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Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
In a franchise with some memorable films, particularly Tobe Hooper's legendary original and its darkly humorous sequel, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III falls short. With a scant narrative, few scares and some atrocious acting, Leatherface feels uninspired and perfunctory, as if its filmmakers simply tried to update and combine the previous two films instead of furthering the characters' mythology. The film gains a bit of traction at the climax, but remains a minor diversion amid more successful Texas Chain Saw outings.
The film opens with text revealing that a member of the Sawyer family was tried and executed for the grisly murders depicted in previous films and calls into question whether or not Leatherface is a real person or simply a personality of the convicted murderer. A young couple, Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler), travels through rural Texas sometime after and flees an altercation at a small gas station between its owner and members of the Sawyer clan. Later that night, Ryan wrecks the couple's Jeep, and the pair barely escapes an attack from Leatherface (R. A. Mihailoff) with the assistance of survivalist Benny (Ken Foree). The woods become a deadly maze for Benny, Michelle and Ryan, who must avoid Leatherface and relatives Tex Sawyer (Viggo Mortensen), Alfredo Sawyer (Tom Everett) and Tink Sawyer (Joe Unger).
The biggest problem with Leatherface is the lack of screen time for the big guy. The majority of the film's scant 85-minute running time is spent trolling about the Texas woods in the dark with uninteresting, annoying characters. The scares just aren't here, and Jeff Burr's film can never match the queasy intensity of the first Texas Chain Saw Massacre or roller-coaster humor and thrills of its follow-up. This is a middle-of-the-road, unoriginal horror film. It is neither good enough to be memorable or bad enough to fully entertain. In the included supplements, filmmakers reveal that Leatherface was New Line Cinema's attempt to return to franchise roots after the polarizing, madcap first sequel. Unfortunately, good intentions did not translate into a great film.
The film shows sparks of life at the climax, when several characters become trapped in the Sawyer's rundown homestead. There are a couple of grisly kills, apparently inspired by real serial-killer murders, and the appearance of matriarch Anne Sawyer (Miriam Byrd Nethery) and her "Little Girl" (Jennifer Banko) recalls the "Saw is Family" mentality of Hooper's original. Only here does Leatherface gain a disturbing, unpredictable quality and quickened pace. Franchise fans have long considered Leatherface a disappointment, and it is easy to see why. Tepidly constructed, as if the filmmakers played it too safe, Leatherface is not a franchise highlight.
Warner Archive surprised horror fans with the unexpected HD release of this film. Allegedly newly remastered, the 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is mostly impressive, and is certainly the best the film has looked on home video. The transfer looks like film, which is a good thing, and the grain, while occasionally heavy, is organic and appears natural in motion. Fine-object detail impresses in bright, outdoor scenes, and texture is evident on fabrics and sets. A large chunk of the film takes place at night, and shadow detail varies but is overall decent. I did not notice compression artifacts, and aside from a few smeared pans and a couple of soft-focus shots, this is a good catalogue transfer.
The included 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is nicely balanced and without major issue. Dialogue is clear and organic, and the outdoor environments lend themselves to immersive natural effects. Action effects, like the roar of a chainsaw and a violent car wreck, make good use of the surrounds, and the elements are balanced nicely with the score. English SDH subtitles are offered.
WB does offer the Unrated Version of the film on this Blu-ray. The disc also includes a Filmmaker Commentary with remarks from director Burr, SFX guru Greg Nicotero, Mihailoff, writer David J. Schow, Butler, and New Line suit Mark Odesky. I really enjoyed this track, as it details some of the issues with the film, how New Line even got the project, and what it tried to do with this film. Next up is The Saw is Family: Making Leatherface (27:58/SD), an impressively in-depth making-of that covers all aspects of the production. You also get You Know What to do with Them Parts: Deleted Scenes Documentary (9:45/SD), with comments from Burr; an Alternate Ending (5:20/SD); and the Theatrical Trailer (1:12/HD).
While it does show sparks of life during the climax, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is a disappointing attempt from New Line Cinema to return to franchise roots after the darkly humorous first sequel. My advice is to Rent It, but horror fans looking to purchase this new Blu-ray edition will be pleased with the A/V quality and included supplements.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.