In 1974, Tobe Hooper’s seminal horror flick The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released to shocked grindhouse audiences. A truly terrifying exercise in psychological horror, it quickly became revered in horror circles making an icon out of huge chainsaw wielding killer Leatherface and as the eighties went on, spawned a few sequels. The second film, released in 1986 by Cannon Films was not entirely awful but also not especially great with some rather uneven tonal shifts and a very irritating performance from Bill Moseley as one of the killer family members.
In 1989, the rights to the series ended up with New Line and Jeff Burr was signed on to direct the third movie, written by splatterpunk author David J. Schow. The film finds Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff) with a new family, one of whom is played by Viggo Mortenson, stalking the back roads of Texas in search of victims.
Kate Hodge and William Butler play Michelle and Ryan, a young couple who runs afoul of the killer clan and Dawn of the Dead vet Ken Foree puts on a good show as Benny, a survivalist who may be the couple’s only chance for survival.
Unlike the jokey second movie, the third movie plays things fairly straight with a lean, mean and intense feel to things. The relatively brief running time helps matters as well as Burr ratchets up the tension as much as he can about twenty minutes in and keeps things moving right up to the end.
KNB also puts in a good showing, showing why they’re one of the best f/x shops in the business. There are some seriously good gore shots here, especially in the finale where Benny shows up with a machine gun and goes to town on the family.
There are flaws, however as logic occasionally steps out for a smoke. I’m still waiting on a good explanation for how it that Benny, just an average guy can take a chainsaw slice to the head and still show up at the end of the movie alive. No mention of a metal plate, the guy sure as hell isn’t a robot sent from the future. It’s just one of those ridiculous things you have to accept as a horror fan I guess.
The film was severely cut by the MPAA when it was released into theaters but fortunately, the unrated cut is available on DVD. It’s a lot better than the R-rated cut, simply because it has more impact and intensity.
No matter which cut you view though, there’s still the problem that plagues all the sequels in this franchise. Every sequel in this franchise has been more or less a remake of the first with a big dinner scene as the climax. The second film diverts from the original well enough but in the third act it just repeated the dinner scene from the first almost verbatim. There is a dinner scene here but there’s enough good stuff in it to differentiate it from the original.
Against all odds, I actually like this movie quite a bit. In spite of its rather shoddy reputation, it’s a solid little horror movie that’s good for what it needs to be. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do in a pinch.