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Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

This is an unusual horror franchise in that it never really took off.  The original is a bonafide classic of extreme, gritty frantic madness.  From there, it went in all kinds of sporadic directions never really settling into a consistent style.  The first sequel ventured off into quirkiness, and the later sequel disregarded continuity entirely creating what is considered one of the worst films you could ever fear to endure.  This entry was a little more stable in line with slashers of the era as it came from New Line Cinema.  They honestly had a good approach that would make the franchise accessible to the general horror masses, but not laying back on the blood letting.  However, this was the age where the MPAA was striking back at gory horror, and hacking and slashing the films down to extremely tame levels.  The volume and style of violence in this film is comparable to any gory horror film of the last decade., but in 1989, this was threatened with an X rating (prior to the introduction of the NC-17 rating).  Goes to show just how inconsistent the MPAA has been over the decades.

It has been several years since Leatherface last terrorized the Texan backwoods with his Sawyer family, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t continued his cannibalistic ways.  In fact, Leatherface has been “adopted” into a brand new family of crazed Texan cannibals.  The film begins with an effective scene of Bubba “Leatherface” Sawyer (R.A. Mihailoff) sewing together a fresh mask of flesh while one of his victims attempts to escape, but gets gutted with a chain saw instead.  From then on, we follow the eventful journey of siblings Ryan & Michelle (William Butler & Kate Hodge) as they drive from California to Florida to deliver a car to their father, but they’ve just entered into the desolate Texas landscape.  As they drive into the night, Texas state authorities are cleaning up a hazardous mess of bodies which have decomposed into toxic material – remnants of past Sawyer family massacres.  The brother and sister pairing drive into the next day and a gas station where they encounter a hitchhiking cowboy named Tex (Viggo Mortensen,  The Prophecy, The Lord of the Rings) and the wild-eyed store owner Alfredo (Tom Everett).  Tex gets friendly with Michelle and Ryan, to a lesser degree, but the cordial moment is cut short when Alfredo pulls a shotgun on the threesome, and the siblings haul ass out of there, watching Fredo blast away at them and Tex.  The two siblings quickly take off down a deserted road, but soon find themselves stalked by Leatherface and his new cannibalistic and homicidal family.  Ultimately, their only hope for escape is in Benny (Ken Foree), a survivalist who not only has the firepower, but also the training to take down the entire psychotic family.

To start off, this was a very troubled production.  I can’t even begin to list the ways, but let’s just say that the film was so excessively violent that the repeated runs through the MPAA forced the release date to be delayed from early November, 1989 to January, 1990.  At one time, director Jeff Burr was fired on Friday and re-hired on Monday.  The shooting schedule was rushed, and the budget was tight.  Also, I would have to say that calling this a “massacre” is false advertising as only two people outside of Leatherface’s adoptive family are killed in this film.  There’s a lot of violence, but not a lot of death.  Although, despite all this, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is quite a good film.

The cast is solid, very solid.  There are no amateurs here like in many slasher films.  R.A. Mihailoff was an experienced stuntman at the time, and did a great job as a slightly more evolved Leatherface that is more focused in his mayhem than before, but still remains very youthful in mind and impulsive in action.  He was also one strong dude having to lug that HUGE 80 lbs chain saw around almost everyday.  William Butler had some previous experience in slasher flicks, but this was his most featured role and he does well in it.  As Ryan, he’s a bit pensive and uneasy trying to deal with heavy situations.  Of course, Viggo Mortensen delivers an entertaining and intriguing performance as the crazed Tex with a bit of an odd cross-dressing undertone.  He pulls off the insanity and the charm very well, and proves to be a solid and impressive actor more than a decade before The Lord of the Rings made him a household name.  Viggo was a great actor that existed under the radar for a long time before that big break, and even this early on, you can see his quality and versatility.  Tom Everett really fits perfectly as the wild-eyed, fidgety, and probably schizophrenic Alfredo.  Definitely a classic character for these films.  Dawn of the Dead alumnus Ken Foree brings a lot of energy and a decent amount of humor to the role of Benny.  He truly endears himself as the hero of the film whereas there are usually only perilous heroines.  Benny gets to kick some ass, and really give our psychotic villains someone to tangle with.  Also, with the character being an armed survivalist, we get some nice action scenes and fiery moments.  Definitely a worthwhile and enjoyable character.  Finally, there’s the female lead in Kate Hodge.  She really rates high as Michelle among the other female leads of the series who go through maddening events and experiences, but this time, she doesn’t breakdown into a traumatized pile of emotional goo – so to speak.  Michelle comes out as a far tougher character, and proves that she might not only survive, but also endure in the aftermath of this Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

KNB EFX have been an industry leader in special make-up effects for a long time, and this is another excellent example of why.  The MPAA would not have so much an issue with the gore level if Kurtzman, Nicotero, and Berger weren’t so amazingly good at their jobs.  Everything has such detail and texture to really drive home the squirming realism of the graphic violence and trauma that characters are put through.  While the film itself might not be very highly regarded, the effects work here should be given high praise and special notoriety.

