By Max Dropout’
This was the sequel that many say should never have happened, and only served to destroy the first film’s reputation as a brilliant sensual assault. While the original film is still highly regarded by select critics and maintains a steady cult following, the sequels that followed tarnished “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” brand in the eyes of the general public and reduced the series to just another slasher franchise, for which 1980s horror is best known.
Today, the chainsaw wielding, flesh-for-fashion-minded mute known as Leatherface holds rank amongst the other iconic likenesses of Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, and Michael Meyers… which to a degree holds a certain prestige in itself. But still, Leatherface and the auspicious debut which spawned national panic and controversy was the earliest of the pack and more than likely defined the massive death shape that swooped in on a firm ass and shapely breasts, with a very possible and transgressive threat. Notably, the main hook of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was that it was inspired by true-life events. While some of the details were lifted from Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein’s life, there never was a chainsaw massacre in Texas. In fact, there are no records of any homicide involving chainsaws occurring in the state of Texas prior to 1974, according to several criminal databases. But still, the realism of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” convinced an entire population that the film portrayed some real-life occurrences with tremendous accuracy.
No one but Hooper himself really knows what prompted him to revisit that maniacal, dysfunctional clan of cannibals with this sequel’s run-of-the-mill treatment. Some speculate that Tobe was tired of running from the film’s flourishing shadow, as it loomed oppressively over anything else he’d produced afterward, confining his further efforts to some black obscurity. To this day, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is the film to which all else he produces is compared, and many who’ve closely watched his career have even suggested that the film was a fluke. Considering what the other creative members of the original film went on to produce (see Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation), it’s not all that far-fetched.
In the eyes of the savvy fan, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2″ was Hooper’s effort at distancing himself from the overpowering reputation of the original film by producing a film of such mediocrity that it would (hopefully) confine its predecessor’s notoriety like some lead-lined coffin. However, in light of the day’s slasher trend momentum, the lure of high box office receipts may have prompted Hooper to throw his viable Leatherface concoction into the ring against the likes of the Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th franchises.
In either case, Hooper was successful. He diminished the original film’s reputation as a serious piece of art, and reduced it to a mere franchise, that kicked off a series of sporadically produced entries.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2″ is in scope much less wholesome than its predecessor, and never manages the height of manic psychosis the first film achieves. Instead, the sequel ditches the suggestive qualities of the original and goes for the gullet by presenting a combination of gorier mayhem and black humor to a point where the film slips into parody. During the first film’s run, people reportedly ran from the theater, vomiting in spite of the fact that there is next to no gore or any real vivid glimpse of murder. Mere suggestion in the hands of an imaginative audience whipped up a frenzy of nausea. To the strong-minded, the film’s success culminates with this reaction, which in an odd way is a condemnation of its own audience.
While TCM2 has often been criticized for openly revealing the scenes of violence only alluded to throughout the first film, we feel that this is to the sequel’s benefit. Hooper effectively castrates the audience’s imagination and gives us what we were all imagining back in the 1970s, though it’s probably not as hairy as what a lot of folks saw in their minds back then. Still, his effort is notable and provides for worthwhile entertainment.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2″ takes place an undetermined number of years after the events of the first film, as a pair of preppy punks on a rampage shoot up road signs while pumping themselves up for a Texas/OU game. Timbuk 3’s “Shame on You” and “White Night” by Torch Song get the film off to a very modern and tasteful start. The pair make a call to the local radio station Red River K-OLKA, shouting obscene requests and heckling the DJ, Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams) before nearly running a truck off the road with some chicken antics.
The Cramps classic “Goo Goo Muck” prompts another call to the station from the cantankerous youths. While on the line though, the truck they’d nearly toppled races up alongside them.
Oingo Boingo‘s “No One Lives Forever” blasts as Hooper provides the film with some of the most bizarre imagery of the entire series. Leatherface gyrates and dances on the back of the truck while wearing a puppet suit made of none other than the rotted corpse of Nibbuns (otherwise known as “The Hitchhiker” from the first film), terrifying the pack of punks. The scene and the actual design of the suit reference the first film nicely, not only featuring Nibbuns, but also building on the mere glimpses of necro-art seen throughout the pillaged cemetery during the opening minutes of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Again, Hooper’s undertaking is incredibly ambitious, as he follows up most of the first film’s suggestions with visual impact, and succeeds for the most part. However, the original film’s bleak atmosphere has been transfused with an almost comic bookish hue and humor, overshadowing whatever Hooper manages to achieve with his outstanding production design.
Leatherface whips out the saw, and gives special effects guru Tom Savini a chance to really get his hands dirty, as one of the boys gets his head sawed in half, from which blood spouts like a furious Vesuvius. While the effect has been dismissed by many as silly, it is actually quite gruesome and was executed well by Savini’s team. However, his friend’s reaction to the scene is very funny… certainly over the top, but well done none the less. At this point, it’s very apparent that Hooper wasn’t interested in remaking the first film. If that had been his intention, then surely this film is a failure.
The pandemonium of the rolling death caravan screams over the phone, and on the air. While Stretch writes it off as some sort of practical joke, she still seems unnerved by the gruesome racket on the other end of the line.
The discovery of the murders marks the entrance of Texas Ranger Lieutenant “Lefty” Enright (played by Dennis Hopper). Lefty is another keen reference to the first film — he’s the uncle of Franklin and Sally, the latter of whom was the sole survivor of the first film’s events. Lefty has developed an insatiable desire to bring the cannibal family and its chainsaw-wielding enforcer to justice for the murder and mental destruction of his kin. Local authorities view Lefty as some sort of crackpot and write the boys’ deaths off as a mere accident. However, Lefty demands that they run a story on the murders, and in spite of the fact that the paper makes him look like a fuckin’ nutcase, Stretch tracks him down with a tape of her broadcast with the chainsaw racket.
