Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986, dir. Tobe Hooper)
It’s been thirteen years since the events of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre and stories still surface from time to time of bizarre killings and bodies found on the side of the road in pieces. The local police don’t seem to take the sensationalized version of this stories seriously though Lt. Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) believes. His niece and nephew were two of the young people slaughtered back in 1973, and he is on the hunt for the people who did it. Lefty’s path crosses with radio DJ Stretch who has a recording of a killing that occurred during a call-in on her show. This recording leads them into a direct confrontation with the Sawyer family in their new home, the amusement park Texas Battle Land.
Director Tobe Hooper was reportedly unhappy with how grim, and serious audiences took the original film when he personally saw a lot of dark humor woven throughout. This sequel was his reaction to that, and it most definitely shows. TCM2 is most definitely a horror-comedy, and I personally think it is a great one. When it comes to horror, I’m not a big fan of the slasher/gore sub-genre. So many times it just feels like an excuse to showcase a large number of special effects that, while impressive, don’t really scare me. And I feel the best horror is the kind that gets under your skin and leaves you unnerved. Hooper’s original plan was to make the sequel about an entire Texas small town full of cannibals running riot, but the producers opted for something a little smaller and readily achievable. That isn’t to say TCM2 is a subtle film, it is over the top crazy, particularly with Dennis Hopper’s character.
Hopper plays Lefty as a completely unhinged religious zealot, unhinged being something Hopper was great at. Early in the film he goes to purchase a chainsaw for his coming confrontation with the Sawyers and ends up getting one large saw, plus two smaller ones so he can duel wield. He tests them out on a log designed for this purpose outside the store. The scene reminded me of the weirder moments in Cabin Fever where you have no idea why characters are doing or saying what they are in this scene. It’s both funny and really effectively creepy. This is just one instance of how heightened all the characters are across the picture. Stretch is overly spunky, and her transformation that leads up to the ending is both hilarious and terrifying.
The Sawyer Family is played in a fascinating way, particularly in how Hooper undercuts a lot of their menace in the latter half of the film. Leatherface and The Cook are present in the first act but in the background. It’s not until the new addition to the family Chop Top’s arrival at the radio station one night that our protagonists are met with their enemies. Bill Moseley’s portrayal of Chop Top continues the scary and funny dynamic Hooper is attempting. The character is implied to be a Vietnam vet turned washed up hippie with a metal plate in his head courtesy of the Viet Cong. He wears a wig when he first appears and habitually lights the hook of a wire hanger and scratches the scabbed skin around the plate. If that wasn’t bad enough, he picks the skin off the hook and nibbles on it. The grotesque is heightened to that level of cartoon absurdity, and I think this was a better choice than the way the Michael Bay reboot franchise has gone completely grimdark.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is not a film that is ever going to appeal to a mass audience. It’s way too gross for most moviegoers and way too silly for hardcore horror fans. It is definitely the work of its director and screenwriter, L.M. Kit Carson’s views on Texas and America in the 1980s. Instead of a quiet farmhouse, the Sawyer’s inhabit a grossly elaborate bone covered compound beneath the earth. Seeing the film, not as a pure horror experience, but a personal comment on a particular ideology of the time adds a lot to understanding what the filmmakers are doing and why they went in such a strange direction.