Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III on the face of it, may appear to be the next installment of Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel's story of the Sawyer cannibal clan, but Jeff Burr's film is perhaps best described in today's vernacular as a reboot, and it was this break-away from the original sacred text that fiercely divided horror fans on its release in 1990. The plot of the film itself could be lifted from any one of the backwoods slasher films that came in the wake of the original film - a couple en route to Florida take an ill-advised turn off the highway only fall into the clutches of a family of killers with a taste for human flesh...
Leatherface gets his name on the title for this one, but had you missed the opening credits, you might think you were watching something more akin to The Hills Have Eyes. So far so cliched, but under Jeff Burr's direction the film moves at a fair lick and it's easily the best looking Chainsaw in the series - a scene where one of the killers is introduced, lit by the crimson glow of a flare is a visual highlight. What really impresses about Leatherface is its delight in sheer sadism, and takes the woman-in-peril concept as far as it can go - in the original film Marylin Burns was tied to a chair, in this film, Kate Hodge is nailed to one (causing much grief from the MPAA). It's gruesome, gory, and subversive too - one of the twists on the cannibal family is that it includes a 10year old girl, who delights in bringing a sledge hammer down on a victim's head. No wonder the British censors refused to pass this in 1990.
Performances are mostly great, the family get the best lines, and a pre-stardom Viggo Mortensen really shines as Tex, a cowboy who's charming, sly and deadly dangerous in equal measures. The Leatherface character is nothing special though - if you missed Gunnar Hansen from the first film, you might now be missing Bill Johnson from the second, but its not a big deal with Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree among the cast.
New Line's DVD presents Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III in a fine looking 1.85:1 transfer. The film is uncut (with the useless R-Rated version on the flipside), and comes with a good commentary track from Jeff Burr and crew; a half-hour documentary on the making of the film, and some scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor. Highly recommended.