The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 Review
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre - which is now, incredibly, forty years old – remains one of the most remarkable horror films ever made; surprisingly restrained in its use of graphic horror, darkly funny, genuinely tense and lathered with a forbidding atmosphere of dread which is hard to shake off. During the decades which followed, the “Texas Chainsaw” tag has been attached to a whole range of sequels and “inspired by” efforts which have ranged from the surprisingly good – Jeff Burr’s Leatherface - to the offensively obnoxious – the awful Texas Chainsaw from last year.
Only once has Tobe Hooper himself returned to the well however and that was in 1986 when he made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 as the third film in his deal with Cannon Films following Lifeforce and the rather underrated Invaders From Mars. Right from the poster, which is a skit on the famous image from John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, it’s clear that we are now in considerably different territory from the first film. While the original is often very funny in a sick kind of way, the sequel is out and out black comedy with outrageous slapstick, hammy performances, and general craziness. It doesn’t entirely work but you have to give Hooper points for sheer nerve and there are moments when it comes together and becomes tremendously entertaining. It’s only fair to say that the incoherence isn’t the fault of Hooper or his writer L. M. Kit Carson – a week before shooting, Cannon cut the budget by a million dollars and messed around with the screenplay to take out much of the social satire which was intended. What’s left is an uneven black comedy which is sometimes amusing but more often just loud and daft.
The plot is straightforward enough. The rather gorgeous Caroline Williams plays Stretch, a DJ working on a local radio request show. Two annoying seniors phone in and refuse to get off the phone even when engaged in a road race with a strange car and, as a result, when the vehicle turns out to be carrying Leatherface wielding his customeary chainsaw, their death is captured on tape. Stretch is eager to find out what happened and she comes into contact with Lefty (Hopper), a former Texas Ranger who has spent thirteen years investigating the death of his relatives in the original chainsaw massacre. Stretch plays the tape on her request show which leads to the arrival at the station of Leatherface and Chop Top (Moseley) . Through various plot complications, Stretch ends up at the family home, a deserted carnival ground, closely followed by Lefty.
It should be stated immediately that this is one of the most ludicrously over-the-top films ever made, an obvious predecessor to Peter Jackson’s weirdly jolly splatter epics Bad Taste and Braindead. It’s not just the violence, although that is graphic and frequent, but the cartoon-like tone and exaggerated performances. Caroline Williams is a credible heroine but everyone else in the film, including Dennis Hopper (just coming into his dried-out respectable character actor phase), is hamming it up like mad. This isn’t necessarily a criticism but it does mitigate against the film being either scary or disturbing. Once you’ve seen one dismemberment, you’ve seen them all, and after the initial revulsion, there’s no shock left. Leatherface is treated rather like the latter-day Freddy in that he appears to become the point of identification for horror fans – a monster turned into an anti-hero – and every time he wields his chainsaw we seem to be meant to cheer. There’s one moment when something genuinely startling occurs and it stands out a mile in an otherwise silly film. In order to distact Leatherface from carving her up, Stretch allows him to caress her inner thighs with his chainsaw while telling him how turned on she is. It’s a beautifully played and uneasy scene which is unfortunately undercut by Leatherface finally dancing away from Stretch and thrusting his groin at her.
By the last half hour, it’s all become a little bit exhausting and hysterical but there are still pleasures to be had. Jim Siedow obviously relishes the chance to camp up his gas station character from the first film – now become a state-wide provider of gourmet meat – and Bill Moseley is a constant delight as Chop Top, a Vietnam veteran with a metal plate in his head whose response to stress is to chant “Nam Flashback, Nam Flashback!” The look of the film is rather day-glo neon but this suits the style and Tom Savini’s special effects are excellent throughout. There are remnant of social comment about the acquisitive 1980s and the nature of family but these take a distinct second place to the action. Still, it's all quite diverting and it would be a dull soul who didn't find a smile for a film which features Dennis Hooper carrying not one, not two, but three chainsaws.
