The Original Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Brand new from the Warner Archives, it's the HD home video debut of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3: Leatherface.  The first Leatherface from 1990, not the 2017 one.  Yeah, the remakes have even started cribbing the previous films' sub-titles; and no, the 2017 is in no way a remake of the 1990 version - all they have in common is the titular character and some basic themes. So I guess it's really kind of an arbitrary distinction calling the films after The Return remakes.  They're just... some more Texas Chainsaw movies.
Anyway, I've always liked TCM3.  It's the first non-Hooper installment, and some ambitious elements from the original script were never filmed.  Plus, the theatrical version was heavily cut, so I can see why it had a rough time winning audiences.  But especially since we got the unrated version (first we got a restored, unrated cut on laserdisc... then the DVD restored even a bit more footage), Leatherface holds up as a pretty effective, bloody horror film in its own right.  It's directed by Jeff Burr, a Texan director who made From a Whisper To a Scream and a fairly satisfying sequel to The Stepfather, and for a New Line franchise film, plays things refreshingly straight.
In theory, this is a direct sequel to the third film, if you can accept that Leatherface somehow found an equally murderous, cannibalistic family to adopt him and grandpa after the events of TCM2.  "Like attracts like," explains screenwriter David J. Schow in the special features.  Caroline Williams even returns in a silent cameo as Stretch.  But anyway, this film begins a tradition of Leatherface finding himself with a brand new killer family in every subsequent film.  This time he's got psycho parents, a wicked killer little girl, a Chop Top-reminiscent cousin who runs the local gas station and Viggo Mortensen as his brother Tex.  Meanwhile, our protagonists the She-Wolf of London herself, Kate Hodge, and Ken Foree of Dawn Of the Dead.  So overall, it's a very strong cast delivering a series of memorable performances, with Mortensen and the little girl stealing the show, and only Foree phoning it in a little bit (when a new character reveals herself, he says, 'who the heck are you," exasperated and showing no signs that he just barely survived a jump attack by a psychotic chainsaw-wielding maniac wearing human skin for a mask literally seconds earlier).
Story-wise, they do play it probably a little too safe.  Another kidnapped woman is tied down and forced to participate in another gonzo dinner scene after being chased through the woods for the first half of the film.  It's a bit crazy that they all just keep returning to this same set piece.  For all their faults, none of the other franchise horrors, like Nightmare On Elm Street or Hellraiser, stuck to the same script so closely.  In that sense, it's almost like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacres play as remakes of the first more than the later "remakes" did.  But hey, if you have to rehash a scene time and again, the psycho dinner is a great one.  This film (at least in its current, unrated form) is thoroughly gruesome, with some great effect gags by KNB, and has some fun, heavy metal theme music.  Every time I let a few years go by and then return to Leatherface, I'm surprised by absorbing and entertaining a watch it still is.
Surprisingly, there aren't a whole ton of iterations of this film on home video.  New Line updated their laserdisc version with a fairly definitive DVD edition that was ported out to different regions around the world, naturally, and served as the single, definitive edition of this film for many years.  It had the R and unrated cuts, and was a fairly rich, anamorphic special edition.  We didn't really need anything more.  But now in the HD age, we really do.  And finally, just this week, Warner Archives have delivered, with a sweet blu-ray edition.  Now, typically, WA disappoints in terms of special features (Demon Seed, you make me sad); but fortunately, though they haven't produced anything new, they did port over everything from New Line's DVD (Time Warner bought New Line, so it's not like they had to license it).  So let's see how much of an upgrade we've got out of this deal.
2003 New Line R-rated DVD top; 2003 New Line unrated DVD mid;
2018 Warner Archives blu bottom.
2003 New Line unrated DVD
Oh, I'd say quite a substantial upgrade!  I was always happy with the DVD, but it's nice to see how much better things can be.  The colors are a lot more natural - goodbye, orange skin tones.  Warners has chosen to open the framing up a bit to 1.78:1 (the DVD was a slightly windowboxed 1.82:1), but this is clearly an all new scan that actually reveals more on all four sides.  Also, if we take that second set of shots just two frames back, we see [left, but you'll have to click to enlarge to really see what I'm talking about] that the DVD was interlaced.  It really made horizontal pans look glitchy, so it's great to see that done away with.  Detail is really clarified - look at Viggo's 5 o'clock shadow, which is just a soft color distinction on the DVD.  Speaking of DVD distinction, the transfers of the R and unrated cuts are identical, except for the fact that the R is missing about 5 minutes of footage; I just included both to be thorough.

