Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

R   |    |  Horror, Thriller

Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) Poster

A California couple and a survivalist encounter Leatherface and his family.

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  • Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
  • R.A. Mihailoff in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
  • Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
  • Viggo Mortensen and Kate Hodge in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
  • R.A. Mihailoff in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
  • R.A. Mihailoff in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

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6 July 2014 | whineycracker2000
| Okay, so it's not great art....
I'm actually really surprised at all the positive reviews for this film here, considering its horrible reputation.

Made on a shoestring budget with no-name actors (at least at the time, obviously Viggo went on to A-list-ish status) obviously there is nothing new or original here about this outing, as can be said of most sequels. Hooper's 1974 film said and did everything that needed to be said and done (the documentary style,iconic villain, the creation of the"slasher-film template", the unrelenting suspense, the post-Vietnam worldview, the subtle political underpinnings about consumerism, greed,and the decay of the nuclear family, etc....). That film is an unparalleled masterpiece, and even Hooper's own follow up really didn't hold a candle or need to exist(although it was crazy, offbeat, quality cult film making on its own terms)so a third entry would seem a complete waste of time.

So why even pay part III any attention? My adoration for it relies solely because of the first half of the film, which is very well-done and far superior to the second half. For starters, the acting is fine across the board: Kate Hodge and William Butler, as the film's yuppie protagonists, are natural and serviceable in their roles, nothing award-winning or show-stopping, but subtle and absorbing enough to not take viewers out of the film, like many of its lesser ilk (slasher films in this era typically had bottom-of-the-barrel talent).

The cinematography is also imaginative and stylized (i.e. the entire "gas station peepshow sequence" is fantastically shot and executed; the angle of our heroine through the cracked mirror, the claustrophobic lighting, the POV's from the peephole). And note Kate Hodge's reactions during this scene: she genuinely seems creeped out and uncomfortable, and her reactions of fear and confusion in the scenes that follow are equally convincing. It's an underrated performance, in a film with uniformly underrated performances.

The film's pacing in this first half is also impressive- from the deceptively mundane car conversation that opens the film to the bizarre "body pit" sequence which was so absurd, awkward, yet somehow plausibly creepy, indeed, it bordered on parody, (but then, this film as a whole can be seen almost as a parody), to the armadillo murder scene, then the gas station sequence: all these sequences are knowing winks to the first film, but because the film modernizes them, it benefits as it places the viewers in the "now" instead of the "then" (the original's documentary feel is one of the film's greatest strengths, but years later, it does give one the feeling of watching historical news/documentary footage of something that already occurred-again,part of the film's raw, unnerving power, to be sure). But this film is set in 1990, so a documentary approach just wouldn't work, not to mention it would be derivative, redundant, and just simply out-of-place. So it's a credit to Burr and cinematographer James L. Carter, who later proved himself a real talent with more mainstream gigs, that they remained faithful to the mood of the original while taking some new chances.

And how about that "truck-chase/changing the tire" sequence? I LIVE for scenes like this and sadly, modern horror films just don't take us here anymore: the ominous, yet minimalist soundtrack, slow-burn pacing, effective use of that lantern light, and again, Kate Hodge seems genuinely freaked out in this scene, you can really put yourself in her shoes, and the boyfriend's reaction of incredulity, anger and frustration...there is some commendable attempt at realism here, a truly tense and nerve-jangling scene. Also, dare I say that the atmosphere in this scene comes the closest out of any film in the series to matching the "flashlight fight between Sally and Franklin" in the original film? It's that uncomfortable mix of anxiety,frustration, and dread that Hooper created so well that I think is unfairly overlooked in this sequel.

Okay, so that's the first half. The second half is simply not as effective. It becomes, like I mentioned earlier, almost a parody of the first film, with an uneven mix of horror and (attempted) black comedy. There are HINTS of wit and social commentary (the mocking by one of the chainsaw clan of the elitist "California" couple's underwear, Ken Foree's completely out-of-place military survivalist, and Leatherface's hilarious scene with the Speak and Spell that somehow manages to evoke sympathy from viewers), but these clever bits don't really SAY anything or add insight. The one saving grace that makes the second half worth sitting through however, is Kate Hodge's transformation from genteel yuppie to traumatized bad ass. A nice touch and homage to Sally in the original.

But then comes the final shot, which is almost as if director Burr threw up his arms and said "alright, time for the trendy 80's slasher movie ending....this ain't no art film after all". And of course it leaves room for yet another sequel. Shame, shame, Burr.

And there you have it: LEATHERFACE, the wildly uneven, sometimes ambitious, but always amusing, what should-have-been the final word on an already dying franchise, and more notably, sub-genre that would never quite be the same. As we all know, SCREAM followed 6 years later, and the slasher film became a cultural artifact only to be mocked, parodied, and "post-modernized" to a new generation of film goers, most of whom, ironically, weren't even alive when their genre forefathers were in their heyday. So in that context, we should be grateful for earnest little films like TCMIII, which, while far from perfect, mark the end of an innocent and forgotten era of irony-free slasher film making. Sigh.

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