Jeff Burr, 1990
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, William Butler, Kate Hodge, Ken Foree
“I like liver. And onions. And pain.”
In this cross between a sequel and a reboot, Leatherface kills a young woman and turns her face into a mask. Her sister Sara, who witnessed this, escapes. Meanwhile, a couple named Michelle and Ryan are on a cross country trip from L.A. to Florida and are on their way through Texas. They are briefly held up by a roadblock, which was put in place after a mass grave was discovered. At a gas station, Michelle is creeped out by the owner, Alfredo, but is rescued by a kind hitchhiker named Tex. They are about to give Tex a ride when Alfredo fires a shotgun at them, possibly killing Tex.
Later they are nearly killed by another driver and stop to change a tire. Leatherface attacks them in the dark with a chainsaw, but they escape and run into Benny, a man on his way to a weekend survivalist camp. Benny doesn’t believe them at first, but soon meets Sara in the dark woods, who tells him about how the Sawyers killed her family. Benny faces off against Leatherface, a reappeared Tex, and Tinker, another family member. He escapes, but Michelle and Ryan are captured. Ryan is quickly butchered for the family’s dinner, but can Benny save Michelle before it’s too late?
I’m sure it will come to no one’s surprise that Leatherface is not a good film. Splatter punk author David J. Schow (The Crow) penned the script, which probably should be a red flag right there. Lead Kate Hodge (She Wolf of the London) is one of the most boring characters in the entire Chainsaw franchise. Some of Michelle’s early scenes are decent, but she is so uninteresting that it doesn’t really matter whether she lives or dies.
Director Jeff Burr, King of the genre sequels, also made Stepfather II, Pumpkinhead II, and horror anthology film From a Whisper to a Scream, among other horror sequels. It’s clear that he wanted this to be a good film and the potential comes through in certain moments. Probably getting revenge for Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the MPAA came down really hard to Leatherface and it was resubmitted to the board almost a dozen times. Numerous scenes were cut and the release was delayed. Aside from stripping nearly all the gore, a new ending was shot.
The studio forced Burr to re-film it when a test audience didn’t like the original ending. Benny was supposed to have died, but somehow returns to rescue Michelle. He, Michelle, and Leatherface have an underwater fight with a chainsaw and, in a Monty Python level of ridiculousness, Ken Foree basically gets decapitating before returning several minutes later with a band-aid on like nothing happened. Apparently part of the reason they were allowed to escape is because New Line Cinema wanted Texas Chainsaw Massacre to join the franchise ranks alongside Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Alas.
There are honestly some things that I like about this film. Leatherface’s brand new saw, engraved with “The Saw is Family,” is hilarious (I believe in an intentional way). A young Viggo Mortensen is very likable as Tex, the benign-seeming, handsome Sawyer who nails Michelle’s hand to a chair. It’s a shame he wasn’t given more screen time or simply more to do and, I suppose, also a shame that he gives out far more charisma than the two leads put together. There’s also a welcome appearance from Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead), who could definitely use some more time to kick the shit out various Sawyers (or the plot). If you really can’t find anything likable about the movie, at least watch the amazing trailer.
There’s a lot about the film that mimics the first, which is a shame and I wish the slow burn of the first half an hour would just have erupted in all out mayhem. There’s a nice sequence that introduces Leatherface, when he surprises the couple changing a flat tire, but the first chase sequence takes place in the dark woods where it’s difficult to really see what’s going on. As with the first film, it’s hard to care about any of the supporting characters, including most of the Sawyer family. Caroline Williams from Texas Chainsaw Massacre II makes a cameo and Kane Hodder (Jason in several of the Friday the 13th films) does Leatherface’s stunt work. R.A. Mihailoff is pretty average as Leatherface, though the character doesn’t really have a whole lot to do in the film, despite the fact that it’s named after him. Joe Unger (Nightmare on Elm Street, The Bodyguard) is good as Tink, though, again, his character doesn’t have a lot to do.
I obviously can’t recommend Leatherface, but it isn’t as terrible as you’d think. Plus, who doesn’t want to see Viggo Mortensen in a Chainsaw movie? Without the major studio interference, this likely would have been an entertaining sequel. You can find both the rated and uncut versions on this DVD if you’re interested.