Arrow’s disc of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 comes from the same HD master as the US disc from 2012 which was supervised by the Director of Photography Richard Kooris. I haven’t seen that disc but I can say that the Arrow disc looks lovely and the difference when compared to the 2001 DVD which I previously owned is like night and day. The film has a peculiarly 1980s look which I can’t quite put my finger on – it’s often a little overlit and the colours are often very cartoonish, especially the blood. Given this look, the transfer is excellent with the colours coming across very vividly. There is plenty of detail visible leading to a very organic appearance with nice textures of clothing and surfaces. No obvious DNR is present and the appearance has a fine grain which is attractive. The film is presented in its original ratio of 1.85:1.
This being a mid-1980s Cannon release, it’s no surprise to see that it was recorded in Ultra Stereo and the LPCM 2.0 track faithfully recreates what is a not particularly exciting audio experience. The surrounds are mostly filled in with a loud music track but the dialogue – including much screaming – is always clear. There are optional English subtitles
There are quite a few extra features on the Arrow disc, along with an extra disc containing two early films from Tobe Hooper.
The Heisters from 1965 is a ten minute exercise in technique which has a very simple plot – three criminals try to rob their ill-gotten gains from each other – but some quite sophisticated direction and a very professional look. It’s very silly and cartoonish but quite good fun.
Eggshells from 1969 is another matter. It’s very typical of its time and a sort of forerunner to the films which followed the success of Easy Rider onwards in that it has a free-flowing structure and a vaguely anti-establishment tone which doesn’t really go anywhere. Set in Austin, Texas it’s simply about a group of hippies sharing a house and generally living their lives in a rather uneventful manner. It has a sort of sickly sunlit quality which reminds you of the opening half of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it plays with questions of fantasy and reality, sometimes quite successfully but often rather vaguely and inconclusively. The opening cinema-verite sequences are quite well done but pale in comparison with those in the contemporary Medium Cool. I found the film quite hypnotic to watch – even when it’s boring, it’s hard to take your eyes off the screen. The transfer is about as good as it’s ever going to get – only one print survives and that is quite badly damaged with a purpleish tinge. It’s accompanied by an interesting Tobe Hooper commentary.
Also on the disc is the lengthy It Runs in the Family documentary from 2006 which runs about an hour and a half and has contributions from various people involved in the film with the very obvious exception of Tobe Hooper. I enjoyed this for its frankness – if you didn’t know what a nightmare Cannon must have been to work with, you will after watching this – and it’s broken into chapters which can be watched separately or as one long piece. The best comments come from writer L. M. Kit Carson who is wryly realistic about the whole experience.
Hooper’s absence from the documentary is made up for by his appearance in an audio commentary track from 2006 which he shares with David Gregory. He’s a fairly engaging speaker and the two men go through the film in a mildly interesting fashion although a lot of ground is also covered from other perspectives in the documentary. Hooper emphasises that his intention was to make explicit the humour which he thought was implicit but often misunderstood in the original. There is also a commentary track from Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and Tom Savini which is a much rowdier affair with the three often talking over each other. It’s quite entertaining but not particularly enlightening.
Still Feelin’ the Buzz is a Nucleus Films production which features an interview with horror writer Stephen Thrower accompanied by an appropriate selection of clips. He begins by saying that he feels the original was perfect - I’m not sure I agree with his assessment of the acting but that’s by the way – and that the sequel had the problem of trying not to do the same thing again. He relates the humorous approach to the one taken by Sam Raimi in Evil Dead 2 and he seems a bit ambivalent about how much he likes the film.
Cutting Moments is an interview with stuntman Bob Elmore in which he describes the experience of making the film as one of grinding misery. He explains how he started with TV work going on to talking about doing the Leatherface stunts in this sequel.
We also get a collection of deleted scenes, running ten minutes, which show some extended scenes of Yuppie slaughter. I’m not sure where these were sourced from but the quality is low-par VHS. The best of the lot is an encounter with some sports fans which features brilliant Tom Savini effects work. An alternate opening scene is also included along with the original trailer and an image gallery.
Also included with the disc is a booklet but this wasn’t supplied to this reviewer.
I’m not entirely sure that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is much more than an interesting misfire but it’s certainly a fascinating attempt to make a sequel that’s completely different to the original and, for that, Tobe Hooper deserves credit. The film good on this Blu-Ray and the extra features are exceptional.