Cinematographer James L. Carter gives the film a very strong look.  Personally, I see a resemblance in the visual tone of this film and Jason Goes To Hell, despite having different cinematographers.  Both films have a very dark, dense landscape at night with a tinge of blue that makes these two films look very similar.  It adds a more grounded, hardened look to the filmed imagery.  The filmmakers wanted this to have a real horror feel, and maintained a gritty look throughout that really enhances the horror aspects entirely.

I believe Jeff Burr did a fine quality job despite the turbulence of production. He crafted a film that probably shouldn’t have turned out nearly as good as it did.  The screenplay was well-written by David J. Schow in his first break.  While he had been writing material for a long while, this was the first script of his to get produced.  Although, he hasn’t had a wondrous career with a couple of Critters films, an episode of The Outer Limits, and two episodes of Ridley & Tony Scott produced anthology series The Hunger under his belt, but he did deliver us the screenplay to the cult classic The Crow.  So, he is highly capable of delivering brilliant work, but hasn’t had the rich opportunities to demonstrate that much.  All in all, he did a good job here with probably the only consistently worthwhile TCM sequel.

I’m not giving this a great endorsement because it is almost perfectly formulaic for a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film, but it’s the characters where this movie holds strong.  The story is mostly a direct template from the first film, but the characters are more original than the story.  There’s also more suspenseful and intense action than before or since.  Also, I like this design of Leatherface the best, and who can resist the massive chain saw given to him with the phrase “The Saw is Family” engraved on the side?  Mihailoff’s representation of old Bubba Sawyer has a lot more aggression and coordination than before.  Kate Hodge brings a much stronger and tougher heroine to the series, and I can’t help but enjoy every role I see Viggo Mortensen in.  Plus, there is an entertainment factor here beyond the terror, but it never overwhelms or damages the integrity of the horror elements.  So, I do recommend this film to anyone looking for a hardcore slasher film with a healthy dose of gore and action.  The DVD that’s been available for a long while has both the theatrical R-rated and full unrated cut of the movie.  It’s always been nice how New Line Cinema was generally comprehensive about those things, but any true horror fan would likely never mind the censored version, anyway.  Considering the sporadic quality of this franchise, I feel this entry is among the most accessible, sensical, and satisfying of them all.  As for the remake and prequel?  I do have reviews for them, but I’m saving them up for the September / October Halloween season.  A long way to go, but I’m definitely saving the meatiest horror reviews for that part of the year.


The Prophecy (1995)

I have been a major fan of this film for fifteen years for many reasons, the foremost of which is the blockbuster performance of Christopher Walken as the Archangel Gabriel.  Performed with sadistic malice, a fine mix of humor, and overall electrifying delivery, Walken created a memorable, classic character that would help to bring fans back for two sequels.  The film is filled with great themes and a solid mix of acting talent that is surprising, but never disappointing.

The Prophecy begins with a somber monologue by Simon (Eric Stoltz), a redheaded angel.  He speaks of his fear and sorrow that a second war has broken out in Heaven.  Simon has come to Earth to head off the plans of ‘the other side’ who wish to claim the blackest human soul on Earth to fight for them in Heaven.  Our protagonist here is Thomas Daggett (Elias Koteas).  Once set to become an ordained priest in the Catholic church, but a violent and bloody vision of Heaven, complete with the sight of slain angels, tests his faith.  A test which he fails.  He is now a police detective that has long lost his faith, but has just met an angel.  Simon to be exact.  Simon tells Thomas that he was in the church that day when he got his brief glimpse of a war torn Heaven, and certainly leaves him with much to think about.  However, when Simon returns to his rented out apartment, he is attacked by another angel: Uziel (pronounced ‘Oo-cie’), but Simon dispatches of him, leaving quite a mess for the police to clean up with Daggett now on the case.  Unfortunately, for Simon, because Uziel is now dead, Gabriel (Christopher Walken) soon comes to succeed where his underling failed.

Meanwhile, Daggett and coroner Joseph (Steve Hytner) examine Uziel’s corpse.  Many bizarre revelations are discovered, but for Thomas, it’s the discovery of possibly the oldest Bible in existence which contains extra chapters that shouldn’t exist.  They speak of the aforementioned second war in Heaven, a war over us, humans.  As Gabriel arrives at the empty crime scene, Simon has already found the aforementioned soul within the recently deceased Colonel Hawthorne in a small southwestern town, and Gabriel is soon to follow.  In this small town, we meet school teacher Catherine (Virginia Madsen) and a little Native American girl named Mary (Moriah Shining Dove Snyder).  Simon encounters them both while he attempts to hide this black soul from Gabriel, but the Archangel is hot on his trail along with Thomas.  While Gabriel tracks down the soul and Simon himself, Thomas attempts to unravel this mystery before him, and ultimately, discover what is ‘faith’.

