Kate Hodge - Michelle
Ken Foree - Benny
William Butler - Ryan
R.A. Mihailoff - Leatherface
Viggo Mortensen - Tex/Eddie
Tom Everett - Alfredo
Genre - Horror/Slasher
Running Time - 81 Minutes (R-Rated Version)/85 Minutes (Unrated Version)
I don't think there has been a horror franchise that has baffled fans more than THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE series. While Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers have become mainstream horror icons with tons of merchandise and feature films, Leatherface and his family have struggled. It's weird to have a franchise where the first three parts are considered a trilogy, while the others happen to be remakes of the first film but with different characters and appearances. Why no one can truly handle telling Leatherface's story without rehashing the same crap over and over again is beyond me.
Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) is an absolute horror classic that audiences are still chilled by today. It's portrait of backwoods Texas life, inspired by infamous serial killer Ed Gein, has gained the film massive notoreity and admiration amongst film lovers. Twelve-years later, Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 was released. The difference in tone [from a gritty horror flick to a polished horror-comedy] alienated fans of Leatherface [even though it's quite appreciated for how great of a sequel it is now], causing the film to bomb at the box office in 1986.
In the late 80s, New Line Cinema [home of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and the then newly-aquired FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise] bought the rights to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. The company saw Leatherface as a franchise horror player [even though it was proven just the opposite until the reboot in 2003] and decided to make a sequel they felt was more truer in tone than the last film. So they ignored the events of TCM 2 and retconned the story to give the franchise a new start with LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III.
I remember seeing the TV ads for this film and thinking that the trailer was freakin' awesome. I mean, it has to be one of the coolest trailers ever made for a film.
While I didn't know it was a parody of the film, EXCALIBUR, at the time, the trailer made me want to see this film in theaters. And at nine-years-old, I watched LEATHERFACE in a double bill with CLASS OF 1999. Definitely one of the better double billings I had an honor to sit through as a kid. I truly remembered enjoying this film alot.
Now it's been 20 years, and I finally sat down to watch LEATHERFACE again for the first time since. I saw the Unrated Version of the film [the reason for that will be explained later] and I was kind of disappointed. It wasn't as good as I remembered it to be, putting me in that camp that thinks THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is a much better sequel. Still, LEATHERFACE is a worthy addition to the franchise and a more than decent continuation of the Sawyer family. Let's rev up that chainsaw and review this once controversial sequel.
Acting as if THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 never took place, the film begins with a bickering couple named Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler). They're driving from California to Florida [why they didn't just fly is beyond me], and have made a pit stop at Texas. They arrive at a local gas station where they encounter a perverted attendant (Tom Everett) and a smooth-talkin', friendly cowboy named Tex (Viggo Mortensen), who gives the couple a shortcut to where they want to go. Being stupid tourists by not following the map, they end up in trouble when they're chased down by a mysterious truck.
After they deal with the truck, their car breaks down. Ryan tries to fix the tires of the car, when they're confronted by Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff) and his huge chainsaw. Michelle manages to escape with the help of a survivalist named Benny (Ken Foree). Unfortunately, Ryan isn't so lucky as he's caught in a bear trap, beaten by Leatherface, and taken away to be dinner. Michelle runs away and encounters a house in the middle of nowhere that belongs to Leatherface's family. Can Michelle escape or will there be another TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE?
Before I begin discussing the film itself, I need to take the time to explain the issues LEATHERFACE faced during its pre-production and production stages [which you could watch on The Saw is Family: Making Leatherface documentary on the DVD - which is great, by the way]. Let's just say that making this film was a mess for everyone involved. First of all, Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel [the creators of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE] had proposed several ideas for the next installment. Unfortunately the producers and the studio suits weren't having it [because they know better than the actual creators of the characters], so both men walked away from this sequel. So New Line Cinema, wanting to take the franchise in a fresh direction, hired screenwriter David J. Schow, who did uncredited rewrites for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 5: THE DREAM CHILD and would later write the screenplay for THE CROW, wanted to bring back the creepier tone that was present in the original film. Schow pretty much took the same premise of the original [male and female protagonists, Leatherface stalking in the woods, crazy cannibalistic family, no humor at all], yet adding a protagonist in Benny [best move he made], for a "new start" to the franchise. While Schow's script was actually pretty good, the screenplay relied on a lot of violence and graphic moments of gore.
