Leatherface Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
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Leatherface Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

After spending much of my life watching movies there comes the point where many of them appear to meld into each other. This observation particularly pertains to genres with a penchant for highly formulaic stories. The popular slasher style horror movie. Recently the merging of themes of plot points collided with potential for confusion. Within a couple of months two new Blu-ray releases occurred, Leatherface (2017) and ‘Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1990)’. I received preview copies of both within a week or so of each other from different distributors. This consideration pertains to the former movie, a prequel to the original ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)’. As is usually the case with installments of a continuing franchise, subsequent offerings tend to decline in quality rapidly. The original film was directed by the certifiable master of horror, Tobe Hooper while this movie was Jeff Burr, whose resume consists mostly of ‘B’ grade horror flicks. Movies of that ilk can provide an entertaining couple of hours but certainly, are never seen on ant ‘Best of’ lists. The Texas Chainsaw franchise is admittedly not as prolific as the most popular slash and dash set and hasn’t quite sunk to the nadir of bad taste and revolting imagery which exemplifies the torture porn sub-genre, but it does manage to include the major plot contrivances and requisite grossness found in the likes of ‘Saw.’ It was submitted to the MPAA nearly two dozen times seeking relief from the initial assignment of the market poison, NC-17. Infamously, the scene frequently cited as the most gruesome consisted of a man, suspended alive upside down by his ankles, being sawed in half groin to the chest. The numerous revisions contributed heavily to the disjointed feel of the movie resulting in most of its shortcomings. That brutal scene of vivisection was prominently shockingly depicted in full in the movie ‘Bone Tomahawk (2015)’. The difference that allowed such unrelenting horror to be included was due to the option of releasing the film unrated. Some theater chains would agree to exhibit films devoid of the MPAA rating and alternate venues for distribution as Blu-ray, Premium cable and Streaming video services lie outside the organization’s purview.

Setting the direction in keeping with the title, the movie opens with a standard horror flick staple, the prologue. A young woman, Sara (Toni Hudson), watches in terror as her sister Gina (Beth DePatie), is murdered by Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff) who exhibits a set of creepily dark domestic skills by removing the face of his victim and crafting a crude mask. The basic theme of the story is best described as the worst road trip, ever. College couple, Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan William Butler) are on a road trip through the vast countryside of Texas. Growing relationship problems mar the journey. An emotional issue like that may seem earth-shattering at the moment, but the young couple is about to discover what real trouble is like. Following the checkpoints of the formula carefully, Tyan and Michelle find themselves at the requisite lonely, semi-deserted gas station aptly named, the Last Chance Gas Station. There they encounter a hitchhiker, Tex (Viggo Mortensen), who unsuccessfully attempts to get a ride with them. This is an uncharacteristic display of good judgment not permitting a stranger to ride with them. Unfortunately, it’s a moot point. While the filmmaker was visiting central casting for the necessary ruggedly handsome stranger, he also picked up the obligatory scrawny, creepy guy, the station's owner Alfred (Tom Everett). A moment of action is prompted by an event that reaffirms his cringe factor. Tex forcibly pulls Alfred out from the station. Tex shouts out that he caught Alfred spying on Michelle in the bathroom. During the altercation, the couple manages to drive off. As they look back, it appears Tex has killed Alfred with a shotgun. There is no need to wonder where a firearm came from after all this is Texas. The stereotype of this great state also explains that the harassment incident, occurring on cue, takes the form of a dead coyote tossed at their windshield. This is the second use of a dead animal as a plot contrivance; the other was running over an armadillo just before arriving at the gas station. This attack results in a blown tire. While Ryan is changing it, he is set upon by the eponymous Leatherface. Ryan successfully fights him off, and the pair gets away unharmed.

The next item on the checklist is to cross paths with a stranger, Benny (Ken Foree), during a car crash instigated by the sudden reappearance of Tex. Benny, proactive thanks to his expertise as a survivalist, chases after Tex. The survivalist motif is useful, cutting through exposition to explain his skill set and willingness to take the offensive. He happens upon a man with a prosthetic hook replacing his arm, Tinker (Joe Unger), who sets up road flares. The contrived façade is exposed when Benny discovers a chainsaw in the back of Tinker’s truck, running off into the night Benny is chased by Leatherface but is unexpectedly saved by the appearance of Sara. Her family was murdered by Leatherface hand his cannibalistic kin. As Benny runs off to help Michelle and Ryan, Leatherface kills Sara with his chainsaw bringing her home for family dinner. In short order, Michelle and Ryan are captured and dragged back to the little slice of backwoods hell for the next act of the story to begin.

Two distinct sub-genres are represented here differentiated by setting. Much of the initial intentionally revolting horror is restricted to the famous home of the cannibalistic family. Besides Tex, Tinker, and Alfredo, the audience is introduced to Mama (Miriam Byrd-Nethery), the twisted matriarch of the family, and a sweet looking blonde girl known only as ‘Little Girl’ (Jennifer Banko). Propped up in the venerable position at the head of the table is the desiccated corpse of ‘Grandpa.’ The first blood resulting from the torture and murder is collected in his cup and respectfully pored into the gaping mouth of the remains.

Within the context of the story, she is a psychopath in training, anxious to be permitted to experience her first kill. Monstrous little children grow up so fast. This movie is set towards the conclusion of the family’s tenure as the local hotspot of horror, so other films were able to utilize the same characters and actors. Despite their preference for extremely fresh human as their culinary staple, the family is exceptionally loyal to each other. I suppose the family that slays together stays together. In a macabre fashion, their bizarre dietary eccentricities do validate the importance of family dinner together. Tinker demonstrates the strength of the familiar bond by surprising his brother, Leatherface, with a gift, a shiny new silver chainsaw inscribed with the sentiment, "The Saw is Family." This unusual exhibition of an inter-personal interaction does allow for a means for the audience to bind on some level with antagonists routinely engaging in behaviors considered taboo, cannibalism. A noteworthy cause of the movie’s inability to succeed in its attempt to use several basic tropes and settings. The story begins with the standard couple with car trouble stuck in the middle of nowhere. This is so commonplace that it was incorporated into ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ Then, the action shifts to the venerable, chamber of horrors. In this scenario, the perspective chef’s specials are confined to space easily controllable by the hunters. The object here is for the victims to discover some items or circumstances that can provide an advantage. Finally, the story spirals down to the slash and dash favorite. The remnant repeatedly encounters the hungry hunters despite the fact that the previous act of the stories resulted in the deaths or dismemberment of several family members. This degree of discontinuity was why the movie ultimately came across as such a mess.

Posted         02/26/2018

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