Monday, April 14, 2014

TCM At 40 Retrospective: Leatherface - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
Director: Jeff Burr
Starring: Kate Hodge, Viggo Mortensen, Ken Foree, Joe Unger, Tom Everett
Rated: R, but nobody watches that version

Hey, if you need anything...just twitch.
                  ~Eddie "Tex" Sawyer

After failing to make a triumphant return in Part 2, New Line picked up our skinface chainsaw weilder to give him a go.  Now they could have a two-headed monster of Freddy and Leatherface to frighten audiences (they would later pick up Jason, too).  Unfortunately, another Chainsaw movie, another production with problems.  This was one of 2 franchise horror films at New Line that Peter Jackson was supposed to direct, but somehow or another they ended up going with someone else.  Jeff Burr, who made a solid slasher sequel to The Stepfather, was brought on to direct.  His script was hacked as too violent and graphic and then his film in turn became compromised with the MPAA furiously making them trim it down and test audiences dictating some reshoots.  The film even missed its release date.  Its fate became an unceremoniously quick release in and out of multiplexes.
This film is basically a more modernized and bigger budgeted retelling of the original.  And oddly enough, I feel as if the Platinum Dunes remake from 2003 was more a remake of this film than it was the original.  This film gives us a bigger more colorful new family of Sawyers for Leatherface as we learn that Jim Siedow's character wound up getting caught and put to death for being both himself and getting credited as being Leatherface.  We deal with a couple driving cross country that getting pointed in the wrong direction by a hitchhiker (who is one of the Sawyers) and wind up being captured by Leatherface and co in hopes they'll make a sweet feast.  Its the basic premise of the original film, just some more characters and the action and gore is more ramped up.
One of the best things about this movie is that hitchhiker.  He's played by Viggo Mortensen and he's a joy to watch.  He's got that "gotta trust him cuz he's handsome" thing going on in the beginning, which leads to what a devious villain he truly is.  The quote I put up top of the article is one of my favorite lines from the entire series and Viggo delivers it with such sinful glee.  Genre vet Ken Foree is also here and the character was so likeable the test audiences were mad that he was killed.  In response, they went and filmed a new ending.  Now, stupidly, you get to see his head go right into a chainsaw only for him to show up and have just pretty much a scratch from it at the end.  Another creepy character that works is Anne Sawyer who talks through the little speaker box.  Its all so much weird and downright creepy (even scary ass little girl who apparently is Leatherface's daughter shows up "yackity yack don't talk back!").  This film may be kind of a mess or littered with production issues, but it still manages to work from A to B and is still provides discomfort and scares.  It does help that the whole thing takes place at night in the hopeless desert.
Speaking of Texas, this is the only film in the franchise (up til 3D) that was not filmed in Texas.  And you can kind of tell.  You get very Arizona/New Mexico/California looking desert as well as some swampy watered areas.  Its all sorts of weird.  Apparentlly this was filmed right out back of a Six Flags Magic Mountain and there's some sequences in the film that the director says you can hear people screaming and shouting on rides.  While this had a bigger budget than the first film, its was still done cheap as shit.  
We have had an unrated cut of the film since it hit the local video stores on VHS.  However, there's an even more uncut version lying somewhere (or maybe only present on VHS quality dailies).  The MPAA hacked this one pretty bad.  I've actually never watched the Rated R cut of the film, but I've heard its incredibly weak and downright confusing in some instances.  There are many places you can tell in the unrated were compromised as well.  For instance, when the boyfriend gets the sledgehammer to the head, it cuts away right before it connects.  And in the next couple shots in the background, you can see there's a prosthetic head sitting there that HAD to have been used to be creamed with the hammer.  I'd love to see an even more uncut version of these things cleaned up and released, but I'm willing to bet the original footage for all this shares the same fate as Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood in that somebody never thought it'd be worth anything and threw it away.  Shame shame, but that's how it is.
When I first watched this film, I liked it quite a bit.  More than Part 2 at the time (but reminder, that one has aged well and I didn't really "get" it the first time out).  I had always thought it was pretty solid, being a B-horror movie that if it wasn't scaring it was some great effects, creature work and a fun cast.  I watched it a couple years ago though, cuz my sister hadn't seen it, and I kind of found it to be pretty boring and I was disappointed as this film I always supported and liked may just not have been doing it for me anymore.  Rest assured, on this viewing for the retrospective I find myself diggging it again quite a bit and wondering what the heck was wrong with me that time I watched it.  Was I tired? Had a crummy dinner before? Who knows.  But this is a really solid entry in the series, even if it is a movie that just has the franchise going through motions, running inside of a wheel.  You'll see that's kinda how you have to judge these Chainsaw Massacres...who's flavor of soft drink tastes more unique or better.
Before we take off, this film's legacy with the masses may lie in its teaser trailer (the only theatrical trailer it had i believe).  It is indeed one of the greatest trailers. EVER!  Just watch!

Next Time:  F***, Damnit...please...just...Arrghh...we're really going here, aren't we?  Oh boy, stay tuned! 

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