.” But his character is a little too standard-issue evil to live up to the legacy of the first two films. He’s no Chop Top, for example.

Oh yeah, and Grandpa is still there. He looks just like in part 2, but he’s dead and mummified. The one really brilliant cinematastic touch by Burr is that he keeps cutting to reaction shots of the dead Grandpa. It sort of gets you in the crazed Dinner Scene mindframe of the characters. The poor gal has her hands nailed to a chair, her boyfriend is hanging upside down dead, there’s a family of weirdos talking about “Junior loves them private parts, he sure knows what to do with them parts,” and the director is interested in what the mummified body thinks about all this. Perfect.

In the original and the other sequels, the girl manages to excuse herself from dinner, but this is the only one where a survivalist shows up and fires a PREDATOR-sized barrage into the window, massacring most of the family. He shoots off two of Tink’s fingers and (somehow) one of his ears. He even kills Grandpa. But eventually, obviously, he’s gonna run out of bullets and there’s gonna be a final battle with Leatherface, etc. Maybe a car chase, but probaly not. I have never been clear why the girl doesn’t seem to have any problems with her hands after having them both impaled on railroad spikes and pulling them off.

I have mixed feelings about this Leatherface. The mask looks stupid. The hair looks stupid. The first time he attacks he just seems like a macho evil guy, like in the remake. But when he’s in the house he seems more like the frightened retard from the first two movies. He is in sort of a teenager phase, so he listens to shitty heavy metal and puts headphones on his victims. He plays with a Speak ‘n Spell type game but is not very good at it. The other characters are decent but not on the level of a Cook, a Hitchhiker or a Chop Top. (The cook apparently went down in the gas chamber, at least that’s who I think they are talking about as “W.E. Sawyer” in the Laroquette-less opening crawl.)

The newer version of the DVD has some good making ofs and what not. It supposedly has both the R-rated and unrated versions, but then when you watch the ten minute montage of stuff they had to cut out to get an R, you find out that it’s not in the unrated version. So I don’t know what the deal is. But it seemed like it would’ve made the movie a little more intense.

I think the biggest problem with the movie is the style. It just doesn’t have that realistic feel of the first one or the relentless insanity of the second. This one feels like exactly what it is, a scripted Hollywood sequel, shot in California. It just doesn’t have the art or the authenticity or the muggy Texas atmosphere of the other two. It looks cheap, but still too polished, and the two leads are pretty bland. That combined with the fact that it’s part 3 with a storyline not hugely different from the other two, and you get a pretty weak movie. But they have the family dynamic down, they tried to make some new characters and bring Leatherface a little further, and they were smart enough to cast Ken Foree. At least their hearts were in the right place.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006 at 8:58 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Horror, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III”

  1. FrankensteinMiller

    March 14th, 2013 at 4:38 am

    Leatherface is the best TCM movie ever made. Yes, I said it: it’s much better than Hooper’s one-accidentally-competent-film (no, dear three remaining fans of Hooper’s, two of whom are related to him – Poltergeist is Spielberg’s film and Spielberg’s direction. The Beard may pretend otherwise now because he feels too sorry for Hooper, but that doesn’t change everyone else’s testimonies from the set. Not that anything other than a look at the film, and at Spielberg’s earlier unreleased proto-Poltergeist “Something Evil”, is needed to know that the movie is 100% Spielberg’s doing.)

  2. I went over the POLTERGEIST controversy in my review of it (http://www.outlawvern.com/2012/06/04/poltergeist/), I’m not all that interested in that argument, but I would love to see how you find this the best of the Chain Saw series. What is it that you like about it? When was the last time you saw the original? I want to see a convincing argument, but keep in mind that the original is one of my all time favorite movies that I watch over and over again and that you just said a shitty half-assed sequel shot in California by the director of PUPPETMASTER 5 is better than it.