Now if you know anything about the horror movies of the late 70s and 80s, the censors really had a field day with the genre. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was always considered a controversial series due to the chainsaw murders and the visuals needed to make them effective. Like with the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, the murder sequences had to be trimmed down in order to escape an X-Rating from the MPAA. Since this franchise was no where near fantastical like the ELM STREET franchise [which allowed very violent scenes to remain intact because they could "never happen"], LEATHERFACE already faced a roadblock. They also had issues finding the right director [Jeff Burr was pretty much their last choice after Tom Savini and Peter Jackson turned the film down], and finding the right SFX team [KNB, replacing Tom Savini's work from the previous film] to make it happen. Unfortunately, the MPAA was on this film's ass for the duration of the production, constantly giving LEATHERFACE an X-Rating due to its violence and gore [making this film the last film to receive an X-Rating from the MPAA due to the NC-17 rating being implemented shortly after]. So theater goers got to see a neutered version of the intended film.
Another roadblock LEATHERFACE faced was the shooting schedule. Schow was hired to write a script in January of 1989, but the studio wanted to shoot by June [although it was delayed until August], not really giving Schow a lot of time to write a script and really edit it. The script, like in many horror films, was what hurt LEATHERFACE in the end. Burr and Schow had disagreements over the direction of the film, causing massive rewrites to happen. Also, the Benny character had died in the original version of the script. But New Line's president Robert Shaye liked the character so much that he wanted Benny to survive. So the script had to be rewritten and the final scenes had to be reshot, creating a strange reappearance for the character at the end of the movie. All this chaos was finally edited into a suitable film that totally bombed at the box office. Filmmaking ain't easy, folks. Thankfully, the DVD offers both the theater version and the Uncut version. There's not much difference besides more violence, but I'm reviewing the Unrated LEATHERFACE because that's the film that should have been released.
Now with that out of the way, how is the actual film? It's a good sequel, but not a great one. Yes, I remember loving this one when I was younger. But now that I understand filmmaking and can totally appreciate filmmakers going against the grain [like Hooper did with TCM 2], LEATHERFACE is nothing more than a polished, beefed up version of the original movie. It's sort of similar to how HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS is a more polished, beefed up version of HALLOWEEN. That's not to say that it's a bad thing. If you listen to a lot of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE fans, LEATHERFACE is the film they're expecting after a gritty film like the 1974 original.
Even with the massive rewrites to the screenplay, LEATHERFACE still manages to move ahead quite well for the most part. If you've seen the original film, you already know the structure to this film. So there's no point in talking about the slash and hack aspect of it. What really makes this sequel stand out are the characters. They're pretty well-written and believable. There's no slapstick or over-the-top weirdos here. Yes, the Sawyer family are still nuts, but it's more subtle this time around. In fact, I could believe that something like what happens in this movie could really happen in reality.
I personally liked the protagonists of the film for the most part. Michelle and Ryan sort of annoyed me at the beginning, due to their constant bickering. But I understood it because it's believable. I'm sure driving from California to Texas isn't the most pleasant of experiences, especially if you're cooped up with someone. They weren't the most developed characters to be honest, but neither were the characters in the original. Yet I liked them because they behaved like normal, sane people even during this horrible situation. Even better is Benny, who seems to be a survivalist with his weapon stash and his great instincts. He's smart. He's cunning. He's not afraid to take people down in order to make it out safe. And he'll help people in need without a second thought. Every horror film needs a bad ass and Benny fits that bill well.
The Sawyer family are also likeable. While I do believe the earlier members of the family [The Cook, The Hitchhiker, and Chop-Top] are better, this version of the family wasn't too bad. I thought Tex, as the charismatic cowboy and ladies man, was a smooth dude. He proves you should never judge a book by its cover. We also have Alfredo, who thinks he's Norman Bates by peeping at women using the bathroom. I thought he was great because he was so just eccentric and weird. He talked to himself, tried to force himself on women, and made traps in the woods for dinner. I wish he was in the film more. Ticker was the normal one of the group, except he had a metal hand. And I thought the Mama character was cool too, even though she wasn't in the film long enough. My favorite character was the little girl, who is implied to be Leatherface's daughter. I'm guessing he raped one of his victims because I doubt any sane woman would want to get banged by this guy. She was so adorable, especially when she helped murder people and cook dinner. Aww, how sweet! She also had a skeleton doll named Sally, which is a homage to the survivor of the first film, Sally Hardesty. I honestly didn't remember the little girl all that much from the theater version. I guess the Unrated version gives her more to do. I don't know why her scenes were cut down in the first place. She was the coolest one of the bunch. This version of the Sawyers was the most loving, as they never fought each other much at all.
I do have issues though. One is Leatherface. Now I love his look and I dig his vibe in the film. He's a total badass in this film and I loved the metal leg brace. The guy was very intimidating, like Leatherface should be. It's too bad there's nothing else I could say about him. To say that the other portrayals of Leatherface are more interesting is an understatement. And while THE NEXT GENERATION is a terrible film, at least Leatherface had a personality. Sure he crossdressed and he whined like a little bitch throughout the film, but at least I felt something towards the character. This Leatherface is just dull. Even his tactics to murder people is pretty boring in this film. I would liked to have seen more moments with just Leatherface planning an attack, stalking victims, or even spending time with his family. It would have been great if he interacted with his daughter more. That could have been an interesting relationship if we were allowed to see it. I just think for a guy who the film is named after, he doesn't do all that much until the end really. If it's titled LEATHERFACE, it should be about the character. And this movie is anything but.
Also, the dialogue in this film is a bit wonky. I blame the rewrites for this mess, but I can only judge the final edit of the film. The dialogue is a bit uneven. Especially with the Ryan character, who has the worst kind of dialogue: exposition. He always states the obvious and is always on the nose about things. People don't talk like that. We know what's going on. We don't need to have him say it for us. I don't blame David Schow for this. Nothing good ever comes out of other people rewriting your script, especially if they add things in there that shouldn't be in there. It happens, unfortunately.
I also thought the final act was a bit sloppy as well. The set up in the first two acts worked for me, but the final act seemed like a throwaway. The Sawyers get dispatched WAY too quickly. I think they should have let the villains put up more of a fight then what they were given. And the ending leaves you wondering about the fates of certain characters, with its only intention being to set up a later sequel [which never happened - THE NEXT GENERATION was a bad remake, not a sequel], Even the original ending sucked as well. It felt unfinished to me.
The SFX by KNB is actually pretty good. Unfortunately, the MPAA refused to let theater goers to see the real good stuff back in 1990. Thankfully, the Unrated DVD brings some of the gore back. We get a crushed armadillo, we get an ear shot right off someone's head, we get shot off fingers, we get bullet wounds, bear trap wounds, chainsaw wounds, and a decent amount of blood. Still, I believe that these scenes were supposed to be even more extreme than what was shown. But I'll take what I can get.
The direction by Jeff Burr [who also directed STEPFATHER 2: MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY] was good. I liked his work here. He tried to infused some style here, like cool angles, darker lighting, and even a gloomier mood than the previous installment. I do wish the film had more tension and suspense. It has some, but it could have used more. But the movie is decently edited and has a nice brisk pace. I can't really complain about the visuals. The studio didn't really make his experience a pleasurable one, so I'm glad he was more than professional to get over that and make a nice looking film [even if he did try to get away from the finished product]. Poor guy.
The acting was more than fine here. Kate Hodge, in her first film, does well as Michelle. She's solid until the end, where her "brink of madness" phase feels a bit forced. Other than that, no complaints. William Butler also did a good job. Unfortunately, he had the worst dialogue in the film. Not his fault. Viggo Mortensen, pre-LORD OF THE RINGS, shines as Tex. He's charming. He's smooth and sly. And he's pretty intimidating towards the end. Even in 1990, you can tell this guy was going to do great things in the future. Ken Foree, from 1978's DAWN OF THE DEAD, is excellent as Benny. He was a total badass and I liked his performance. Hell, I just like this dude in anything. And R.A. Mihailoff was good as Leatherface. I liked the more aggressive nature to the character and he handled the saw well. I just wish the script fleshed him out a bit.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE HAVING THIS SECTION CENSORED DUE TO EXCESSIVE AWESOMENESS
- Michelle told Ryan that "violence is no answer to violence." Viggo Mortensen needs to teach her A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE so she can get her damn facts straight.
- Alfredo taped bits of naked women from a magazine inside the gas station bathroom. I appreciate the station employees supplying masturbatory material for free. All businesses should be cost effective.
- A coyote was thrown into the windshield. Looks like the Road Runner wins again. Beep beep!
- Leatherface scared Michelle and Ryan by chainsawing their car. This new season of Pimp Your Ride is not worth dying for!
- Leatherface's daughter had a scattering of skulls and skeletons littered all over the floor. I bet he'll have a bone or two to pick with her if she doesn't clean that shit up!
- Mama Sawyer needs to speak with the help of a voice box. I hate when anti-smoking commercials infiltrate my horror movies. Now where's my carton of cigarettes?
- Leatherface uses an extra long chainsaw. It's quite obvious he's compensating for something.
THE FINAL HOWL
I think if the MPAA and New Line Cinema had let this film be what it was intended to be, LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III would have been a better film. It's funny that horror films nowadays can show penises getting chopped off without a blink of an eye. Still, it's an effective slasher sequel that still does a lot of things right, considering the hurdles it had to overcome. Definitely worth watching, renting, and even buying [the DVD is pretty sweet] if you're a Leatherface fan. I don't like it as much as I used to, but it's still a very worthy sequel that deserves a lot of love.
3 Howls Outta 4