When I first saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I thought it was perfect. It wasn’t perfect in the sense that it was flawless. It was a perfect assembly that worked in thanks to, if not in spire, of its flaws, in its film’s deterioration, the amateur acting and the effects. It didn’t scare me, but it creeped me out.
When the film ended, I thought it was genius. Cutting to black, after Marilyn Burns’ Sally, drenched in blood and hysteria, as she screams and laughs in the back of a flatbed truck driving away from the pursuing Leatherface, leaving the monster to swing the growling saw screaming as it whirled about was amazing. There was no resolution, no solution, just the reality that Leatherface and his clan remained out there. It was a great horror film. It might have been the best.
That final scene remains one of my favorites, though in a recent viewing I caught sight of Leatherface pirouetted, diminishing the idea that the scene was pure rage that the saw was denied a victim but almost a graceful dance. In that first viewing, I saw the creature as more beast than human and that brief spin seems a bit staged, breaking the illusion. Still, killer end to the movie.
I’ve avoided the sequels because I didn’t think the first movie needed any. Everything that might come after that 1974 movie would have been superfluous. But, people got to get paid, I suppose. And the horror genre is never quite comfortable with leaving well enough alone.
So. Twelve years later, a sequel was made.
Immediately, one of the endearing qualities of the first movie is absent. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 looks good, whereas the cruddy, home-movie version of the first movie lent a dirty reality and a visual aesthetic. We’re knee-deep into 1980’s horror filmmaking here, where all the lighting is the same (much like how all movies have a similar texture-lighting these days.)
Right away, it’s clear that this will be a different movie from the original. Instead of a grainy documentary, this movie is a clear film production (which showcases the difference of shooting on film compared to video/digital.) While it doesn’t hold the grindhouse grit of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the movie is visually entertaining in its own right.
Though the scrolling narration at the start of the film is, on its face value, an attempt to pass off what will see as real, the illusion isn’t held up.
If the word TEXAS in the title didn’t convince me enough where this movie was to take place, the drinking, pistol-totin’ teenagers blasting holes in roadway signs surely convince me that this is the Lone Star State. It’s also the 80’s because they can call into a radio station that isn’t Clear Channel. Or isn’t SiriusXM.
Harassed by two dorks on a car phone, our movie’s protagonist, Stretch, is a 80’s Disc Jockey running a station that gets broadcasts across the a good chunk of the Texas-Oklahoma part of Nowhere, USA. Unable to get the dudes off the landline (ancient technology, kids) her balding second in command, a goober who might as well be David Koechner’s uncle, does his best. The two drunk kids play chicken with a pickup, causing it to careen off the road.
Of course, when Drinky and Shootey call again, it’s late. I have to admit, the most shocking piece of this movie is hearing The Cramps. The Soundtrack is pretty rad, I have to admit. I’d like to believe that some North Eastern Texas radio station was playing The Cramps, but some things are harder to accept than others.
Lo and behold, it’s another game of chicken, this time with the same truck as before. Have to admit: whoever’s driving the truck in reverse at that speed is pretty damn talented.
Out jumps a ghoul! And since we have the Texas, it’s time to get the Chainsaw.
This movie has a very low body count. There are the two kids here, the climatic finale and one more kill. The first movie had what? Four onscreen deaths? Keeping it low makes each of them matter, I suppose.
Tom Savini’s name popped up in the credits at the start of this thing, which is usually a good sign. When they needed the effect of a half-sawed head, who better than 80’s Savini? Despite no difference in his driving skills, guy-with-head-halfway-cut-off crashes the convertible while still on the line with Stretch. I’d like to say prank phone calls have gotten better since then but, well.
Because of no good reason, Dennis Hopper arrives. The man had a helluva career, acting in some Iconic roles in some of the classics of American cinema. He was also in a lot of shitty movies. This one sorta aims towards the former, though flirts with the latter, but Hopper’s pretty good in his role of Lefty, the cowboy out for justice. He goes over the top when it’s called for and plays it straight and restrained at the right moments.
