Gary Couzens has reviewed the Region 1 release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Tobe Hooper’s inferior 1986 sequel to his groundbreaking 1974 original, mainly notable for being banned in the UK until this year. MGM’s DVD is nothing very special either.
On a lonely Texas road, two yuppies are ambushed and messily dispatched by a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Bill Johnson). Local DJ “Stretch” (Caroline Williams), in a phone-in conversation with the yuppies, has the killings on tape. She contacts police Lieutenant Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), whose brother and sister were among the original dead ten years before…
Turn back the clock twenty-seven years, and in an alternate universe the BBFC didn’t ban Tobe Hooper’s groundbreaking horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It went on wide release, turned up on video in due course and became a staple of late-night TV, maintaining its classic status without the notoriety. Ten years later, its sequel (pedantic note: note the different spellings of “chainsaw” in the two titles) would have done the rounds and settled into obscurity. It would be acknowledged by horror fans as an inferior follow-up to the enormously influential (and now quite dated – if it looks like a collection of clichés, remember it invented said clichés) original.
But of course that didn’t happen. The BBFC refused to pass Chainsaw 2, amidst alleged remarks that they’d have to cut twenty minutes out of it. Along with Part III, Jeff Burr’s surprisingly effective Leatherface, it remained (legally) unshown in the UK until this year, when a new regime at the BBFC released it from its banned status. (Leatherface had a brief uncertificated run in London in 1990, but its formal rejection by the BBFC still stands as I write this. Not for very long, I suspect.)
To watch Chainsaw 2 now is to go back to the mid 80s. Anyone who, like me, was an active cinemagoer then will get a shock of recognition at the Cannon logo at the start. This film was the third in a three-picture deal, following the camp classic Lifeforce and the simply tedious remake of Invaders from Mars. Like the two previous films, Chainsaw 2 flopped, and Hooper has spent his time since with straight-to-video schlock. Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist (and I won’t revive the argument about who really directed it) notwithstanding, Hooper has proved a one-hit wonder. Chainsaw 2 was evidently a run for cover, an attempt to revive his career by revisiting a past hit. Such tactics rarely work, and they don’t here. It was never a very good film, overacted by Hopper especially, gorier than the much more suggestive original, and sunk by fumbling attempts at playing for laughs. Always a sign of desperation. Rather surprisingly, the script is by L.M. Kit Carson, who had previously had a hand in the script for Paris, Texas!
Cannon are now defunct, and MGM now own their back catalogue (much of which is not worth reviving), at least in Region 1. This is a two-sided disc, a widescreen version on one side and a full-frame (open-matte) version on the other. The widescreen transfer is in a ratio of 16:9 (should be 1.85:1 but let’s not quibble) and is not anamorphic, which rather defeats the point of having two transfers on the disc. Picture quality is fair, as you might expect from non-anamorphic NTSC. The film has an overlit look, especially in darker scenes, evidently the influence of the video market.
The film had a soundtrack in Ultra Stereo, a low-budget alternative to Dolby much used in the 1980s. It’s remixed in Dolby Surround on this disc. It’s a pretty basic mix, with mono surrounds used almost entirely for music. This no doubt reflects the original materials, so a remix would be pointless.
The only extra is the trailer which begins with the words “Due to the nature of this film no-one under 17 will be admitted”. This is contradicted by the R rating (which allows accompanied children) displayed on the packaging – was the film cut? It’s a very much standard-issue trailer in any case. There are twenty-eight chapter stops and subtitles in two languages. Unfortunately English isn’t one of them.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is an object lesson that you shouldn’t have to pretend a film is good to wish for it not to be banned. Unavailability has only added to this film’s notoriety over the years. Let it be seen now, and let it sink into deserved obscurity, as an epitaph to Tobe Hooper’s career.
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum