Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and a Newfound Appreciation

I felt compelled to do a write up of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ after my last viewing of it which was the first time in a long time and because of the newfound appreciation I had for it. Up until then I spent many years dismissing it since first seeing the film when finally released in the United Kingdom in 2001. This was three years after the original 1974 movie had its ban lifted in my native homeland and got a limited theatrical release with cuts in 1998. It was passed uncut a year later on VHS.

I have adored the first film ever since I saw the uncensored version in 1999. It is easily one of my top five horror movies of all time (although that top five changes frequently it is a main stayer) and that is the same for many hardened fans of the genre. During my teen years in the 90s, I remember how badly I wanted to see this highly regarded low-budget masterpiece of shocking cinema but I was deprived of such privileges thanks to the usual overreacting of the BBFC. It would also escape me on pirated videotape despite the apparent abundance of available moody copies doing the rounds. Due to very bad luck, caused by people constantly letting me down I could just never get hold of a copy.

When I finally watched it legally in ’99, what I saw was filmmaking of such superior artistry. Overwhelmingly powerful and disturbing it is a gruelling relentless experience looking and feeling just like a real nightmare. We cannot wake up from it even when the movie is over due to the deep impact it has made on our psyche. It is a gritty and realistic tale of cruelty, madness and extreme violence depicting such savage murders and mutilation yet so expertly crafted the film is there is very little bloodletting in sight. Director Tobe Hooper cleverly makes us think we are seeing more than we actually are. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) is one of the most important and culturally significant American horror movies of all time. It is a truly great example of how magnificent the genre once was before Stateside and is one of the most influential forerunners to the slasher sub-genre. 

It was four years after it came out in American cinemas when production company and distributors Cannon submitted ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ to the BBFC for certification. However, Cannon did not see this belated 1990 release reach fruition due to the ludicrous demands of the censors. The BBFC told them that they would have to make cuts of around a massive 25 minutes in order to get an 18 certificate. With this Cannon decided to put a halt to the release. Eleven years later after the lifting of the first film’s ban in ’98 the distributors of its 1999 uncut VHS release Blue Dolphin got Hooper’s sequel a limited showing in British cinemas.

As I stated before I have dismissed this follow up for a long time. I knew I had to check it out when I got the opportunity to in ‘01 because of my admiration for its predecessor. I was just so disappointed. Everything I described above about the original was missing; instead, it was a dark comedy all out gore slasherfest. I understood what Tobe Hooper was trying to do, he knew he could never top his first movie and he did not want to repeat himself. It was also most of all down to his frustration of audiences not getting the subtle black humour that exists in that film. It is such a psychological mind fuck it was impossible for viewers to get those comedic aspects that went completely over their heads. So here, he brings the comedy to the forefront. While I got what Hooper was doing, I just felt that it did not work. I thought it was such a let down and far from what ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ deserved as a companion piece. Actually, there was never need for a sequel in the first place. I put it out of my mind and just stuck with the classic original.

Winding forward to 2010 I was still of the same opinion. Confirmation of a new 3D instalment in the TCM franchise and talking about the upcoming project on horror movie forums gave me a hankering to watch the series again. While cracking open some beers I did just that re-watching the first three in the original continuity. To my surprise, I found myself enjoying immensely ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’. It is a fucking good time! The first time ever watching the first movie and then sticking this one on straight after was like the paracetamol required by the migraine inducing mayhem of the previous instalment. Do not get me wrong TCM 2 is bat-shit crazy but in a living it up on a wild Saturday night kind of way. Opposed to the mental scarring of the original, it is a bizarre twisted fun ride.

The initial idea for the film by Tobe Hooper and co-screenwriter of the first movie Kim Henkel was to have a whole town full of cannibals and was to be a satire on ‘Motel Hell’ (1980). That movie itself was actually a satirical take on the ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. Brilliantly titled ‘Beyond the Valley of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ it sadly never was due to Cannon getting in a new writer to make changes. The massive rewrites by L.M. Kit Carson would result in the sequel we have today. As it turned out it is a parody spoof of the original movie.

Set thirteen years after the events of the last film it consists of many intentionally hammed up performances. This includes an over the top portrayal of Leatherface this time played by Bill Johnson. Much maligned over the years compared to Gunner Hansen’s petrifying turn in the original it is largely misunderstood in that it is a send up of Hansen’s performance with Johnson’s copycat exaggeration of his movements. Like forever always doing a stupid dance while holding his chainsaw high up in the air. Leatherface also gets a love interest in the form of Stretch (Caroline Williams) who becomes his object of desire. She is a tough radio show DJ and the only sane character here. Leather even dry humps her with his chainsaw serving as a phallic symbol of his sexual frustration. This all paints Leatherface as more sympathetic here.

The scene-stealing actor here though is the brilliant Bill Moseley playing the mad as a hatter Chop Top. His introduction in the radio station in which he corners Stretch is highly memorable. It is a perfect balance of frightening and unnerving intimidation combined with lunatic hilarity. He has a metal plate in his head and is constantly heating up a piece of wire with a lighter and touching the plate with it also picking off bits of flesh from his head wound and eating it. He has an array of instantly quotable dialogue including “Dog will hunt. Get that bitch, Leatherface Get that bitch (laughs) Dog will hunt.”

The only actor from the original cast to return is Jim Siedow reprising his role as The Cook (Drayton Sawyer) the head of the family. This time he provides for them with a prize winning chili made with human meat. Even one of the heroes of the movie is stark raving bonkers. The late great Dennis Hopper plays Lieutenant "Lefty" Enright a former Texas Ranger and uncle of Sally and Franklin from the first film. He is obsessed with finding and destroying the cannibalistic Sawyer family and even goes after them with a couple of chainsaws of his own ending in a hugely entertaining climatic battle with Leatherface. Tom Savini’s SFX for the most part is of its usual high standards although his makeup job for Leather’s mask is not of his best work. In the original it looked like real human skin whereas here it just looks cartoonish but to be fair this just suits the over the top nature of the movie. A really stand out set-piece is the action orientated road rage attack sequence on a couple of obnoxious college students. The set design of the Sawyer’s hideout in an abandoned theme park is also very impressive.

While not a classic ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ now has a place comfortably in my collection as a solid beer and pizza flick alongside the likes of ‘Night of the Demons’ (1988), ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ (1996), ‘Feast’ (2005) etc. While a direct continuation of the original film, it is best looked upon as a bloody comedic parody of it, which is exactly what it is. This helps to separate it from its predecessor and makes it a terrifically enjoyable good time in its own right.

*** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson 

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.


  1. Loved your thoughts on this film Dave. The thing with TCM II is that liking it feels like being in on a gag that no one else gets. I love the free-wheeling atmosphere of the film, and the sheer weirdness of it all. It's too bad Dennis Hopper never had much to say about the film, because I think he pours himself into the character. For me the best moment of the film is when Leatherface places the dead skin mask on Stretch's face - quite an astonishingly grotesque scene. I'm gonna blow whatever rep I have here by saying I like most of the Chainsaw films. Firstly the original is simply my favourite horror film ever. I think it's an absolutley perfect film. I like the 3rd film (warming up to it years later) and I liked the 2003 and 2006 film as well. I loved the dark, dank brutality of them.

    1. This and TCM: TB are the only ones that I think are really decent after the original. I hated TCM 3 when I first saw the cut to shreds theatrical version, but the unrated cut makes it passable entertainment. The same goes for the remake which is watchable too. But like most, I hate TCM: TNG with a passion!