The original trilogy’s underappreciated final chapter is available now on Warner Archive Blu-ray

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and Blu-ray discs (which, unlike the DVDs, are factory pressed rather than burned). Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series is a strange one, with more stops and starts than a suburban school bus. Endlessly retooled, remade, prequeled, and rebooted, there’s hardly any true succession of storytelling, but the closest thing to a multi-film continuity lies within the first three films: Tobe Hooper’s original masterpiece, his tonally wacky but narratively contiguous sequel, and this film: 1990’s Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, directed by Jeff Burr and featuring effects by Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman (among many others).

TCM III is a return to the style of the original. Leatherface returns of course, having apparently survived his implied death at the end of Part 2. With no meaningful direct ties to either of the prior films (aside from a very brief cameo by Caroline Williams), the adaptability of the film comes from simply being vague enough that you can place it in the Universe as you see fit — whether a retcon or sequel to Part 2.

Anyway, III is an interesting entry in the series. It was mutilated in post-production (a process painfully discussed on the disc’s special features by the filmmakers), which contributed to its lack of appreciation, and to this day maintains relatively low profile within the franchise.

The film finds Leatherface once again up to his old tricks, now living in another household with other colorful members of the murderous, cannibalistic Sawyer clan — most notably “Tex” played by an up-and-coming Viggo Mortensen.

The family waylays a pair of travelers, Michelle and Ryan (Kate Hodge, William Butler), to join them for dinner, but things get really interesting when a survivalist boot camper named Benny (Dawn of the Dead’s Ken Foree) encounters the group and evens the odds.

Benny is both the film’s greatest asset and most unique aspect — whereas most victim characters in the franchise (and in most slashers in general) are easy marks to get mowed down by the killers, Benny is a skilled outdoorsman with training in weapons and tactics, placed into a rare situation where he must actually use his survival training. (Not to mention he’s a rare person of color in a Texas-set franchise essentially about white trash.)

This does pull away somewhat from the more traditional role of a “final girl” who must rely mostly on determination and wits to survive, but it’s a welcome change-up the formula, and we actually still get that character in Michelle. The pair make a great unconventional team to root for, a dynamic which ultimately led to an interesting change in the film’s ending.

With relatively few characters, III has a surprisingly low body count — especially if you don’t consider the bad guys. But it does have a climax set in a rancid corpse swamp (where the Sawyers dump their victims) and perhaps the franchise’s most memorable prop, Leatherface’s ornate and absolutely enormous new chainsaw with its famous embossed mantra.

While the film’s heavy censorship and relative lack of imaginative carnage have made it a lesser remembered entry in the bizarre Texas Chainsaw pantheon, I enjoy it and consider it one of the better entries in a franchise that would progressively lose its way.

The Package

Warner Archive’s Blu-ray doesn’t serve up any new bonus material, but does port over the extras from the prior DVD. Warners did intentionally make one omission with this release: the softened R-Rated Theatrical version of the film (a shorter cut with no additional or alternate material) has been completely excised in favor of the Unrated cut.

The film has been newly remastered for this edition and looks really solid, if a little warm on the palette. It’s certainly not a pretty film or known for its cinematography, but the visuals are free of distractions and the occasional close-ups demonstrate appreciable detail.

Special Features and Extras

  • Filmmaker Commentary
  • The Saw is Family: Making Leatherface (27:58)
    Great in-depth conversations about the film, its troubled production and reception, and its place in the franchise.
  • We Know What To Do With Them Parts (9:45)
    aka the Deleted Scenes. Presented as a featurette with Burr and Nicotero providing on-camera commentary
  • Alternate Ending (5:21)
    Definitely a point of interest; the film’s original bleaker ending was changed in response to test feedback.
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:12)

A/V Out.

Further reading:

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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