Gregory Widen once brought us the screenplay for the original Highlander showcasing a blend of adventure, romance, love, pain, and epic action.  Here, in 1995, he wrote and directed this film, and brings that same level of depth and quality to The Prophecy.  He created an engaging, compelling world filled with fascinating and entertaining characters that are brilliantly realized throughout the cast.  His directing skills are not at all in question as he obviously knows what he wants with crystal clarity.  He knows the world he created well, and handles the various elements of drama, fantasy, humor, and action with ease and grace.  Everything flows together exceptionally well making this a must-see film.

As I said, Christopher Walken delivers a performance unlike any before seen, and demonstrates many sides of his acting abilities throughout.  It’s mesmerizing watching him work each and every scene.  How he can go from quiet calm to vilely sadistic and evil, even heated and angered.  It’s an intense portrayal that will gravitate you towards watching this film many times over because you just can’t get enough of it.  It’s all there, and it’s juicy stuff.  Elias Koteas has always done fantastic work in the few roles I’ve seen him in from the guilty pleasure of Casey Jones in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to his psychotic role as Edgar Reese, opposite Denzel Washington, in Fallen.  Elias does solid work no matter the character, and becomes very much a chameleon as an actor.  He continues that here as a man who has his faith in God, broken and tested throughout the film.  He beautifully portrays the depth of Thomas Daggett on a journey, not only in hopes of restoring such faith, but understanding just what it means to have faith.  Eric Stoltz is an actor I really haven’t seen any other work from, but if this performance is any indication, he does some fine work.  He brings a simple warmth, heart, and charm to Simon.  You truly do care for him, and what he chooses to sacrifice in order to protect that which HE believes in.  Whether he’s sharing a scene with Koteas, Walken, or the little Moriah Snyder, his heart and warmth remain strong.  It’s a truly human performance, especially considering he’s portraying an angel.

Virginia Madsen (Candyman) brings us another strong, consistent performance here.  She holds her ground, even when Walken pulls out his truly dark side as Gabriel.  Also, her character is well connected to the Native Americans of the land, and conducts the church choir.  Her faith is intact, but as the true underlying theme here continues to be the testing of one’s faith, she confronts her own perceptions of it all.  Moriah Snyder is not one of those kids in a horror film that gets on your nerves every second they’re in a scene.  She is clearly a highly talent young lady, and I’m sure that talent has continued to develop over the years since this film.  Here, there’s much here for her to work with, more than I’ll elude to in this review, but trust in that she has a significant role in this film that she handles quite well.

And then, you have two smaller, yet significant, and certainly memorable roles.  The first is that portrayed by Steve Hytner (Kenny Bania from Seinfeld).  He portrays the coroner Joseph with a light-hearted charm, but with a professional manner.  It’s just the sort of character to slightly lighten the mood when Daggett is talking about wars in Heaven over human souls, and dead angels sitting in Joseph’s morgue.  It’s a quite needed and welcomed character that Hytner plays perfectly.  He doesn’t go remotely over-the-top with it, and keeps a nice balance between the mild humor and the professional mind of the character.  It was nice to see his character carried over into the following two sequels.  Of course, the real juice comes with the appearance of The Lord of the Rings’ Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer.  Viggo portrays the Prince of Darkness himself with as much character as Walken does with Gabriel.  Mortensen brings a genuine disturbing and sadistic sense that just oozes from his being.  The role is small, but Viggo makes it no less significant than any other main character.  He brings to Lucifer a casual, evil manner.  He speaks of the most vile and sadistic acts with the casualness of us talking about the weather.  He needn’t be theatrical or overly dramatic to sell it.  His chilling presence is felt the instant he enters the scene, and remains even after he leaves.  When he and Walken do briefly meet, the two just eat it up.  It’s devilishly delicious (no pun intended).  The two with their hot breath and cold blood just makes such a scene so rich with character, and it’s only a shame Viggo didn’t return for The Prophecy II when Lucifer makes a brief, shadowy appearance near the beginning.  The role may have been expanded upon if he had.

I also really have to hand it to the cinematographer Richard Clabaugh.  This is one beautifully shot film between the lighting, angles, and the subtle camera movements.  He does all he can to give the picture a strong cinematic sense capturing both the epic and introspective qualities of its dramatic stories.  The 2.35:1 aspect ratio frame holds a lot of weight with much religious iconography, and captures some beautiful vistas in the American southwest.  A gorgeously shot film through and through.

All in all, this is one fantastic film that I strongly encourage everyone to see.  It’s a gem of a thriller that touches on many different levels with superb acting with a rock solid cast.  Gregory Widen, for his directorial debut, put together an array of fantastic talent in front of and behind the camera.  This is a beautiful and fantastically talented production.  The Prophecy brings you a great film on so many levels, and is a MUST for any Christopher Walken fan.  I strongly recommend this film.  It gets my highest praise with a solid 10 out of 10 rating.