Hopper plays the uncle of a couple of kids from the first movie. Which ones? Well, the wheelchair kid and his sister. Remember those? Vaguely? Excellent. That’s all the emotional connection you need for this movie.
Stretch tries to get involved into the investigation, providing a tape with the two knuckleheads’ phone call as evidence for Lefty. Lefty, drunk and somewhat hesitant to have this innocent bystander mire herself in what will be something gross and bloody, turns her away. Or maybe he didn’t want her to go with him when he went Chainsaw shopping.
Lefty decided that chainsaws are really axes, with the way he wields one. And this kind of dementia has him asking Stretch to play that tape on the hour, every hour, for the whole day. Which, of course, gets her the attention of Bill Mosley in his iconic role of Chop Top.
Mosley is great as this character and you can see more of it, although not by that name, on the Cornbugs albums he does with Buckethead and in every single Rob Zombie movie from here unto perpetuity.
Confrontation between Chop Top and Stretch leads to one of Hooper’s best abilities – to make you think that the protagonist is going to get away before shocking you when you realize the danger is still very present. Because BAM! Leatherface appears.
Bill Johnson plays Leatherface this time around and he does a decent job if not for the Leatherface Dance. Take something heavy, hold it above your head, and then pretend you’re on hot coals. Make sure your hips wiggle and there you go – Leatherface Dance. It’s goofy, sort of a physical catchphrase. But it does make Bill’s performance unique. It’s a bit comical, which Hooper thinks facilitates the horror process. By letting us laugh, it allows us to be horrified. Sometimes, Leatherface’s antics make him seem ridiculous but overall, it works out for this movie. This movie, by nature, is over the top.
Stretch’s station manager gets mutilated and through Leatherface’s infatuation, Stretch manages to escapes and following them has he find Lefty, who confesses to using her as bait. Out of the farmhouse and into the abandoned mineshaft, the Sawyer family has gone underground and due to some unstable flooring/ceiling, so does Stretch.
From there, the movie develops into a bit of madness. Fulfilling the subplot of Drayton Sawyer, aka Dad aka COOK, making award winning chili out of the meat of their victims (selling it from a roadside truck which, isn’t that far from the truth if you’ve ever eaten at one,) Leatherface goes at it , carving up the dead Station manager. Lefty slides in and there’s more sexual tension and sucking face (though, technically, that face is the one Leatherface carved off of L.G.)
Meanwhile, Dennis Hopper goes through, wrecking shit while on a righteous high. Bill Mosley steals the show and Leatherface is Leatherface. Eventually, Stretch gets caught and with a bigger set and darker lighting, they try to recreate the dinner scene from the first movie.
Lefty appears and bam. The climax comes where everyone dies. This was definitely not a movie meant to spawn sequels and essentially, the third movie is a reboot. Seeing a five-foot long logging chainsaw hanging from Leatherface’s guts kind of ensures that.
Ultimately, Stretch and Chop Top end up in an adobe resembling the Alamo. After taking the death of a thousand cuts and discovering the Sawyer matriarch (clutching a chainsaw, of course) that still functions, the movie ends with Stretch triumphant but asking AT WHAT COST.
Ultimately, it’s both an expansion and a reminder of the first movie. The call-back to the first movie with Dennis Hopper’s character and the Sawyer/cook/eating people references tie the two movies together, but there’s no development beyond the first. It’s not as jarring as the first movie, but clearly a different type of slasher. Hooper’s cynical wit and talent at dialogue come through, with each character.
Wrapping this up:
Did this sequel need to be made? Not really. The added development was nice but it didn’t do much more to what the original did.
Was it a fun movie? Yeah. I enjoyed this viewing and though it might be slightly derivative of the first, it was a good movie. It sort of cemented Tobe Hooper’s style, gave Bill Mosley a character that will support him for life (hopefully.)