So in 1990, I had seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 more than a few times. Then one day while at the movies (I forgot what movie it was) I saw one of the most amazing previews of all time. What looks to be a new film about Camelot comes on. A man stands by a lake while a narrator tells us “Some tales are told and then soon forgotten. But a legend is forever.” Cue a hand rising from the lake to throw the man a mythical weapon: a huge shining chainsaw. The man catches the saw, holds it to the sky and it is struck by lighting before immediately cranking. The man turns around to reveal himself to be LEATHERFACE! Cue title card: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.
My mind was blown! I had to see this film. And some how, I got my dad to take me to go see it one Sunday afternoon shortly after it’s release in the fall of 1990. Honestly, I’m not even sure how that happened. I can’t really recall a lot about my first viewing of the film, other than a funny part I’ll get into later, and a woman in the audience yelling “I’m never going to Texas” at the end of the film.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is a trendsetter for a series to have alternate continuity. Sure, you can say Halloween III: Season of the Witch did this first, but that was more of an offshoot to turn the series into an anthology (and who knows what kinda awesome we could have gotten out of that deal had it worked), but this is the first time a series directly ignored a sequel while still tied to the original film. Halloween would later do the same with Halloween: H20. Return to Sleepaway Camp would also establish an alternate timeline for it’s series. And of course now we have Texas Chainsaw 3D which wants to establish another alternate storyline to the original series by acting as a direct sequel to the first and almost pulled it off had it not ignored the fact time exists. A prequel to the series, called Leatherface is also now in the works.
Back on topic now, David J. Schow, splatter punk author and Fangoria contributor, wrote The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III as the true sequel to the first film. That was how much people hated the second movie, they actually tried to write it out of existence. I still don’t get the hate for the second film, but I understand where they are coming from. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the Jerusalem or Mecca of horror films, it’s totally sacred ground. Don’t mess with Texas (chainsaw massacre).
So this was conceived to put the “teeth back in terror”, but it still cribbed from part two’s infamous line “The Saw is Family”. The poster art has Leatherface holding a saw with that carved into it. They were also kind enough to include Caroline Williams in it as a reporter, with the fringe logic being that this is Stretch’s new gig and she’s still trying to track the remaining family down. I mean, are we supposed to believe the hand grenade and collapsing building at the end of part two would be enough to stop Leatherface? Naw! So fans can say part two does exist in this time line, but it’s kind of a cheat.
As always, there is the per-requite narration at the opening of the film; this time setting this one chronologically after the first and makes no mention of the second film. In this incarnation, one of the family, W.E. Sawyer was caught and convicted for the attack on Sally and her friends in the first film. Who is W.E. Sawyer? We can assume they mean Drayton, and are making up a name because they want to establish their own continuity. Anyways, W.E Sawyer is sent to the gas chamber and Sally Hardesty (no hyphenation this time) died in an institution. Rumors of the cannibal family still abound, and thus our tale starts.
One of the first scenes we get is of Leatherface constructing a mask after his namesake from a victim while another victim watches before escaping. This is the first time we’ve seen Leatherface putting together a mask and it’s a pretty gruesome process as pieces of dead flesh are stitched together. Good thing the maestros at KNB FX were brought on board for this. This would have been their fifth film for the pioneers; previously they worked on two other icons in the horror industry on A Nightmare on Elm St. 5: The Dream Child and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. They’d also get the chance to work on Jason on Jason Goes to Hell. The face mask gag is the first of many splatterific moments this film has to offer.
David J. Schow was a big fan of the original and it shows on the film. There are little nods to the original. A new version of the Last Chance Gas Station makes an appearance at the opening of the film as we’re introduced to the protagonists of the film Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler) who are California natives passing through. Unfortunately, they stop at the Last Chance and set afoul of Leatherface and his new adopted family. The first of them we are introduced to is Alfredo (Tom Everett) who sets off red flags immediately by wanting to charge the couple for Polaroids he’s taken of them (a little nod to the hitchhiker from the first film). The couple are uninterested, but Alfredo is interested in them, especially Michelle. As Michelle goes to use the restroom, she notices it’s covered with pornographic magazine content glued to all the walls, but what she doesn’t know is that it hides a peep hole for Alfredo to watch her in. The hole is at the level of her face so he can’t really see anything and I’m not sure if this is because he’s stupid or because Kate Hodge had a non-nudity clause in her contract.
During this time we’re also introduced to the hitch-hiking Tex (Viggo Mortensen in a very early role). He’s a tough cowboy type who sets Alfredo straight and helps the couple get away while Alfredo is firing a shotgun at them. As dusk approaches, we cut back to the gas station and see Alfredo unleashing the beast as he cheers on Leatherface who drives off in a monster truck to chase down the hapless couple. Leatherface is played by R.A. Mihailoff, a former professional wrestler. So yeah, he’s a pretty big dude! Unfortunately the family’s plans meet a snafu as a survivalist/weekend warrior Benny (Ken Foree of Dawn of the Dead fame) comes into the picture. All the pieces are in place for an epic showdown, and that’s more or less what we get. Along the way we’re treated to more of the new family, including a little girl, whom it is implied is Leatherfaces daughter. She is of course a product of rape as the commentary of the film reveals, and fits in line with David. J. Schow’s brand of horror; and probably cribbed a bit from Jack Ketchum’s Off Season. There is also an old woman who is the matriach of the family whose in a wheel chair and speaks through a voice box. It’s also revealed during this time that Tex is a part of the family, and hates being called by his real name of Eddie. Turns out the beginning of the film is Tex and Alfredo setting the couple up for the hunt. The whole area is deserted except for the family’s business and residence. The woods are booby trapped as well.
One of the best things about this movie is the way it allows little character moments for the family, like Alfredo dropping off body parts in the marsh while talking crazy things to them. “My ex-girlfriend was from Tupalo. Now you gonna go down below”, he says to a severed head before tossing it in. Ken Foree is watching the windows of the family and sees Leatherface playing a spelling bee program on one of those old children’s learning video games, He has a picture of a clown but keeps typing “F-O-O-D”. Around the time I saw this film, I had one of those myself, and thought it was the funniest thing ever. Viggo Mortensen is a hoot as the effeminate Tex with little details like wearing an apron, painting his finger nails and perverted laugh.
On the other hand, there is that damned ending. At the time, New Line Studios was running on empty with the Nightmare on Elm St. franchise and were looking for another cash cow to keep the lights on. This was what they thought would be the ticket and so they tacked on an ending in which two people who were killed arbitrarily come back from the dead without so much as a scratch. Thankfully, the original endings were included on the DVD.
Overall, this is a worthy sequel. It keeps up the violent edge of the first film while still keeping a sense of humor about the situation without going overboard on the camp like part two. Ken Foree throwing down with the Sawyer clan is a very cool moment in horror history. And this is a film that is very much motivated by heavy metal music. From the monster truck.to the saw, to the soundtrack, this movie rocks. Begrudgingly, I have to say it is better than the second film. Unfortunately, this film didn’t catch on with audience goers and so we had the first remake Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation to follow it up a few years later.