New Line Home Entertainment / 1990 / 85 and 81 Minutes / Not Rated and Rated R
Street Date: September 30, 2003
I hate to start off a review on such a negative note but, well, it is fair to say that Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (note missing "The") just may be one of the most reviled and least successful horror sequels in history. It is not just that it had the unenviable task of following up the original and still undisputed champion of southern gothic horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (and even more unenviable, following up Texas Chainsaw 2); rather, Leatherface is simply a movie in search of a point. It retains the syntax and structure of the original but not the soul. It is everything mainstream horror is always accused of being - watered-down, poorly executed and just plain unnecessary.
It is sometime in the future after the events of the original Massacre (Chainsaw 2 is largely ignored), and Leatherface has found a new clan of misfits to call family. When another couple of rather obnoxious yuppies (Kate Hodge and Bill Butler) accidentally wander off the main road, Mr. Chainsaw revs back up into action. The story that follows is rather marginal, but that seems besides the point anyway. Blood, sweat and screams ensue.
I will go on record as saying that when I first saw Leatherface, I too joined in the chorus of boos. Why was this movie made? But like any orphaned stepchild, I soon tried to embrace Chainsaw III, looking for a hint of anything that might cause me to reevaluate its worth. (I'm still looking.) I can watch it and pull out a few gems, but admittedly it just isn't a very good movie. Sadistic but with no purpose, none of the characters are likable, Leatherface looks like a chubby drag queen and for all the chainsaw-waving and screaming, little real tension is generated.
Is there anything at all worth watching here? Screenwriter and "Splatterpunk" pioneer David Schow did try to invest the storyline with at least some echoes of the psychosexual dementia that so infused the first film, but Jeff Burr's direction lacks real panache and doesn't fully flesh out the themes Schow hints at. To be fair, Leatherface was a "troubled shoot" marred by interference and the lack of a single unifying vision, and that was even before the MPAA got ahold of it. And then there were the reshoots...and the on-set feuding...and the eviscerated gore...
Someone once told me that, even if it isn't fair, you have to judge a movie on the merits of the final product, regardless of the blood, sweat and tears that went into making it. So it goes with Leatherface - I'm inclined to give all involved points for trying, but the end result? I don't know if a good movie could ever have been made out of a Texas Chainsaw III, but this certainly isn't it. For Leatherface fanatics only.
Video: How Does The Disc Look?
Presented here at last in its uncut form (the useless R-rated version is also included via seamless branching) and in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen to boot, Leatherface certainly looks good for what it is. New Line has dug up a fairly good print, with excellent blacks and no major defects. Colors, especially in the early daylight scenes, are generally vibrant and well reproduced. Fleshtones appear accurate throughout save for a slight bluish cast during the nighttime exteriors, which was likely the intended effect. Alas, detail is merely average - grain is present almost throughout and the image looks soft. Shadow delineation is also lacking, especially in the darkest of scenes, namely the last 30 minutes. But a real plus is the lack of any apparent edge enhancement which gives it a very film-like look. This transfer is hardly a revelation, but probably better than Leatherface deserves.
Audio: How Does The Disc Sound?
Yes, Leatherface actually gets the Dolby Digital Surround EX and DTS 6.1 EX Matrixed treatment. I'm sure there are far more deserving films than this for such lavishness, but so it goes with DVD these days. Both mixes are quite good considering this was a fairly low-budget little exploitation. The source elements are in fine shape - fairly wide frequency response (only the direct-to-video-esque score sounds whiny) with solid stereo separation across the front. The surrounds are somewhat inconsistent but a few effective discrete effects are noticeable.
I couldn't detect much difference between the DTS and Dolby tracks. Low end is slightly more full on the DTS and imaging more transparent. But the mix is still rather front heavy, so surround effects, when active, feel a bit out of place and can distract. Still, this is Leatherface, not Citizen Kane, so who's complaining?
Also included is an optional English Dolby 2.0 surround track, plus English subtitles and Closed Captions.
Supplements: What Goodies Are There?
I wouldn't have pegged Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III as a Platinum Series title; but one of the wonders of the DVD format is that it can really polish up a turd. Weak movie, great supplements.
Leatherface is far from a great movie, so the biggest compliment that can be paid to the 28-minute featurette The Saw Is Family: Making 'Leatherface' is that no one involved with the movie would seem to disagree. Courtesy of the fine folks at Automat Pictures, contributing new interviews are director Jeff Burr, producer Jeff Engelman, New Line production executive Mark Oroesky, actors R.A. Mihailoff and Bill Butler and effects guru Greg Nicotero. It is a great little overview and surprisingly un-PC for a doc about a studio film. No one denies that the flick was a disappointment for most and "a difficult shoot," despite everyone's honorable intention to stay true to the original's spirit and tone. Development and casting seemed to go OK, and then... the post-production tinkering, test screenings, reshoots and a box office debut in 11th place. Those who think it was just the MPAA who screwed this one up should watch this carefully...movies made by committee don't usually turn out too good, Leatherface a case in point. I suspect that the less you like Texas Chainsaw III, the more you'll like this documentary.
A perfect companion piece to the doc is the audio commentary featuring all of the above save for Engelman. Given all the participants there is never a dull moment, and the spiffy editing keeps it well-paced and each speaker clearly delineated. Like the featurette, many here are honest and forthright about the film's plusses and weaknesses, and Schow especially can be fabulously ornery. And Burr is somehow able to lament the lack of support he received yet not seem whiny, bitter or cynical. Whether or not you actually want to sit through Leatherface again I'll leave up to you, but it sure makes for a fascinating footnote to the history of the horror sequel.
Next up we have a 10-minute deleted scenes featurette with some pretty poor video dubs of five cut scenes, including much lost gore, and a few interview snippets. Nothing here would have saved the movie, nor the 5-minute alternate ending, which is a bit more graphic and features a revised coda. Worth a look for Leatherface completists.
Rounding out the extras is the film's theatrical trailer, plus four previews for other New Line horror flicks, although oddly enough no spot for the upcoming Texas Chainsaw remake. Also missing (unless it is hidden as an easter egg?) is the hysterically bad music video for the film's theme song ("Come join Leatha-FACE!"). Sacrilege!
DVD-ROM Exclusives: What do you get when you pop the disc in your PC?
Very impressive are the PC-enhanced extras. Pop in the disc and you'll get a cute 'n' nasty little interface with the usual weblinks and basic player controls. But the real treat is the advanced script-to-screen viewer. The screenplay itself, with direct scene access and the ability to print it out as chapters or in its entirety, is great to have, but you can also access storyboards for select scenes, production log notes and - most amusingly - soundbites. All screenplay viewers should be this much fun. A very nice touch.
The cinematic merits of Leatherface remain in questions. But this DVD is a clear winner. The film looks kinda cheap but the transfer and Dolby Digital and DTS remixes are good considering the material, and the extras will prove even more fascinating to those who hate the film. All horror fans should check this one out.