Meanwhile, Drayton Sawyer (Jim Seidow, the only returning cast member), the cook, has started up a successful catering company and takes honors at the Texas/Oklahoma chili cook-off… he credits his victory to the “meat.”
At Lefty’s request, Stretch manages to play the murder tape all day, every hour on the hour, in some strange attempt to lure the killers out of hiding. It works all too well when Chop-Top (Bill Mosely), a flower-power rhetoric-spewing Nam-vet with a steel plate in his head, shows up at the station to proclaim his fandom for the killer tape. Stretch tries to usher him out the door with an abbreviated station tour, when suddenly Leatherface bursts onto the scene with saw a-roarin’ and pursues her through the studio.
Station engineer L.G. (Lou Perry) returns in time to get viciously attacked by Chop-Top, who bludgeons him into a bloody pulp with a mallet.
Meanwhile, Leatherface is overcome by Stretch’s attributes. Stretch seduces the oddity with some breathy sexual suggestions. The romance between Stretch and Leatherface is often lamented by most fans, as Leatherface’s vunerability didn’t sit well with them. However, this is probably one of the most intriguing aspects of the entire film. In a tense and oddly funny scene, Leatherface runs his saw up her inner thigh and nuzzles the head against the crotch of her jean shorts before he explodes into full arousal, revving his chain and tearing the station apart. Leatherface disappears, leaving his girlfriend quite alive, though downstairs he deceives Chop-Top by assuring her that “the bitch” is dead.
The plot kind of deteriorates from here as Leatherface and Chop-Top spirit L.G.’s corpse away to their underground layer, located beneath some abandoned cryptic theme park. Stretch pursues them, and Lefty follows Stretch, though she topples down a pitfall and into the brood’s hellish lair before the two can meet up. In one of the sillier sequences, Lefty charges the family’s fortress with a pair of chainsaws while screaming like a mongoloid, and starts to tear the place down. Franklin’s corpse makes a cameo appearance some point after this, too.
Meanwhile, in the heart of danger, Stretch watches Leatherface remove L.G.’s face with an electric turkey knife, and her repulsion gives her away. The chemistry isn’t dead though… still infatuated with her, he sweeps her off her feet and waltzes around with her before stowing her behind L.G.’s flesh to hide her from his family, binding her to keep her from escaping. After Leatherface leaves, we discover that L.G. is still alive in spite of the pounding and the skinning he took. A bloody heap of sufferage, he manages to free Stretch before dying.
Before she can escape, Dreyton and Chop-Top recapture her for a repeat of the first film’s dinner sequence. Lefty dramatically interrupts the event though — in the funniest scene of the entire film, Dreyton implies that Lefty is some sort of hitman sent by his rivals at some Chinese catering company. An impressive chainsaw duel between Leatherface and Enright ensues while Stretch makes her escape and dispatches Chop-Top with some chainsaw action of her own. Eventually, Dreyton resigns himself to hell with a grenade, and takes Leatherface and Lefty with him.
The film has a strange open end, with Stretch wielding the saw like some buxom maniac. Though I’m not too sure what Hooper was implying with the image. An evocative if not awkward closing shot only leaves one wondering what’s going to happen next with Stretch.
The film ends with the shitty pseudo-reggae tune “Strange Things Happen” by former Police member Stewart Copeland. But there’s still a lot of other great music to compensate, including haunting tracks by Concrete Blonde and the Lords of the New Church.
The movie borders on slapstick parody at times and all elements of realism and grit that made the first film white-knuckle-inducing instead give way to complete absurdity. Siedow and Moseley turn in delightful performances, however Williams enscapulates an awkward and annoying sexual appeal, while defining the term “leggy.” Bill Johnson turns in a great portrayal of Leatherface, with a masterful mimickery of Gunnar Hansen’s physicality. However, the clumsy edge that leant depth and humanity to the character previously is absent — he’s less menacing, and comes off like comic relief a few times.
One of the film’s several fatal flaws relates to the actual lack of depth in and development of the characters. Dennis Hopper’s Enright character is downright compelling in theory, but within the context of the film, he’s utterly ridiculous and flat. Caroline Williams’ character comes off as nothing less than annoying with her incessant squawking, and we find it hard to sympathize with her… you may even find yourself wanting her dead at times. All in all, there are a lot of good ideas in the film itself. They just weren’t thoroughly explored or given enough consideration. The film is definitely experimental, as far as the formula goes, and for this it must be commended.
The actual placement of the film in the chronological order of the film series is ultimately more interesting than the effort itself. A topic heavily debated by fans of the series, it has even been suggested that the 1990 sequel, “Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3″ may be a prequel of sorts to the second film, bridging the gap between the two stories. Most of the debate stems from the producers of the film completely dismissing Hooper’s sequel, along with some other strange details littered throughout the film. A short sequel was also produced in 2000 by Tobe’s son William, entitled “All American Massacre,” with Bill Moseley returning as Robert “Chop-Top” Sawyer, and featuring a score by eccentric metal auteur Buckethead, no less. The fourth film, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” is a total abortion, however, featuring a bizarre CIA/cannibal conspiracy subplot, which ultimately would have unfolded into an alien plot to foil the meat market in the unfilmed fifth sequel. No, I’m not kidding.