There is no bar higher than the one set by the 1974 classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM). This film continues to blow the minds of horror fans despite the fact that is nearly 50 years old. Likewise, one would be hard pressed to find a credible Top-10 list that didn’t have this film. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes the viewer on an express train into a twisted world of backwoods insanity and inbred country mayhem.
Incredibly, on a shoestring budget, Tobe Hooper captured a rare combination of script, cinematography and artistic design that set the bar for hundreds of movies to follow. It would be 12 years before Hooper would unleash the sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, on the world.
Somehow, the world seems to wipe its feet on this sequel. In fact, it has been jettisoned to sequel limbo through several retcons and ill-advised sequels. Some even say this this movie is horrible because they simply can’t handle its juxtaposition with the brutally raw original. We’ll have you know, they are all lying to you. This sequel is not only fantastic, its the best of the maligned franchise apart from the original.
Rarely are sequels better than the original and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (TCM2) is no exception. TCM2 does not meet the bar set by the original. Regardless, it undeservedly gets a bad rap. The fact is, TCM2 is extremely entertaining when not judged in the shadow of its predecessor. Given a sense of humor and a tolerance for B++ grade horror movies, TCM2 delivers on serious fun for horror fans.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – In the Shadow of a Legend
Directed by Tobe Hooper, the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre painted a bleak and terrifying landscape. Using a minimalist formula, Tobe Hooper created a masterpiece cannibal-country horror. Relying more on shock and psychological terror, it is relatively light on visual gore.
It demonstrates that sheer brutality can go a long way without the red stuff. TCM can never be replicated, and it can never be topped. Tobe Hooper was well aware of this. In response, Tobe Hooper believed that any chance of success would require a sequel to go in another direction.
As a result, Tobe Hooper chose a mixture ultra-gore cut with heavy dose of dark comedy. Historically, Hooper lamented the fact that the dark comedy in TCM went unappreciated. the truth is, TCM had comedy, but the comedy was so sparse and so dark that it was unalienable from the insanity.
In contrast, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 goes right for the comedic jugular. The jokes are in your face, but flow seamlessly in the dialog. The comedy sometimes comes at the expense of terror, the final product is very balanced and entertaining.
The Last Roundup
The movie takes place several years after the events of the first film. The Sawyers, the newly revealed name of the cannibal troop, has been committing murders across Texas. They are now hiding in the Dallas area. Detective Lefty Enright, the uncle of Sally and Franklin Hardesty, is in hot pursuit of the family and is closing in. His plan is revenge.
Radio DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock, witnesses and records the audio of the most recent murders. Subsequently, Lefty uses her as bait so that he can exact his revenge in a total jerk move. Lefty follows the family to their underground lair for the final showdown between good and evil. As far as plots go, it is just enough circumstance to get the chainsaws spinning.
Tobe Hooper and His Cast of Cannibals
Tobe Hooper’s credit, the cast is ultimately what makes it all work. Jim Siedow reprises the role of the Cook, Drayton Sawyer. that fact that the character is named Drayton is a new revelation. Since the events of the first film, Drayton has transitioned his BBQ business from the gas station to the road with the “Last Roundup” rolling grill. Siedow has a knack for off-the-cuff dark comedy in the original TCM. He gets much more screen in TCM2 to expand on this. Siedow take full advantage of the opportunity.
There is a new character named Chop-Top. Chop-Top is the twin brother of the crazy Hitchhiker from TCM. Chop-Top’s absence in the first film is explained by his service in Vietnam where his plated head wound was a gift from a “lucky gook with a machete”. The character is a woven tapestry of post-traumatic stress, drug-fueled Manson-esq hippy culture and backwoods inbred psychopathy.
The role of Chop-Top is nailed by then little know actor Bill Mosely. Mosley’s comedy is a bit more in your face, but it’s so psycho and unsettling that it provides both comic relief and terror at the same time. This role paved the way for Bill Mosley’s later success as Otis Driftwood in House of 1000 Corpses.
