Just to be up front with you faithful readers, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is my favorite of the series for both personal and sentimental reasons. While I watched the first two entries in the series countless times on VHS, the 3rd one was the first that I got to see on the big screen. And not only that, but because I was about 15 at the time, I had to wait several hours outside the theater and beg an older couple to pretend to be my legal guardians so I could get in. Thankfully, someone took pity on me and let me come in with them. And after it was over, I wasn’t aware of the tremendous production problems that delayed it from a November 1989 release date to January 1990. I didn’t know about the massive battle with the MPAA to get the film down to an R rating. All I knew was that I finally got to experience a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie in a theater and it blew me away.
Now in the hands of New Line Cinema, the production company that had been churning out Nightmare On Elm Street films for most of the decade and whom at that point had just acquired the Jason Voorhees character and made Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday, it seemed like Leatherface and family were in capable hands and about to get their due in front of a mass audience. However, the road from acquisition to final feature film was far from easy. We’ll get to that, but first the story.
On a rough time table, this could act as a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s original, or it also could technically be a few short years after the events of the second with Leatherface now surrounded by a new group of family members, with the exception of Grandpa whose corpse is still just hanging around. Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler) are a former couple that are driving cross country from California to Florida to deliver Michelle’s father’s car. On the way through Texas, they stop at a gas station and meet Tex (Viggo Mortensen in one of his earlier on-screen roles) whose just looking for a ride home and the creepy gas attendant Alfredo (Tom Everett). After a scuffle between the two over Alfredo peeping on Michelle in the bathroom, a fight breaks out, a shotgun is fired and Michelle and Ryan frantically drive off and abruptly decide to take a short cut that Tex had told them about.
Once nightfall comes, those back roads turn out to be a trap and lead the pair directly into the den of the demented Sawyer clan fronted by a meaner, leaner and far more terrifying Leatherface. What they didn’t count on was Benny (Ken Foree), a special ops soldier who uses these back roads on the weekends for hunting trips. From there on, it just becomes a battle for survival as Michelle goes from victim to fighter and Benny takes on the family one by one culminating in a fist to fist showdown with Leatherface.
Allow me to geek out a bit on why I love this movie as much as I do. It’s mainly because this particular entry has far more horror pedigree worth mentioning than any other sequel. First off, it’s directed by Jeff Burr who had debuted with the impressive anthology feature The Offspring (titled From A Whisper To A Scream here in the States) starring horror legend Vincent Price, and who’d also just come off of directing the vastly underrated Stepfather 2 with Terry O'Quinn. (Peter Jackson who had at that point only done Bad Taste & Dead Alive was also on the short list of directors attached before Burr got the gig.) Screenwriting duties went to splatter-punk author David J. Schow who would after this go on to write The Crow. I already mentioned Ken Foree in the cast who most genre fans know and love from George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, but then you’ve also got the lovely Kate Hodge, making her debut here but shortly after this, she would front the television series She Wolf Of London, and then there’s William Butler, whom at that point was getting killed by everyone on-screen from Jason to Freddy to the Ghoulies and zombies in the Night Of The Living Dead remake. (He’s currently a director/producer.)
We can’t forget about Leatherface himself, this time played by all around bad-ass R.A. Mihailoff. Of note is that the stunt coordinator of the film was Jason Voorhees himself Kane Hodder and he actually donned the Leatherface mask for a few shots during the big fight in the lake with Benny towards the end of the movie. Years later, both Kane Hodder and R.A. Mihailoff would square off against each other in Hatchet II! And for die-hard Chainsaw fans, looks for a quick cameo by Caroline Williams, Stretch from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as a news reporter. Director Burr had joked that after the events of Chainsaw 2, he imagined Stretch would become a journalist and continue trying to track down the Sawyer clan.
As I touched upon briefly earlier, this film was the victim of a lot of post-production troubles, primarily due to battling the MPAA while trying to make a pre-arranged street date. The MPAA were not happy about Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 playing in theaters unrated 3 years prior and it seemed like Leatherface was getting the brunt of that hostility. The film required more than a dozen re-edits and was forced to miss its initial November release date. Then there was the ending. Because this was New Line, they really wanted to build a new franchise off of Leatherface. Test audiences loved the character of Benny, and so although he died in the original cut, a new ending was filmed where he survived so that he could return to battle Leatherface again for the follow-up. But then… the movie tanked when it finally quietly opened in theaters in January of 1990 and New Line opted to let the rights go, which is a terrible shame because I would’ve loved to have seen more movies with this version of Leatherface and the Benny character.
Regardless of how the movie was received back in 1990, the DVD release of it features the unrated cut which reinstates as much original footage as possible and makes for a satisfying, more seriously toned Chainsaw movie. It’s still my favorite of the series and it’s worth checking out for Viggo’s amazing and looney performance as Tex, who has to be one of my favorite characters of the franchise. If you’d like to go a little more in depth on the making of Leatherface, you can check out these extensive interviews I conducted on Icons Of Fright with director Jeff Burr and star William Butler.
And I leave you with this bithcin’ teaser trailer that was made prior to shooting on the film which played with prints of A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. It still to this day remains one of my all-time favorite teaser trailers to a horror sequel ever!
Post Mortem with Mick Garris Guest Starring Texas Chainsaw creator Tobe Hooper
Revisiting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Revisiting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Revisiting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation
Revisiting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 Remake
Revisiting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
FEARnet Movie Review: Texas Chainsaw 3D by Scott Weinberg