Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3: Leatherface (1990) – Bloody, and Better than You Remember

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (1990) - Movie Poster

Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Most great horror franchises languish once they are taken from the hands of the people that lovingly created them. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 is no exception. After the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, New Line Cinema negotiated with Canon films to acquire the rights to the franchise. Coming off of a successful campaign with Freddy Kruger, New Line wanted to augment its portfolio of slasher properties.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 - The Saw is FamilyFrom New Line’s perspective, it makes a lot of business sense. But, good business sense doesn’t always equate to great art. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, directed by Jeff Burr, became a sacrificial lamb on the altar of New Lines burgeoning catalog  of horror movies. Accordingly, it has a lot of problems. Regardless, the film actually manages to be pretty good so long as the audience can forgive a few missteps along the way.

The Architecture of a Franchise

Leatherface carries a different vibe than the first two installments of the story. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre really was an art film at the end of the day. The second was a bigger budget sequel that stayed faithful to the source material. New Line is interested in making money, not art. Accordingly, Leatherface forsakes much of the Texas Chainsaw horror history in favor of summer blockbuster trappings.

The production values are definitely higher. They leveraged well know horror icon, Ken Foree to play the role of Benny. Up and coming actor Viggo Mortensen stepped in as Tex Sawyer. They souped up the soundtrack to include popular heavy-metal of the day. Essentially, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 attempts to shed its indie roots in favor of Hollywood sizzle.

Fredo wants to know if you want to buy a picture?
Fredo wants to know if you want to buy a picture?

The Incident at Texas Battle Land

Due to the tragic events that befell the Sawyer family at the end of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, forced the producers to confront a challenge. Lieutenant Lefty Enright skewered Leatherface with a running chainsaw. Presumably, Leatherface was also blown up by brother Drayton’s misplaced grenade. Finally, portions of Texas Battleland Collapsed, crushing anyone left behind. How could they possibly bring back Leatherface? Jeff Burr and the production crew dug deep creatively and simply ignored the topic all together. Leatherface escaped Texas Battle Land with only a limp.

Or… is this actually the first retcon of them all? Leatherface only carries the injury left over from the 19974 original?  The simple thought of it seems a pit of never ending despair.

Subtle Tributes to the Original

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 is the third film in a row to begin with an opening scroll. So far, none have challenged the original with respect to foreshadowing the horror to come. In the scene where investigators uncover a pit of human remains, periodic flashbulbs reveal bit and pieces of bodies. Again, It serves as a nice tribute, but lacks the punch that the original had. Burr does a solid by bringing Caroline Williams back in a nearly non-existent cameo role as a reporter. Finally, at the Last Chance filling station, Jeff Burr does a brief replay of the Hitchhiker photo situation from the original. These are all nice little tips of the cap that avoid overindulging.

Tinker Sawyer showing off the the nighttime cinematography
Tinker Sawyer showing off the the night time cinematography

Texas Chainsaw 3 – Plot Summary

Two soon to be former lovers drive across Texas. Michelle, played by Kate Hoge, transports a Mercedes to her father in Florida before traveling abroad. Her boyfriend Ryan, played by William Butler, travels along in hopes of catharsis before she leaves. Using a familiar plot device, the couple stops at a ‘Last Chance’ gas station where they meet the Sawyers for the first time.

Fredo Sawyer runs the station when he is not carving up pornography with a pair of scissors. At first Tex appears to be an unrelated hitch-hiker. He asks for a ride, and tried to convince Ryan of an alternate route. Ryan refuses to help Tex. A confrontation with Fredo erupts and Ryan and Michelle must burn out. In a panic, Ryan takes Tex’s route while Fredo fires his shotgun in the air, exclaiming “The Trap is Sprung!”

Meet the Sawyers

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 introduces an entirely new family to the mix. Unfortunately, Burr never takes the time to explain how these people are related to Leatherface, or how he came to be with them. I’ll do my best to try and stitch it all together.

Viggo Mortensen plays Tex Sawyer. Tex provides a strong male character. Tinker Sawyer does just that, he tinkers with electro-mechanical doodads that assist the Sawyers with their daily living. Tom Everett plays Alfredo ‘Fredo’ Sawyer. Fredo fills in for the comedic void left by Chop-Top. The matriarch, Anne Sawyer runs the household. They call her “Mama”. Finally, the desiccated corpse of Grandpa sits in a chair at the dinner table as if he is a fully functioning member of the family.

It appears that Anne Sawyer is the mother of all of the Sawyer boys. At some point, several of the boys, Nubbins, Chop-Top, Drayton and Leatherface, left to live on their own. After the events of Texas Battle Land, Leatherface, holding his innards together, carried the corpse of Grandpa back to mom’s house. Finally, in one of the more disturbing revelations, Leatherface has a daughter. It remains unclear who the lucky mother is.

Leatherface's less impressive handiwork
Leatherface’s less impressive handiwork

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 – It’s Not Perfect…

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 has a lot of problems. Reiterating something I said in the Leatherface (2017) review, it is completely unacceptable to pretend as if Chainsaw 2 never happened. Tobe Hooper directed Chainsaw 2, and it is canon. Glossing over the events of the previous film is disrespectful, and quite unnecessary. I’ll never understand why Chainsaw 2 is the red-headed step child of this franchise.

The introduction of the new family is too much too fast. To be honest, I am not sure what the purpose is considering that all of them are killed by the movies end. It’s not as if they were setting the stage the future of the franchise. They were all just lambs to the slaughter.

But, It Could Be Worse

Leatherface has some things going for it. Kate Hoge’s portrayal was very good. She shows that she has a good head on her shoulders, and displays the type of grit we love to see in the final girl. When she finally cracks she doesn’t cower in fear, she becomes a threat. It is very satisfying watching her smoke Fredo to end the film. Likewise, Ken Foree’s Bennie, the AR-15 toting weekend warrior, provides an interesting offensive force against the Sawyers. It is essentially, Ken Foree being Ken Foree. That is alright by me.

Greg Nicotero heads up the special effects department for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3. For the most part, the effects are very well done. For all the fuss about this film when released, the gore is not nearly as bad as one would expect. However, Leatherface’s mask lacked the personality that other have had. It hardly looks as if it was sourced by a human. Likewise, it is not one of my favorites.

Bennie and Sara hiding out in the cover of darkness
Bennie and Sara hiding out in the cover of darkness

Considering that most of the action takes place in the dark of night, the cinematography of this film is excellent. Everything has a moonlit blue glow that conveys the darkness while also providing enough visibility to see the action. During the scene where investigators are uncovering a pit of human remains, there is a great towering pullback shot in the blue glow of the night. The production values are very high.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Final Word

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 is a pretty good as far a horror movies go. Sure, it violates a couple of things that will infuriate the partisans, but overall this entry contributes to New Line’s solid portfolio of horror movies. Upon seeing this film in 1990, I didn’t feel betrayed. Quite honestly, this film felt like a great foundation for expanding Sawyer mythology. Let’s be honest, this film is at least 100 times better than the Next Generation.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3: Leatherface (1990) - Bloody, and Better than You Remember - Malevolent Dark
texas chainsaw 3 poster e1624551452476

Director: Jeff Burr

Date Created: 1990-01-01 00:00

Editor's Rating:
3.5

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