Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III – A Remnant of ’90s Horror

Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. 1990. Directed by Jeff Burr. Screenplay by David J. Schow.
Starring Kate Hodge, Ken Foree, R.A. Mihailoff, William Butler, Viggo Mortensen, Joe Unger, Tom Everett, Miriam Byrd-Nethery, Jennifer Banko, David Cloud, Beth DePatie, & Toni Hudson. Nicolas Entertainment.
Rated R. 85 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★1/2
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In the 1990s, I was growing up. By the time I was 10, which would put us at ’95, horror movies were already a staple in my life. To the chagrin of my parents, who lovingly tried their best not to corrupt my young mind. Yet my grandfather let me watch a ton of stuff before I should’ve been able to, after that my best friend’s parents let us watch whatever we wanted, as long as they knew what we were watching. So around 10 or 11 I first saw things like A Clockwork OrangeThe Shining, and far less majestic stuff like LeprechaunDr. Giggles, and so many other horror flicks. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is a movie I still remember seeing on the shelf at my local video shop, Allan’s Video. Before I’d ever seen the original of the series I remember wanting to pick this up and watch it. When I finally saw Tobe Hooper’s classic it rocked me. Then I went about seeing the series.
This is definitely not the worst of the series. Nor is it close to being best. But it’s a far cry from a couple of the real rough efforts. The third chapter in Leatherface history at least has legendary Ken Foree. Plus, there’s a really terrifying quality to the entire story. As things play out you’re almost sweating right alongside the main characters. The story also opts not to go the route of having a big group of people who meet up with the crazed cannibals. Instead the group is smaller, as well as the mix of personalities is interesting. And as always there’s at least a bit of hack and slash for us to enjoy. At least it’s not Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.
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On the Texas highway travels a fighting couple, nearly separated but still somehow together, Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler). As they go, news reports of mass graves out in the desert circulate; putrefied corpses rotting underneath the sandy ground.
After a run in with a crazy gas station attendant, Michelle and Ryan meet a man named Tex (Viggo Mortensen). He helps them out, though, they end up losing track of him after the gas station lunatic wields a gun and runs everyone off. Afterwards out in the desert, the couple end up running into survivalist Benny (Ken Foree).
But worse than all that, the three of them later run into Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff), whose family is big, weird, and really, really hungry.
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Far from being unique, the scene where Michelle can’t kill an armadillo, twitching and dying on the roadside, is poignant. Yes, that trope has been used time and time again, many of those being in slasher or horror movies in general. But juxtaposing the maniacal ways of Leatherface and his clan which come out later is a perfect way for us to begin understanding the division in mentality between normal people and cannibal nutcases. Y’know, like we need a lot of convincing. This scene, right near the beginning, lets us in on her character as someone who, at that point, is unwilling to even put a dying animal out of its misery. And it sets the tone, in a way. From there we see Leatherface carve up bodies. And there’s almost a wish, a longing to return to the moments where all we knew was the roadkill.
I love that Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger were both involved with this one because they always bring great authenticity to horror with their practical effects. Right from the beginning, these are on display. Then once we move inside the Sawyer home, of course things get even more macabre. There are a number of truly gruesome moments in the last 35 minutes or so. However, that’s only if you’re watching an uncut version. The original one that ran in theatres lacked much outright gore, all in order to satisfy the MPAA. So if you do watch this one, please do so with an unrated copy that holds so much more. Otherwise you won’t get the Berger/Nicotero genius, and Leatherface suddenly isn’t so violent or scary anymore.
On top of nice effects there’s also Kane Hodder; another legend. Well he lent his hand to the stunts for Leatherface, which allowed for Mihailoff to play the bulkier figure while Hodder pulled off the few more trying bits of action. Always a treat for Hodder to be involved in any way. He is a true classic of the genre.
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Having Viggo Mortensen in there is a nice touch, though, he was relatively an unknown at the time. His performance is okay, and he doesn’t go completely over the top as you might expect in a film like this one. Along with him and his subtle creepiness, R.A. Mihailoff does a fine job with Leatherface. When playing a role that doesn’t require actually speech there might be a tendency to do other emotive things that can render a performance into pure ham – such is the case in the previous film, and even though I like the sequel to the original a lot the Leatherface role comes off highly cheesy. Here, Mihailoff is more unsettling. He lurches around with a heavy presence and his guttural sounds are more primitive than mentally challenged, as they were in the performances of others who’ve played the role. With Foree in the mix it’s usually a good thing, depending on the material. Not much to use, but Foree does well with the tough nice guy character, and certainly his size helps give the character himself an honest quality. For a mediocre horror flick the acting definitely could have come off worse.
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There’s not a ton to offer here, but enough so that Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III doesn’t come out bottom of the barrel in the series. Once again, you have to check out the unrated version. If not then you’ll be getting a terribly edited, cut to shit piece of horror cinema, and the nastiness of the franchise will not come through. That theatrical release does the film a grave injustice. While it isn’t a great movie, it is especially terrible if you’re watching it that way. Stick to the unrated material and this entry is half decent. Enough to give you a little thrill on a dark night, when you’re by yourself, or a couple of friends want to watch something creepy.

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