Bill Johnson takes over for Gunnar Hanson as Leatherface. No longer a feral menace, Leatherface bumbles clumsily as he mistakes his chainsaw for an erection. Hooper’s decision to alter the model for Leatherface is a bit hard to handle for die-hard fans of the original, but there was a method to his madness. When considering the whole crew of Chop-Top, Drayton and Leatherface, it is hard not to see cannibalistic Three Stooges. This is exactly what Hooper was gunning for. The natural interplay of these personalities allows this humor to flow naturally without feeling forced.
On the Menu
On the protagonist side, Caroline Williams plays the role of “Stretch”. Stretch has personality, and she provides a more capable heroine than Sally Hardesty. Caroline is worth of the title scream queen as she can easily peel paint when she belts it out. And its not just volume that she achieves. She has a catalog of screams, moans and shrieks for any holiday occasion.
Dennis Hopper takes the role of Lieutenant ‘Lefty’ Enright. Hopper is a legend, and no stranger to horror movies. I was slightly disappointed that his role wasn’t a bit more exuberant. In Hopper’s defense, the character was a bit corny and Hopper’s scripted lines didn’t really do him any favors. It’s hard to take a character like Lefty seriously when they carry a pair of chainsaws on a gun-belt like a couple of Colt revolvers.
Finally. former TCM crewman Lou Perryman take on the role of gentle giant L.G. In his short screen-time, L.G. becomes one of the most likeable of all the cast members. This makes it so much more chilling when he is on the receiving end of the most brutal killings ever displayed on screen.
Blood and Guts
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre had almost no gore. Many viewers believe that they saw a bloodbath, what they really witnessed is the power of suggestion. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is not that kind of party. The body count isn’t high, but the kills have it where is counts.
Let’s take L.G. for an example. Chop-Top murders LG with a marathon barrage of hammer blows to the head. But wait, there’s more. He lives long enough to be skinned alive. L.G. watches as Leatherface forces Stretch to wear his freshly filleted face. The hammer attack is cringe-worthy. I can hear myself saying in my head, “please, for the love of god, don’t hit him again”.
To open the film, a yuppie jerk takes a chainsaw to the head. From the front, half-sawed head floats above the actor in a well done special effect by Tom Savini. Inexplicably, the shot changes to the back and the head prosthesis has been replaced by an open fountain of blood. The human actor has been replaced with a fidgety robot and ridiculous spurts of blood fly from multiple tubes. The result is a gory, yet comical in the worst way. I am unable to fathom why they didn’t fix this in the editing room.
In other technical snafus, Lefty kicks a hole in the wall revealing a cascade of fresh guts spilling on the floor. A watchful eye notices that this snippet is loops a few times to make it seem like more guts were falling. The intent was more gore, but the result was cheap and comical.
Inside the Sawyer’s Lair
A review of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 would not be complete without mention of the of some set pieces. Having moved from the farm, the Sawyer family now resides underground below a vacant amusement park called Texas Battle Land. This location provides a visually stunning backdrop for building a macabre wonderland of death and murder.
This home is where the Sawyer’s heart is. It shifts from the simple confines of the old farm house to a sprawling labyrinth of death totems. There is a great chase scene through a murder theme park style tunnel. Stretch runs for what seems like a quarter mile of dead bodies in Norman Rockwell-esq horror show. It’s Disney’s “It’s a Small World” done with fully articulated skeletons, Christmas lights and decomposing flesh.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – Final Thoughts
The bottom line is this, if you were expecting something in the form factor of the original TCM you will sorely disappointed. If you were looking for something that takes something you love and turns into something fresh and new, this is the sequel for you. Chop-Top brings a fresh coat of paint to The Hitchhiker from the first film. While it’s a tough pill to swallow to see Leatherface become a bumbling moron, but if you can forgive that sin, the movie works.
The truth is, TCM2 is entertaining and has may be be even more re-watchable than the first. In conclusion, when evaluated as a stand-alone work, TCM2 has everything required to send the audience both chuckling and disturbed. This movie for anyone that watches horror movies for fun. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is fun.
They Are Lying to You - Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) - Malevolent Dark
Director: Tobe Hooper
Date Created: 1986-01-01 00:00