    I don’t see it. If the overwhelming style and atmosphere of Hooper’s two classics is only “competent” to you then how is it that you have more appreciation for this cut-rate version that only succeeds when it manages to play off of the sorts of characters he created? I appreciate the shock value of making a claim so “the earth is actually hollow” but I will be impressed if you can back it up sincerely.

    (p.s. what’s with you and RRA saying “the beard” all the time? Why is that the distinguishing feature for Spielberg? Lucas, Coppola, De Palma, Scorsese, Milius… all those fuckin guys had beards back then. And now all the kids do too. I don’t get the nickname.)

  3. FrankensteinMiller — I’ve seen SOMETHING EVIL (it’s not unreleased, it was just a TV movie) and I can confidently say that it has very little in common with POLTERGEIST. Way lower-budget, pastoral as opposed to POLTERGEIST’s suburbia, more a possession angle than a supernatural kidnapping. I mean, it is a Spielberg horror film centering around a family with a small special-effects show at the end, but it’s more in the slow-burn ROSEMARY’S BABY mold than in the roller-coaster effects-heavy POLTERGEIST style. Most of it has to do with tiny, gradually building signs that Satan is up to something. And it’s way lower budget, and not very good. Claiming that it proves Spielberg made poltergeist is about as valid as claiming that RESERVOIR DOGS is the same film as CITY ON FIRE.

  4. By the way, since we’re talking about Jeff Burr I gotta say I admire the guy. He made one quite impressive horror anthology (FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM aka OFFSPRING), which is full of great ideas and has a wonderful lyrical quality to it… and then unfortunately never seemed to get another shot at making something great. There’s a pretty interesting interview with him here http://www.iconsoffright.com/IV_Burr.htm which spans his whole career, allowing him to talk about the circumstances surrounding all the low-budget horror sequels he got stuck in. Impressively, he really sounds like he genuinely cared about every one of these movies and really tried to do the best with what he had. There’s even a great anecdote about him running into Stan Winston after he had made the admittedly terrible PUMPKINHEAD 2 (arguably the worst Pumpkinhead film, and the only one without Lance Henricksen). Burr just comes off as a very earnest guy who really wanted to make great horror movies but who just ended up getting the short end of the stick time and time again.

  5. I haven’t seen the premakequel or the 3D rereboot, but I think LEATHERFACE is the weakest of the series. The first is a stone-cold motherfucking work of art, probably the greatest horror movie ever made. The second is a deranged and hilarious classic that gets better every year. Even Part IV has some camp value in the scenes with Viggo in a robotic leg brace terrorizing Renee Zelwegger, and the remake is actually pretty harrowing for about a quarter of the running time, until it becomes, you know, a TEXAS CHAINSAW movie. (I still hold that if the whole movie had been about R. Lee Ermey’s psycho sheriff it would have been solid.) But the third one? A bland, generic, neutered nothing. I’ve seen it like four times over the years, each time thinking that I must have forgotten the good parts or something. But I didn’t, because there aren’t any. There aren’t any parts at all. It’s a movie that forgets to happen. Saying it’s better than the original is like saying…actually, I’m at a loss for analogies here. There’s nothing like saying that. It’s a statement that’s almost dadaist in its inscrutability.

  6. Hey FrankensteinMiller, I hope you respond; I really want to know why you like LEATHERFACE the best. This place can be a bit of an echo chamber at times and we need more people with differing opinions, even (especially?) when they are crazy opinions held by fringe lunatics. Paul can’t shoulder that burden all by himself.

