As an individual movie, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains among the greatest horror movies produced. Unfortunately, the legacy of its sequels, prequels, and remakes is checkered. In between Hooper’s misunderstood sequel and the crater-sized disaster that was Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, New Line Pictures took a more straightforward approach to the series. Not to be confused with the more recent Leatherface prequel, the 1990 Leatherface more openly embraced its slasher ties. But things weren’t the same by the late 1980s. And the MPAA slashed at the movie taking it down to an R-rating from an X. As a result, Leatherface barely saw the inside of cineplexes. It also didn’t help that not many people liked it.
Michelle and Ryan, a California couple driving cross country, get caught in a traffic jam along a long stretch of Texas highway. News broadcasts detailing a horrific discovery – a pit of mangled corpses – have attracted gawkers. When the couple takes a detour to the Last Chance Gas Station, a strange encounter turns into a nightmare. With their car broken down and lost on an empty road, a hulking, chainsaw-wielding madman hunts them.
Leatherface Ups The Gore From Hooper’s Vision, Loses the Tension
Leatherface may not be a Cannon Group group movie, but it sure feels like one. There’s a grimy feel to both it production and the gore. Though the MPAA butchered the movie, and alternative versions have floated around on home media, more recent Blu-ray releases have re-assembled much of the sequel’s carnage. And Leatherface boasts more gore than what’s present in Hooper’s classic. More recent Texas Chainsaw movies have since pushed the envelope alongside better effects. Unlike the Saw franchise or New French Extremely that would follow a decade later, there’s no real tension or urgency to the sequel’s violence. Instead Leatherface wholly feels like the empty, exploitative violence characteristic of early 80s Cannon releases.
And Leatherface boasts more gore than what’s present in Hooper’s classic.
If director Jeff Burr doesn’t display much flare with the material, he capably moves along the action. Falling in at under 90 minutes, Leatherface never drags its feet; no one can accuse this sequel of being boring. Conversely, Leatherface is also never scary. Not does it have much in the way of tension. On one hand, MPAA censorship clearly hurt some of the sequel’s story. But there’s also some wild tonal imbalances. Specifically, the sequel’s wild violence feels at odds with some offbeat humor and idiosyncrasies. In particular, Tom Everett’s ‘Alfredo’ feels like he’s trying too hard to emulate Bill Moseley’s ‘Chop Top’. Needless to say, it doesn’t work and feels out of place here.
Leatherface is Back … Along with New Family Members
Truth be told, it’s hard to evaluate Leatherface – or any of the series sequels – as part of a franchise. Texas Chainsaw aficionados will point to small details that connect this sequel to Hooper’s original, Yes, ‘Junior’ wears a leg brace, which kind of feels like continuity. And ‘dear old Grandpa’ is here. There’s also several new family members including a wheelchair-bound ‘Mama’ and a psychopathic little blonde-haired girl straight out of The Bad Seed. Where did all these Sawyer family members come from? Throw in two new brothers – a young Viggo Mortensen shows up – and maybe another brother and the Sawyer family lineage gets a bit unclear. Of course, all of those edits probably didn’t help.
Where did all these Sawyer family members come from?
Regardless it’s one of the frequent problems found in all Texas Chainsaw movies. Efforts at continuity simply highlight the lack of continuity. At least the performances in Leatherface are mostly fine. Both Mortensen and Joe Unger (Tinker) play passable hillbilly cannibals even if they’re not particularly menacing. And R.A. Mihailoff (Death House) brings an imposing physical presence to the title character. Neither Kate Hodge nor William Butler (Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood) stand out as our big-city victims. But Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, The Devil’s Rejects) single-handedly makes this a watchable sequel. For what often feels like a generic slasher, Foree’s ‘Benny’ never feels like a stock character.
Leatherface’s Limited Appeal Likely Applies to Diehard Series Fans Only
Though New Line Cinema produced this Texas Chainsaw sequel, it still looks like something The Cannon Group would have released – five or six years earlier. That is, Leatherface is a grimy, violent, and often cheap-looking movie a step out of time by the late 80s. Lacking the first sequel’s dark humor yet much better than the next entry, Leatherface is still a watchable addition to the franchise. Not surprisingly, it’s connection to the original – or other sequels – is tenuous at best. Moreover, its violence feels more exploitative than shocking or scary. But gorehounds and diehard franchise fans will appreciate it.