There’s no two ways about it: Tobe Hooper is a weird, weird guy. After his debut feature, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, proved a massive hit, he moved on to equally disturbing (though not equally good) fare like Eaten Alive and The Funhouse. He then directed the television adaptation of Salem’s Lot and the Spielberg movie Poltergeist. By the mid-1980s, Hooper got a three-picture deal with the infamous Cannon Films where he could make anything he wanted, provided one of them was a sequel to Massacre. After making both Lifeforce and a remake of Invaders from Mars, Hooper finally made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The results weren’t what anyone expected.
Now, Hooper flatly did not want to make a sequel to his most famous and infamous film, but he had to—so he decided to have some fun with it. While the first film was all about cinema veritae, grueling tension, testing the audience’s stamina, and implying far more gore than showing, this sequel would be all about ’80s excess, full of really gruesome effects, satire, and gallows humor from start to finish. It also led to a book entitled Men, Women, and Chainsaws about the sexual and gender roles in slasher movies, which I think is one of the best books on the subject ever. Neither here nor there; Cannon didn’t really know what to make of this movie, nor did they really get much of the humor. It was eventually released unrated because the gore was so horrific it would have gotten an X certificate, back when that was a thing.
The plot is as follows: the cannibal family from the first movie (the Sawyers, as they’ve been dubbed here) have moved to an abandoned amusement park outside of Dallas. The patriarch (or older brother, it’s never quite clear), Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow), has been winning chili cook-offs for over a decade thanks to his patented secret family recipe. (Hint: it’s what’s in Soylent Green.) The police lieutenant uncle of the original kids, Lt. Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), has been obsessed with finding and killing the cannibal family despite being told repeatedly to drop it. He finally sees his chance when a radio DJ named Stretch (Caroline Williams) happens to have an audio recording of a chainsaw murder from when a couple of yuppies got hacked up on the road while making crank request calls. But her involvement puts her life at risk, which can only be helped by a crush a certain hulking monster with a leather face appears to have on her.
See? It’s a silly concept, but everybody gives it their all. Hopper is a method actor and plays everything arrow-straight, which makes it all the more funny when he gears up with a set of chainsaws and goes screaming into the dragon’s den. Siedow, who is the only returning cast member from the first film, continues to be both incredibly charming and intensely unsettling as he giggles at having sold another bunch of dumb suburbanites his people-meat chili. Williams is a really great, really unconventional “Final Girl.” She screams with the best of them, but is savvy enough throughout to be able to talk Leatherface down from murdering her, and gives and good as she gets in the bloody final confrontation with the family.
The standout performance is the character of Chop Top, played by a young Bill Moseley. This is the film that began his horror film superstardom, and it’s an exceptionally weird way to start, playing the drug-addled hippie Vietnam veteran who proclaims, “Music is my life.” The grossest aspect of him being the metal plate atop his head from which he eats his own burnt skin, peeled away with a wire coat hanger heated by a BIC lighter. I assure you, it’s just as gross as it sounds.
The gore effects were done by Tom Savini and his crew of ruffians and they’re delightfully sadistic—just as you’d expect. From a guy getting part of the top of his head sawed off to a character getting flayed and still being able to walk around (face totally removed and put over Stretch’s face), it’s some great stuff, and if you’re a practical effects nut like me, you’ll find a lot to enjoy.
It’s not a popular opinion, but I think I enjoy The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 more than the first one. I would never say it’s a better movie than the first one, because it patently isn’t, but I certainly find it a lot more fun. I’m a sick monster, I understand.
Scream Factory has released a really nice two-disc, 30th Anniversary collector’s edition of the film. There was a Blu-ray edition a few years back with a ton of extras, and this version keeps all of those and adds quite a few new ones. Disc one has a new 2K HD scan from the interpositive and a new audio commentary with director of photography Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, script supervisor Laura Kooris, and property manager Michael Sullivan. This supplements the older commentaries, one featuring director Tobe Hooper and the other with actors Caroline Williams and Bill Moseley and effects maestro Tom Savini.
Disc two has the original HD version of the film from a couple years ago and the returning documentary—It Runs in the Family—about the making of the film. The new features here include “House of Pain,” which interviews the makeup and special effects artists who worked on the film along with Savini; “Cutting Moments” which is an interview with the film’s editor Alain Jakubowicz; “Yuppie Meat” which interviews actors Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon who played the two idiots who get killed at the beginning of the movie; “Behind the Mask” which interviews Leatherface stuntman and performer Bob Elmore (he does not enjoy this movie; and a new Horror’s Hallowed Grounds about the film’s locations.
As Scream have put out the other two Hooper films from the Cannon trilogy, they’ve really put the most work into Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and it looks amazing and gives fans everything they could possibly want from a release. One of the most excessive splatter films of the ’80s, it’s nice to see it given care and respect like few other companies would give it.
Image: Scream Factory