Leatherface; Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) - Jeff Burr
Was it fortuitous that Jonathan Betuel (The Last Starfighter, My Science Project) had to drop out of directing duties for Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III? Who knows, but the finished product would at least of been representative of the directors complete efforts. Unfortunately Betuel had to walk away due to contractual issues with Fox and, after approaching another dozen or so directors, Jeff Burr signed on to take the helm.
Jeff Burr, coming fresh off of The Stepfather 2, probably came into New Line's den fresh faced and ready to go. Maybe he should have had doubts when the producers told him that they were shooting in LA as opposed to Texas, and that the "family's" abode had already been built (looking nothing like the dingy, smelly home of the original). But who was going to turn this down? Not Burr. His competent direction through what appears to have been a war-zone of a production, (even getting fired and re-hired midway through principal photography because they couldn't find anyone else) holds up regardless of how scathed Burr emerged after it’s release.
Re-inventing Leatherface with an adoptive nuclear family as opposed to the "Sawyers" last seen in Part 2 is an interesting if not completely good idea. Not entirely a remake, but unrelatable to the original two movies, it makes this seem like its own beast, or as it actually transpired, a failed effort to kick start a new series of "chainsaw" movies (akin to the Nightmare on Elm Street series) over at New Line.
Writer David Schow said of Leatherface that "he's now the rebellious teenager" comparing the new Leatherface to the sexually exited representation of Part 2. In many ways that makes perfect sense, and at least goes some way of evolving what is essentially (and should be) a one note character. Speaking of which, R.A Mihailoff who don's the newly constructed (by KNB) mask in this installment makes possibly the best Leatherface since Hansen's original. A vicious giant who is mentally stunted and misunderstood. The real difference this time around (aside from the inclusion of a mother figure) is the introduction of Leatherface's daughter. Played by Jennifer Banko, the sweet and deadly Little Girl is a great addition to the family's dynamic, and she also is
the force behind one of the films best murders (featuring a pendulum swinging sledgehammer and a college kid hung upside down, ala Bernice Warden's discovered body in Ed Gein's tool shed). The subtext being that in order to keep the family dynamic, Leatherface is let loose on the hapless female victims and the end result was the Little Girl in question.
Aside from the brand new (and somewhat confusing) family, the main focus is survivalist Benny (played by fan favourite Ken Foree, in his usual imitable way). Helping out and eventually teaming up with the ex-boyfriend and girlfriend team of Ryan and Michelle (the always watchable getting butchered William Butler, and Kate Hodge in a role which doesn’t really give her much to do until the end), who whilst delivering a car across country fall afoul of the “Chainsaw” clan.
Shot in 1989 and intended to be released in October of that year, Texas Chainsaw Massacre III was delayed until January of 1990 due to the continuous battles with the MPAA to avoid an X Rating. The last movie to be rated as such before the NC-17 rating came into force. The theatrical cut is the most reflective of these extensive censoring and it’s no wonder why it came and went in a matter of weeks (days?) when it was originally released. Because of that fact, TCMIII got a bad rap very early on, which is unfair and undeserved.
The very-polished for a 2.5 million dollar (a large chunk of that sum going to Vortex for the rights), is an entertaining and well made affair. But if electing to watch the movie in any of it's many forms the Unrated DVD version is the way to go, giving viewers the closest thing to what Burr originally intended. If only they had the option of choosing which ending to watch, as the original low key and unexpected ending works much better and makes a lot more sense than the re-shot travesty that is the theatrical cut.
The underrated quazi-remake works well as a stand alone late 80's/early nineties Chainsaw opus. Highly recommended, but possibly only for fans of the franchise.