The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: April 19th, 2016
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Horror history is lined with cautionary tales of artists or studios attempting to follow up a classic film without really comprehending what made the original work. Sometimes, they’ll try to recapture it but fail to replicate the lightning-in-a-bottle greatness of its predecessor, resulting in an inferior shade; sometimes, however, you’ll see someone attempt to recreate the reputation of the original film, essentially doubling down on elements that never actually existed in the first place, thereby completely missing the point in the process. On rare occasions, however, you’ll see someone cleverly play off of a reputation to slyly subvert expectations, delivering a film that feels aggressively unfaithful to its predecessor yet still functions as a logical follow-up.
Such is the case with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, a film that, on its face, is a complete affront to Tobe Hooper’s seminal masterwork, so much so that you’d never believe that the director actually saddled back up to helm it himself. Not only did he do so, but he seemed to arrive with the express purpose of twisting his own work around: this sequel is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre turned inside-out, its restraint tossed aside and its latent black humor pushed to the forefront, cranked and buzzing at absurd levels. If Hooper helped to usher in a stark, cruel reality with a stripped down, lucid nightmare in 1974 that laid the last vestiges of Flower Power to rest, then this return 12 years later shoveled an excessive amount of dirt over the grave.
You’d expect nothing less than excess from Hooper during this time period, when he teamed up with trash mavens Cannon Films for a trio of outlandish pictures. The last of these three collaborations, Texas Chainsaw 2 takes the final moments of the original film—wherein a howling Leatherface flails about, his chainsaw wildly swinging at nothing in particular—and stretches it into a feature-length screech that wails into the Reagan-era void.
Spilling more blood in its opening five minutes than the original did in its entire run-time, the sequel tracks the further exploits of the Sawyer clan, now relocated around the Dallas area, where their act has become something of a rolling roadshow. Drayton (Jim Siedow) pilots a food truck hocking award-winning chili stewed with human flesh procured from his deranged brothers, Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and Chop Top (Bill Mosely). In stark contrast to the fatalistic coincidence of the first film, the plot here is downright convoluted, as an obsessed Texas Ranger’s (Dennis Hopper) 12-year-pursuit of the clan intersects with a radio station disc-jockey (Caroline Williams) who happens to overhear one of the murders while on the air.
After the somewhat leaden setup, however, Hooper channels the lunatic descent into hell that was the first film, albeit with an even more pronounced absurdist streak. In this respect, Texas Chainsaw 2 plays less like more of the same and more like Hooper aggressively transforming the original subtext into a neon-tinged text here, with heaps of flayed flesh and buckets of blood caught in the glow, essentially delivering on a reputation the first film earned despite itself. If that film was a masterwork of restraint and suggestion, then this one is almost gleefully self-satisfied with Tom Savini’s gnarly effects work. Virtually nothing is left to the imagination, from the ridiculous amount of hammer blows absorbed by Stretch’s assistant (Lou Perryman) to a brain-splattering buzzcut administered via chainsaw. This is actually the movie everyone’s mother warned them about, and it’s difficult to tell whether Hooper is disgusted or delighted by the prospect.
What’s clear is that he wants to rub your nose in it one way or the other, and it’s a different, almost juvenile sort of provocation on the surface. Digging deeper reveals something beyond a sheer, anarchic piss-take, however: where the first film feels tethered (however tenuously) to some measure of shocked despair surrounding the fates of these victims, fates that were “all the more tragic in that they were young,” this sequel carries an even bleaker suggestion that this next generation won’t be given that basic courtesy. While the film reserves some empathy for Williams’s Stretch, her ordeal is literally staged at an abandoned theme park, as if it were a hellish thrill-ride meant to coax a level of deranged amusement. She’s just the latest grist in an automated mill that Hooper himself kick-started, the next in a seemingly endless horde of terrorized slasher victims.
Over a decade removed from the Watergate-Vietnam quagmire that allowed Hooper’s first film to act as a parable for America’s shattered idealism, the sequel reveals that the bog didn’t dissipate so much as it thickened before someone paved a parking lot over the top of it. A mixture of anger and depression marks The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a film that’s too aghast to truly articulate amidst its cacophony of wails, yawps, and shrieks—not that it really has to. Part 2 is similarly cacophonous but somehow feels more exasperated in its paradoxical mixture of denial and acceptance, two opposite ends of the grief spectrum. It reveals an America where the former has bled over and fused with the latter: rather than actual reckon with the repressed ugliness rumbling beneath the surface, waiting to well up and consume us, we’ve allowed it to thrive among us.
Drayton Sawyer has graduated from fringe, backwoods lunatic to a legitimate small-business owner who feeds human meat to eager patrons, a patently unsubtle illustration of dog-eat-dog capitalism. He’s taken up residence in the shell of that old amusement park, dubbed “Texas Battleland” in odd memoriam of America’s dual obsession with war and commodification. In what should be a banal moment where he dispenses the obligatory motivation that horror sequels often feel compelled to offer, Sawyer babbles on about his family’s displacement in their industry, particularly the practically mummified grandfather who was shoved aside in the slaughterhouse in favor of an automated process.