Audio-wise, I suppose a few fans might be slightly disappointed.  The DVD offered listeners a choice between a DTS ES 6.1 Surround mix, Dolby Digital EX 5.1 Surround mix and the original Stereo Surround stereo.  Warner's blu just gives us the 5.1 mix, albeit in lossless DTS-HD.  But goodbye, fancy 6.1 and goodbye presumably original stereo mix.  Both discs also include optional English subtitles, though.
Again, Warner Bros didn't cook us up any new special features, but they did carry everything over from the DVD except for some bonus New Line trailers, some light DVD-Rom content and an insert with chapter titles.  First, there's a packed audio commentary with Burr, Schow, Greg Nicotero, William Butler, R.A. Mihailoff (he played Leatherface) and executive producer Mark Odesky.  It's so packed because the laserdisc originally included two audio commentaries, and the DVD/ blu features an edited together hybrid cut of the two.  Overall, that's just fine, as it never hits a stand-still and is jam-packed with great information and anecdotes.  On the minus side, the editing is a little sloppy, with two soundbites repeated twice, verbatim - somebody clearly lost track of which clips he'd already used!  Besides the commentary, there's a 30-minute 'making of' with all the same people from the commentary (plus another producer), which repeats a lot of the same stuff from the commentary, but also has some exclusive stuff.
One thing that's great about the commentary and this doc is that they were recorded long after the film, and people aren't afraid to talk about what went wrong, or even openly disagree with each other.  Did you know Burr, for example, was fired from this film and then rehired because they couldn't find a replacement over the weekend?  Burr talks about getting fired, the producers talk about firing him.  Yeah, the extras are very forthcoming, which is a treat.  And sure, 30-minutes probably seems a little short for those of us used to Scream Factory's lush feature-length docs, but this is edited so tightly, it has just as much content, just shown at a break-neck speed with no leisurely credits or film clips.
2003 New Line DVD top; 2018 Warner Archives blu bottom.
Besides those extras, we get a roughly ten minute featurette on additional deleted footage.  It's not just deleted scenes, as it also features on-camera interviews with Burr and Nicotero talking about what went wrong and why they didn't make the cut; but also includes the footage itself.  And they include an alternate ending, which is interesting and quite different.  It's hard to say which ending I prefer, actually; this one or the one they wound up including in the final film.  They both have their pros and cons.  And finally, they end with the famous trailer.  Even if you usually skip the trailers, if you've never seen this one, be sure to check it out.  It's wildly different from anything actually seen in the film.  All the extras are in in the same SD condition as they were on the DVD except upconverted and happily, they corrected the interlacing.  In fact, the trailer looks like it might've been genuinely restored in HD.
Ultimately, this is an extremely satisfying upgrade from Warner Archives, and I'm happy to finally put my old DVD to rest.  Don't mourn the R-rated cut; it's just an inferior version of the film.  And I doubt we'll see a triple-dip of this title for a very long time, so I'm quite confident recommending this edition, as well as TCM3 in general, assuming you go for this kind of film.

1 comment:

  1. LEATHERFACE:TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 always seemed to be more like an in-between-quel to the first two films,since Leatherface was as vicious as he was in the first film and it retains the original film's heavily grim atsmosphere,with director Jeff Burr being a fan of the first film really helping TCM3 in its favor.