Tagline: After a decade of silence…the buzzz is back.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writer: L.M. Kit Carson
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Lou Perryman, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson
18 / 101 min. / Comedy, Horror
By the mid-1980s, Tobe Hooper had made a something of a name for himself.
His debut film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Cannon Films, a studio known for B-movie exploitation such as the Charles Bronson led Death Wish sequels and bawdy sex comedies like The Last American Virgin, wanted to escape the stigma of being a schlock-peddling studio, so attempted to expand their horizons by signing big-name actors like Sylvester Stallone to multi-movie deals, while also acquiring the rights to mainstream properties such as Spider-Man, Superman, and Masters of the Universe.
In 1985, Tobe Hooper was working with Dan O’Bannon on The Return of the Living Dead when he dropped out of the project after receiving an offer from Cannon Films to direct not one, but three motion pictures. The first two films to come out of the deal were 1985’s quasi-vampire movie Lifeforce and a largely silly remake of Invaders from Mars (1986). Neither movie performed well at the box office, so when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II was released later that year, Cannon hoped it would be the movie to save them from a spate of recent flops.
13 years have passed since the events of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Police were never able to find the Sawyer clan, the family who killed a gang of unsuspecting teenagers and made barbecue out of them. One night, two college kids are harassing a local radio station hosted by Stretch (Caroline Williams) when they are brutally attacked by Leatherface (Bill Johnson). Their deaths draw the attention of Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), a local sheriff and uncle to Sally and Franklin from the original movie who’s been trying to track the killers for some well-deserved retribution. Stretch comes to him with an idea: use the tape recording of last night’s incident to draw them out, but when an unlikely visitor in the form of Chop-Top (Bill Moseley), attempts to retrieve that tape, Chop-Top and the infamous Leatherface fall for Lefty’s bait and lead him back to their hideout at an abandoned theme park, where all kinds of sickness ensues.
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a raw, visceral movie, and with Tobe Hooper back in the directorial hot seat, you’d think the sequel would be just as unnerving. This is far from the case; instead, Hooper and writer L.M. Kit Carson aim for humor and bucketloads of gore, a fact that would disappoint Cannon figurehead Menahem Golan no end, since his expectations mirrored those of our own. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a horror-comedy, one that satirizes the first film, as well as cultural trends such as Reagonomics and the yuppie movement. Though this sounds like a recipe for disaster, it proves to be anything but.
Stylistically, the two films are quite different. The cinematography and general aesthetics of the sequel are much more polished than the original’s grimy, documentary-like direction. At times, the film can look exaggerated, especially during scenes in the Sawyers’ new lair, which looks like something out of a Rob Zombie music video. The characters are also memorable. Stretch, the radio DJ looking for a big break, is one of the smarter final girls in the genre. It’s rare for a character to try to talk and reason with the killer in a slasher movie, but whenever she’s about to meet the end of a chainsaw, she manages to talk her way out of a grisly death. Leatherface and Stretch form a weird relationship as things progress, but more on this later.
One of the stand-out performances is Dennis Hopper as Lefty. Hopper goes all in with his performance, particularly during the third act when he screams like a madman while systematically tearing down the Sawyer hideout with chainsaws. Forget Easy Rider and Blue Velvet, for me, this is the greatest movie he’s ever taken part in. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Texas Chainsaw movie without having our family of killers front and centre, and the Sawyer family are back and crazier than ever. The Cook (Jim Siedow), now in the food industry, focuses on making as much profit as possible from his award-winning barbecue and chilli, even if he quite literally has to kill the competition. Leatherface and Chop-Top help run the business, as does the hitchhiker — well, his corpse anyway. Leatherface is still the same mentally-challenged killer, but when he first encounters Stretch he falls in love. It’s like Beauty and the Beast, only with chainsaws.
But if there’s one character who encapsulates the insanity of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, it’s Chop-Top. A schizophrenic Vietnam veteran with a penchant for picking away at the metal plate in his head, he is a maniac through and through. Bill Moseley is phenomenal in this role, one that would ultimately define his career. Though a hilarious romp for the most part, the movie’s biggest problem is its pacing, especially during the final act. Once Stretch ends up in the Sawyers’ amusement park of horrors, the film degrades into a repetitive cycle of her getting captured, escaping, only to get captured again, rinse and repeat. Even a recreation of the original movie’s infamous dinner scene feels stretched out (pardon the pun), and her constant screaming grates on the nerves — and not in a good way.
Although the movie is heavy on the gore with a grotesquery of practical effects — all of which supplied by the legendary Tom Savini — the kill count is surprisingly low. Unfortunately, many of the planned kills were left on the cutting room floor, one of which including a cameo from cult movie critic Joe Bob Briggs. Also, while the movie hints at a connection between Lefty and Stretch, it ultimately goes nowhere, as the scenes involving this sub-plot were removed at the behest of the studio.
When the movie’s ill-fated college kids attempt to hold-off Leatherface on what seems to be the world’s longest bridge, driver Buzz meets the unfortunate end of a chainsaw, which slices off a portion off his head with extremely bloody consequences.
Most Absurd Moment
When Leatherface first falls for Stretch, one of the things he does in his attempts to woo her is dry-hump her with his chainsaw. Is this a Texas Chainsaw film or a porno spoof?
Most Absurd Dialogue
This is a tough pick, given how all of the dialogue is great, but a stand-out exchange happens when L.G. notices Chop-Top going through the record vault.
L.G.: “What the shit?!”
Chop-Top: “Hey, lick my plate you dog dick!”