Sunday, March 4, 2018

LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990) (WAC Blu-ray Review)

LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990) 

Label: Warner Archive
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 85 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles

Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.781) 
Director: Jeff Burr
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, William Butler, Ken Foree, Joe Unger, Tom Everett, Toni Hudson, Miriam Byrd-Nethery, Kate Hodge, R.A. Mihailoff

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series started with two great films, Tobe Hooper's nerve-shredding original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and the gruesome black-comedy of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), but after those the drop in quality is very significant. This third film was directed by Jeff Burr, a director known for some a few low-budget gems, from the indie-anthology From a Whisper to a Scream (1987) to the cheesy mayhem of Puppet Master IV (1993), he seemed a strange choice to helm the third entry, which actually tries to rewrite the franchise with an opening text blurb that completely ignores the second film all together, stating something along the lines of that sole Sally Hardesty was confined to an asylum after surviving the events from the first film, that Dreyton Sawyer was apprehended and convicted for the crimes, and that the chainsaw wielding "leatherface" was merely his alter ego, but then it goes straight into a scene of Leatherface (R. A. Mihailoff, Trancers III) cutting the face off a young woman and stitching himself a new dead-skin mask to wear, in a nice touch her sister who has seemingly escaped Leatherface watches the whole sick scene, horrified as she peers through a window from the outside, but she doesn't get away for long, in fact she gets a pretty vicious death later on! 

We then go where both the previous films began, as a road movie, with a young couple Michelle (Kate Hodge, The Hidden II)
and Ryan (William Butler, Night of the Living Dead '90) (i.e. fresh meat for the saw) who have been hired to deliver a car to the West coast, currently driving through the ill-fated state of Texas, where nothing ever good happens. They stop at a shit-hole gas station for a refill and to freshen-up, but the gas station attendant is a real sweaty creeper named Alfredo (Tom Everett, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown), who spies on the Michelle in the restroom while she is tinkling. While peeping he is caught by a seemingly well-meaning hitchhiker named Tex (Vigo Mortenson, A History of Violence), but if you know anything about this series at all you know that gas station attendants and  hitchhikers are always bad news! 

This time out we get a new family, not the Sawyers of familiarity, but some new faces from the same fucked-up family tree - apparently the whole clan of Sayers are cannibal weirdos - the main three (aside from he titular Leatherface) are Tex (Mortsenon), the creeper gas station attendant Alfredo (Everett), and my favorite of the four Tinker (Joe Unger, Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings) who is amusingly obsessed with newfangled technology, always saying that technology is our friend, he even hooks up a gadget that eases the swing of the death-delivering sledgehammer in the kitchen, which is used to nice effect but even in the unrated form is annoyingly abbreviated. Also of the clan matriarch Anne (Miriam Byrd Nethery, From a Whisper to a Scream), and a young girl (Jennifer Banko) who seems to be the daughter of Leatherface - she's a sicko too, it's perversely fun how she gets real excited about being the one who gets to use the spine-loaded sledge hammer on one of the victims, it's a fun scene, and apparently one the ratings board wasn't to pleased with either! Even the dried-up old corpse of the blood-drinking grandpa shows up again - this guy gets around a lot for a dead guy! 

Enter into the story a weekend survivalist/trucker named Benny played by Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, From Beyond)who winds up mixed into the on goings when he's involved in an accident with the travelling couple, he skills as a survivalist are put to good use, the damn guy proves to be damn near Terminator like in his tenacity, thanks in large part to a re-shoot that pulls his mangled corpse from the swamp where he should have rightfully died from a chainsaw to the skull from Leatherface, and puts him in the survivor-dude throne, but that's the sort of shit that happens when a troubled production gets screen-tested I guess, and I love the guy so I am happy to see him live, though it's always a surprise when he pops back up at the end with a band-aid on his head, seemingly none the worse for wear. 

Make no mistake, the movie is far from perfect, but I have always enjoyed Leatherface, but there's still a few issues I niggle at, such as the fact that Leatherface is in the damn title and he's not in this thing all that much, the other Sawyers take up a lot of screen time, and they're a fun gruesome bunch, so I don't wanna complain too much, I mean we just had another Leatherface (2017) movie and he was the focus, it's not bad mind you, but it's not any better than this one in my opinion, in fact I'll go out on my own limb and say this is the better entry of the pair. ANother small niggle is that final girl Michelle (Kate Hodge) is no Sally (Marilyn Burns, then again who is?) from TCM, heck, she's not even Stretch (Caroline Williams) from TCM2, but she's serviceable, I just didn't find her all that compelling, so it's nice to have Ken Fuckin' Foree to root for! 

Audio/Video: Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) debuts on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive with a brand new 2018 HD re-master of the unrated cut, which is something fans have been clamoring for since the original special edition DVD arrived. Having just watched that old DVD not that long ago all I can say is throw it away folks, you don't need it anymore! Colors look natural, the black levels are very nice, and while shadow detail can be a bit lackluster and the grain can be a bit pronounced in the darker scene, I think this is far and away the best I have seen this look on home video, everything looks faithfully reproduced without any undue digital tinkering. I was a bit worried about the image before my copy arrived, Don May from Synapse Films notably made comment about the transfer on his Instagram account, pointing out a lightened oval that appeared onscreen for a large portion of the film during the darker scenes, but even with that fresh on my mind while I watched the film I could not detect it in anyway whatsoever, so not sure what's going on there, but to my knowledge WAC has not acknowledged any issues thus far, all I can say is I didn't see it on my Blu-ray. 

Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with optional English subtitles. The surround mix is not the liveliest but it does have some discreet use of the surrounds that add some atmosphere to the proceedings, the buzz of the saw in the distance and the screams of victims come through clean and string, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Warner Archive carry-over all the extras from the old New Line special edition, we get an audio commentary with Jeff Burr, Gregory Nicotero (Special Makeup Effects), R.A. Mihailoff (Leatherface), writer David J. Schow, William Butler (Ryan), and New Line executive Mark Odesky, as well as a making of doc, both are a warts and all presentations, going into how New Line acquired the rights and what their re-launch of the series was intended to do, plus talk of how difficult the shoot was, how Burr struggled to make the film, was fired and eventually brought back in to finish it, and how it suffered at the hands of the MPAA and how it bombed at the box office. We also get some deleted scenes, many of which are featured in the unrated cut, a theatrical trailer, and TV spots. It's a great set of extras, unfortunately no new stuff but I'm pleased they ported it all over for the Blu-ray.     

Special Features: 
- Filmmaker Commentary with director Jeff Burr, Gregory Nicotero (Special Makeup Effects), R.A. Mihailoff (Leatherface), writer David J. Schow, William Butler (Ryan), and New Line executive Mark Odesky 
- The Saw is Family (28 min) 
- We Know What To Do With Them Parts (Deleted Scenes)(10 min)
- Alternate Ending (5 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min)bHD
- TV Spots (1 min)

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1990) pales in comparison to the pair of films that preceded it but there's some serious fun to be had for fans of the gruesome series. After this one there wouldn't be another decent TCM film till the 2003 Platinum Dunes remake, and there hasn't been another really decent one since then in my opinion. What Jeff Burr and the crew did with the third entry holds up, it might not be a straight-up nerve-shredding classic but it's a lot of gruesome and perverse fun, plus we get Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree in a truly badass role, eagle-eyed watchers might even spot Caroline Williams (Stretch from TCM2) in a very brief cameo, too. The Blu-ray from WAC looks great, by far the best the film has ever looked on home video, it should please fans of the series who've been waiting for it to debut in HD for a long time. 

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