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Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

Due to the numerous and often shady independent companies who handled it (including the Mafia, according to Joe Bob Briggs in his book Profoundly Disturbing), no one knows exactly how much money 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre made, but apparently it was tons. This led to the Cannon-financed sequel in 1986 directed by Tobe Hooper; it was a pitch-black comedy/horror effort that was considered a disappointment upon release but has since developed a cult following. New Line — who at one point distributed the original — thought it might be a viable franchise, so they put into production a second sequel called Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III that started shooting in June of 1989 and was slated for a November release and an R-rating — neither happened as planned when the project got into protracted MPAA battles. At the cost of coherency, eventually the movie did get an R and was then dumped out to theaters in January of 1990. Some stalwart fans hoped an uncut version might still make for a halfway decent title, but even in its "uncut" video release, Leatherface was too worked over to make much sense. The movie follows Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler) as they drive cross-country from California to Florida. It's when they stop at a Texas gas station they meet a hitchhiker (Viggo Mortensen) named Tex and an insane gas station attendant named Alfredo (Tom Everett, coming across a lot like the hitchhiker in the first film). Tex and Alfredo get into a violent conflict, and when Alfredo starts shooting, Michelle and Ryan go down a back road only to be chased by a giant truck, causing an accident with survivalist Benny (Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree). Eventually, "Leatherface" (R.A. Mihailoff) shows up and gets both Michelle and Ryan to his new home and new adopted family. Like a lot of cash-in sequels, Leatherface is mostly a remake of the original that knows the lyrics but misses the music that made the first 'Saw one of the greatest horror films in history. For instance, one of the great things about the original is the idea that Leatherface's family is all male, and Leatherface (who speaks only in gibberish) assumes the female role by wearing a dress and make-up. In III, there are now women in the family. And with the re-cuts and tacked-on ending (where one character who seemed to be pretty definitively dead suddenly comes back), it's hard to find a lot sympathy for this monstrosity. However, Everett is amusing, and it's always nice to see Foree in a take-charge role. On the commentary track and in the documentary on this DVD release, one gets the sense that a an OK sequel could have been made with screenwriter David Schow's good ideas, but they come across as half-baked in the available cut. Just the same, the film made a great Laserdisc — it had two audio commentaries where director Jeff Burr (who was fired from the project and then re-hired two days later), Butler, Mihailoff, effects supervisor Greg Nicotero, and Schow eviscerated what went wrong. These tracks are edited into one here and little of the vitriol survives, while it also adds comments from production executive Mark Ordesky and newer comments from Burr that sound like extracts from the accompanying 28-min. documentary "The Saw is Family: Making Leatherface," which features the commentators and producer Jeff Engelman. Also included is a featurette on the deleted scenes (10 min.), a five-min. alternate ending, the clever theatrical trailer, and bonus previews. The movie is available in both R-rated and unrated versions in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, and Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio. Keep-case.
—DSH



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