  7. No one’s noted that Leatherface pulls out a mini-saw sidearm when he’s briefly separated from his primary tool. Yeah, this TCSM installment is no classic, but that part got a hearty chuckle. Almost as good as the dead grandpa reaction shots. This weapons hierarchy should be a part of all future Leatherface adventures. He should get in at least one fight that involves him dropping or losing his signature saw and then:

    -he unholsters a surgical bone saw,

    -then that gets knocked out of his grip,

    -he pulls up his pants leg and grabs an electric toothbrush that’s been modified with a scalpel edge instead of bristles

    -his brother tosses him an electric kitchen knife, but its power cord is accidentally yanked out the outlet

    -so he drags his still-fighting victim to his sewing machine and penetrates their fingers and/or sews shut their mouth

    -etc..
    -And then finally he regains his preferred weapon and breathes a sigh of relief, like it completes him, like it’s obvious all these other weapons are pale substitutes for what he really needs, for what the *audience* needs to see. Leatherface making do with weapons that aren’t his chainsaw is like a top gun pilot commuting to work on a tricycle. Funny to watch, but also a little sad.

    Also there should be a scene where he terrorizes a person driving a truck and she has an electric chainsaw in her truck’s bed and she somehow attacks Leatherface with her electric chainsaw and he laughs at it and then he knocks it out of her hand and uses his gas-powered saw to rip apart the puny electric saw and also there is a barely perceptible image of an oil derrick spewing oil in the shot’s background and the [sub]text is all like “Yeah, fossil fuels bitch, welcome to Texas!”

    And Vern’s right about the weird way the adequate budget & rushed filming schedule must have resulted in these particular production values & this aesthetic — somehow it looks & sounds like a very good, way-above-average tv movie when it would have been better if the filmatists had been forced to make a scuzzy film made on the supercheap.

  8. I’d love to see the ‘ALIENS of the Chain Saw series’ and this series’ constant reboots lead me to hope that they can still remake this with Ken Foree and his cadre of survivalist buddies leading an all out assault on the Sawyer family. I’ve even got a title: Texas Chainsaw Apocalypse!

  9. As much as I complain about rebootquels and remakes not being original enough and being too close to the original, I guess I’m a big ole hypocrite because I was honestly a little disappointed that this movie didn’t end with Grandpa comically trying to hammer the Final Girl’s head over a bucket, and someone doing a crazy chainsaw dance at the end like the last two. Maybe because Part 2 reframed these moments from Part 1 into a running gag, or maybe it’s because the first 60 minutes of TCM3 aren’t very interesting and are basically treading water, so when the final 20 minutes happen and it starts pulling out some of the “greatest hits” of the other movies, the energy level really goes up and the movie gets a whole lot better.

    Not sure if FrankensteinMiller was trolling or being contrarian, and I don’t want to speak for him, but I can kinda see why someone would like this better than TCM1 or 2. You can call this one conventional or bland (it doesn’t help the MPAA cuts in the R-rated version remove so much violence it practically feels like watching a TV edit), but there’s also something comforting and familiar about the series finally adhering to more traditional horror movie tropes. Stuff like a shady gas station attendant watching someone through a peephole in the bathroom. Or a “friendly” local giving the heroes bad directions to get them lost. Or the family setting booby traps and hunting people for sport. Or there actually being a mother figure and a creepy child in the family this time. Or the “civilized” heroine not being able to kill roadkill at the beginning and then going feral at the end to “kill” Leatherface. Then Leatherface’s “surprise” re-emergence just before the credits. This is all tried and true stuff that a novice viewer sitting down to watch TCM1 for the first time would completely expect to be in THAT movie, but doesn’t actually happen until this one. Again, not saying any of this stuff makes this one better, but I can see why some people would like this.

    What’s undeniably enjoyable (besides Ken Foree’s energizer bunny-style comebacks), is Viggo Mortensen. He’s charismatic and fun here, and the idea to finally make one of the family handsome and well-spoken, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, is a great one. Sure you know he’s in on it, but I still appreciate him and Alfredo’s elaborate con game, and I like the idea that the heroine is instantly attracted to him over her obnoxious soon-to-be-ex boyfriend. Too bad that storyline goes nowhere and Viggo doesn’t even get a satisfying or definitive death (so weird that his second death in the alternate ending isn’t even particularly gory so i don’t know why they cut it)

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