Absurd in its utter triteness, this backstory nonetheless reveals the cyclical savagery of a capitalist machine greased by blood, guts, and tears. If Drayton Sawyer had lived three more decades, it’s almost certain he would have taken up the politics of the Tea Party, an unhinged movement that relies on the anger of disaffected white people who can’t handle watching their privilege evaporate. He’s Trump’s base personified thirty years early, all wild-eyed and raging at a world that’s supposedly left him behind even as he’s found success. It’s not enough that he’s recognized as an award-winning chili maven—he craves more, more, more. The void formed decades earlier has been filled, but with what?
What’s worse, everything surrounding Sayer is similarly skewed. The most obvious avatar of perverted idealism is Chop Top, an apparent former Flower Child whose brain has been microwaved by PTSD. Mosely is all tics and affectations in a role that embodies the utter madness of the tumultuous 70s; it’s not enough that those ideals were crushed, as they also had to be reprogrammed, essentially scrambled in the service of a machine that demands blood. Opposite him is Lefty, the obsessed ranger that’s been hunting the family for a decade, portrayed by Dennis Hopper in a casting coup that doesn’t feel coincidental: here is one of America’s great counter-culture figures, here reduced to a nonsensical, evangelical madman working for The Man. He and Chop Top are two sides of a coin scarred by the same acid bath.
Curiously caught in between are both Stretch and Leatherface, pointedly the two youngest characters; while it’s hard to peg down Bubba’s exact age, he’s played more like a teenager here in a turn that’s particularly reminiscent of Karloff’s adolescent Monster. His curiosity when confronted with Stretch (and her sexuality) is almost innocent because his own impulses have been predictably warped by his family’s nigh-puritanical values regarding sex. The Sawyers are a microcosm of the moral majority, a bunch of raving loons who preach family values as their walls literally spill over with the entrails of their victims.
There’s less doubt about Stretch’s place on the continuum; as an early twentysomething, she’s interestingly on the edge of Generation X, allowing her to serve as an avatar in her own right. Like her young predecessors in the first film, she and her generation are victims of circumstance, their hopes and ambitions swallowed up in this maw of inherited bullshit as they’re forced to swallow the sins of their fathers. Hooper at least reserved some sliver of hope for poor Sally Hardesty—she may have been a wailing mess in the back of that pickup truck, but there’s a perceptible sense of relief. Nothing like that quite exists for Stretch: in a film that blurs the lines between the violence perpetrated by perpetrators and their victims, it’s fitting that she doesn’t assume Sally’s mantle.
Rather, she takes up Leatherface’s place, perched atop the absurd Battleland monument, wildly flailing a chainsaw, howling with an inarticulate rage. One feels like she’s not too far removed from the Sawyer’s bizarre tribute to the closing, iconic shot of Dr. Strangelove: amidst the clutter of junk and human remains, a skeleton straddles an atom bomb like Slim Pickens, cleverly capturing the anarchic spirit of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. If the film rolled on for another half-minute, one wonders if Stretch herself would feel similarly compelled to ride the chainsaw into oblivion. This is face of nihilism, and it endures as a clever reworking of the original film.
It’s perhaps natural—if not easy—to feel cynical about yet another release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, a film that’s seen its reputation evolve from “black sheep” to “cult classic” since its release. Scream Factory’s latest offering isn’t even the first Blu-ray, nor is it exactly stepping into a situation where the film hasn’t been well-serviced by a bundle of special features. It can, however, boast about being the most complete release you can ever imagine. Not only does it port over bonus materials from previous releases, it also adds on a staggering five hours of new content in addition to a brand new 2K remaster. And if that doesn’t suit you, Scream has also included the previous transfer as well for the sake of uber-completion.
The previous features should be familiar to fans: Hooper mans a solo commentary, while Moseley, Williams, and Savini reunite for another. Six-part retrospective “It Runs in the Family” makes a reappearance along with assortment of deleted scenes, an alternate opening sequence, trailers, TV spots, and stills. Joining the old extras is a new commentary track with DP Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, script supervisor Laura Kooris, and property master Michael Sullivan, plus new outtakes and previously unreleased behind-the-scenes footage from Savini’s own archives.
Scream has also produced new interviews with the cast and crew, including “House of Pain,” a 40-minute retrospective focused on the film’s ragtag effects crew, who spill interesting anecdotes while detailing nearly every effects sequence in the film. Actors Chris Dourdias and Barry Kinyon look back on their brief but impactful contribution to TCM lore, and editor Alain Jakubowicz describes the circumstances leading up to the film, giving one of his first projects—the criminally underseen Lemon Popsicle—a shout out in the process. Stuntman and Leatherface double Bob Elmore, one of a few men who actually brought Bubba Sawyer roaring back to the screen here, and it’s nice to see him in a deserved spotlight here.
Finally, Sean Clark returns for another episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds,” with this outing being particularly interesting because you’d never guess just how much of Texas Chainsaw 2 was filmed in downtown Austin, an area that’s practically transformed itself in the thirty years since. It turns out that I’ve been right near some of the locations but couldn’t possibly have known it because they’re either vacant parking lots or have been built over.
This release is so stacked that it can stand toe-to-toe with the definitive package issued for the original film a couple of years back. Surely, it’s one of the most impressive treatments for a horror sequel to date: if you were to judge TCM 2 solely by the lavish edition here, you’d assume its reputation was on par with its predecessor. While I doubt it’ll ever ascend to those heights (it’s certainly not a film that’s for everyone, and that divisiveness is an asset), it has been rightfully canonized as one of the great, self-reflexive horror sequels. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: