In honor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s 40th anniversary restoration release, we’re taking a look at some of this classic film’s less-than-heralded sequels. Read on for the second installment of the series: Leatherface.
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
Directed by Jeff Burr
Written by David J. Schow
After the explosive finale of 1986’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the fate of Leatherface and what remained of the murderous Sawyer family was unknown. Sure, it looked like we probably wouldn’t be hearing from any of them again. But, at some point in the late ’80s, New Line Cinema probably saw the potential of turning TCM into a bonified franchise. And in 1990, Leatherface returned in the third TCM film, simply titled Leatherface.
Michelle and Ryan (played by Kate Hodge and William Butler) are a young couple passing through Texas en route to California. They’re in the middle of a domestic spat that isn’t helped by the traffic jam they soon find themselves mired in. According the radio and the police directing cars, a mass grave has been unearthed somewhere in the area. When they’re finally past the grisly scene, they do what all young couples should never do in horror movies: stop the car anywhere, especially at an isolated gas station. The station owner, Alfredo, (Tom Everett turning in a deranged performance) turns out to be completely off his rocker. He gets his jollies peeping at Michelle while she uses the bathroom and when he’s caught, he threatens her and Ryan with a shotgun. Local shit kicker “Tex” (a then-unknown Viggo Mortensen) turns up in the nick of time to defuse the situation – albeit temporarily – and directs Michelle and Ryan towards a back road to facilitate their escape from Alfredo. Of course, this “short cut” turns out to be a trap. They end up in a car wreck with a wilderness survivalist named Benny (played by horror thespian Ken Foree) and then, of course, mayhem ensues as the Sawyers close in. Its time for dinner and there’s a few extra seats at the table.
Until 2013 brought us Texas Chainsaw 3D, I always considered Leatherface to be the weakest entry in the TCM series. Now, I know the prevailing opinion is that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is the worst of the bunch, but I beg to differ and I’ll tell you why in my next article. Leatherface is not a bad horror movie. But when compared with the mind-altering terror of the original film and the unhinged hi jinx of its sequel, this third installment leaves just a bit to be desired.
But first, we’ll focus on the positives. Ken Foree, Tom Everett, and Viggo Mortensen’s performances are all worth the price of admission alone. Every time I revisit Leatherface I always watch the scene with Alfredo where he’s singing in the swamp (while disposing of body parts) over and over again. It’s so ridiculous and dark, but at the same time, hilarious in a frightening way. Leatherface (referred to mostly as “Junior”) is a bit more menacing this time around (if you can get past his mop top haircut) and the scene where he plays with the Speak and Spell is quite memorable. The rest of the family (Momma, Tinker, Grampa, and a few others who I won’t name because the reveal is worth it, even if you do see it coming) are entertaining in their own right. There’s the requisite dining room scene and of course Leatherface’s suped-up chainsaw, visible on the cover of the DVD. One wonders what unlucky metalworker was tasked with designing it and if he was dumb enough to ask any questions.
As I said, Leatherface does have its drawbacks. There isn’t a lot of explanation for several characters being (seemingly) brutally murdered, but miraculously turning up alright later on. It’s a bit gratuitous and I’ve always felt that sort of thing shows a lack of respect for an audience. Likewise, there is absolutely no reference to the ending of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Leatherface wasn’t billed as a remake, a reboot, or a ret-con. Caroline Williams even reprises her role as Stretch from the last movie in a graveyard cameo. So that begs the question, what happened to the Cook and Chop-Top if Leatherface managed to escape Texas Battle Land? Did Drayton Sawyer have another family? There’s also the character of Ryan who (I’m going to say it, spoilers be damned) you will be so sick of by the time he finally gets chainsawed that you might stand up and cheer. I mean, he is quite possibly the whiniest bastard I’ve ever encountered in a horror film. Perhaps that was intentional. But I sure enjoyed watching him buy it. Finally, Michelle isn’t exactly the most engaging of heroines (not like Stretch or Sally Hardesty), but at least Ken Foree shows up later on to lend some of his star power to the flick.
As far as most horror sequels go, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is above and beyond what one would expect. But when compared only to its predecessors, it doesn’t have the same roughness of the original, nor the demented comedy of the first sequel. Be that as it may, it’s still a decent entry in the series and I’ve always enjoyed it. And believe me, when we finally get to Texas Chainsaw 3D, Leatherface will look like high-brow art in comparison.
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