Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

1990, Movie, R, 87 mins

Review

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A feuding couple--Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler)--are driving from California to Florida. In Texas they pass the floodlit site of a grisly discovery: a slimy pit from which body after body is being removed by workers cocooned in eerie airtight suits. Told by a state trooper to keep moving ("Don't stop for nothing or nobody," he says ominously), they pull into the rundown Last Chance Gas Station. A rangy stranger (Viggo Mortensen) looking for a lift directs them to a shortcut, but they're reluctant to give him a ride. An awkward situation becomes terrifying when the gas station's crazy owner threatens them with a shotgun and the stranger fights him off, allowing them to escape. They take his detour, hoping to find help. Out of the darkness a Land Rover with hunting lights appears and tries to run them off the road. When they stop to survey the damage, a chainsaw-wielding maniac appears out of the night like a bad dream.

From this point on, LEATHERFACE is on familiar ground. Michelle and Ryan try to flee, joining forces with the most useful guy you could run into on a dark road crawling with homicidal sociopaths, a weekend survivalist (Ken Foree) with a trunkful of serious weapons. But the dark, tangled forest in which they're trapped is more than Texas topography; it's the horror movie version of a fairy-tale's wicked woods, and in the center lies a haunted house aglow with golden light. Inside there's more of what made THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE great: vertebrae and teeth, feathers and femurs, ribs and skulls fashioned into furniture and scattered across the floor in sublime disarray. And while there's no witch lurking here, a cannibal family holds court: the eponymous Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff), his crippled mother, and three lethal siblings. Ryan is strung up and butchered like a calf, Michelle is nailed to a chair, and everyone's looking forward to dinner. The big question, of course, is who gets out alive? And what will be left of them?

If LEATHERFACE weren't the second sequel to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, audiences probably wouldn't ask such questions. Taken as a separate entity, this is a competently packaged horror movie that plays by the rules and delivers what the title promises: sadistic killers, whimpering victims, and chainsaws. But the hope that something really scary is in the offing springs from the memory of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, which came out of nowhere and sucker-punched into near-catatonia audiences who thought they were watching just another horror movie. You've got to go back to George Romero's taboo-busting NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to find a film that's even in the same ballpark. LEATHERFACE can't compete with that memory, but unlike TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II--which used the original's theme as the starting point for a macabre joke about consumerism and dog-eat-dog yuppie mores--it takes itself very seriously while it tries. Splatterpunk novelist-turned-screenwriter David Schow and director Jeff Burr take the material back to its roots, re-creating the minimal plotting and alternately muddy and washed-out look of the original. In deference to contemporary tastes, LEATHERFACE pulls as few gory punches as prevailing standards permit (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE only seemed unbearably graphic) and underscores the mayhem with an abrasive speed metal soundtrack. It builds considerable momentum in the opening scenes, playing on urban unease about the sparsely populated heartland, but once Hodge, Butler, and Foree are set loose in the woods, there's a numbing sameness to the action: it's all running and screaming, and we've seen it all before. There is roadkill all over Texas, as traumatized survivor Hodge asserts, and LEATHERFACE affords a close-up look that falters when the traffic accident appeal wears off. (Gore effects.) leave a comment

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Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
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