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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986) Is Better Than You Remember

                          "Sex is . . . well, nobody knows.  But the saw . . . the saw is family"
                                                                                       Drayton Sawyer, TCM2

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986) poster
Great poster, great tagline, and a great movie - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

The climactic chainsaw duel between Leatherface and Lefty
The one on one chainsaw duel between Leatherface and Lefty
     I'm an unapologetic Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 fanboy, so be forewarned.  If you're a hater and you think that TCM2 is a sloppy, cacophonous, scare free mess . . . well, you're probably more than just a little bit right.  But it's also a witty, well-paced, blackly comic satire that succeeds admirably in taking the TCM franchise in about the only direction it could have gone without making it a pale rehash of one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

     Director Tobe Hooper realized that trying to top his brilliantly disturbing original with more of the same was a fool's errand.  Instead, he chose to bring the dark humor present in the original - but mostly overlooked - out into the spotlight this time.  After all, Hooper thought he was making a PG rated movie the first time around.  It was based on a violent flight of fancy he had in the hardware department of a crowded store when he was trying to think of a way to get through the crowd and noticed chainsaws for sale.  It was filmed under the working title Headcheese, for Pete's sake.  Not to belittle Hooper's achievement with the original TCM, but he pretty clearly thought he was making something a little different than what we all took to be a nerve-jangling descent into Hell.  In that respect, he failed.

A Sawyer family portrait from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2
A Sawyer family portrait from TCM2
     If a viewer can get past the fact that the first TCM is scary and that TCM2 isn't, then the sequel is a perfectly logical narrative progression.  I posted an article recently about how the original TCM is a uniquely American horror movie TCM2 expands on this notion by having the Sawyer clan chasing the capitalist American dream of a successful business - The Last Round Up Rolling Grill - which Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow) says he built into a success by hookin' and crookin'.  The Sawyer family's murderous activities are just a means to an end, a necessary evil perpetrated to grow the family business.  TCM2 is building on thematic concerns presented in the original, and in that regard, it's more of a direct continuation of the first than  the shameful Texas Chainsaw 3D purports to be.

Leatherface and the Hitchhiker from TCM2
Leatherface and the Hitchhiker on the bridge
     TCM2 also finally delivers all that gore that we only thought we saw in the original, another logical progression.  FX master Tom Savini delivers some of his best work here, with the skinning alive of radio station engineer L.G. (Lou Perry) being a notable highlight.  I always get a little tickled when Lefty (Dennis Hopper) makes a point of turning Leatherface's chainsaw disembowelment toward the camera during the climactic chainsaw battle.  It's almost as if director Hooper is saying, "Here's what you always wanted to see, kids!  Here's your gorey money shot!"  It's effects porn at its finest.  Grandpa's old age make-up is pretty incredible, too, as is the Hitchhiker "costume" Leatherface dons in the opening bridge massacre.  Hell, how about that gloriously over-the-top sawed off head in that same sequence?  I know you giggled with glee the first time you saw that.

Leatherface woos Stretch the only way he knows how from TCM2
Leatherface woos Stretch the only way he knows how
     We also get to see Leatherface (Bill Johnson) hit puberty in TCM2, and the tender love story between Leatherface and Stretch (Caroline Williams) serves as the sequel's funniest running gag.  I love me some Gunnar Hansen, but Bill Johnson's wordless performance as TCM2's love addled Leatherface is an underappreciated triumph of expressive pantomime.  It's a logical progression in the character's arc, and it's the only instance anyone other than Hansen has properly captured the child-like essence of the character. 

Stretch strikes an iconic pose from TCM2
Stretch strikes an iconic pose at the conclusion of TCM2
     In fact, the entire cast rises to the occasion admirably.  Jim Siedow and Bill Moseley (Chop-Top) both chew the scenery with gusto, and their persistent squabbling brings the dysfunctional Sawyer family dynamic to life.  Caroline Williams and Dennis Hopper do a fine job garnering audience sympathy, as well - no small feat when competing with such a colorful bunch of bad guys.  Their respective meltdowns - with Hopper "bringin' it all down" and Williams ultimately mimicking Leatherface's iconic chainsaw dance from the original TCM - are wholly convincing.  They also serve notice to the viewer that we all have a little "chainsaw" in us.

The Sawyer family "Breakfast Club" pose from TCM2
The Sawyer family "Breakfast Club" pose
     The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is by no means the genre defining masterpiece that Tobe Hooper's original was, but it's a helluva lot better than its detractors would have you believe.  I firmly believe that most fans who don't like TCM2 don't like it because it isn't the movie they expected.  If it had been the movie they expected, they undoubtedly wouldn't have liked that, either.  Appreciate TCM2 for the darkly humorous quasi-parody it is.  Don't take it to task for not being a carbon copy of the original.

     It pisses me off that Texas Chainsaw 3D had the audacity to rewrite canon and position itself as the true sequel to The Texas Chainsaw MassacreThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is, was, and always will be the only true sequel to Hooper's pioneering original.  It's a commendable attempt to expand on the Chainsaw saga while being respectful of its trailblazing predecessor.  It's better than you remember.  Skip the next shitty sequel and watch it again if you don't believe me.







Posted by Brandon Early

3 comments:

Jeremy [Retro-Z] said...

i just remember being young and scared... though at the time i didn't know who dennis hopper was, though leatherface was in my head... i want to say where hopper kicks open the tank with meat in it... sticks inside my noggin.

Crankenstien said...

I rewatched this in the theater recently and it's alot better than I remembered it and man does Rob Zombie steal alot from it! I even reviewed it at my blog http://www.theaterofguts.com/2012/10/texas-chainsaw-massacre-2.html

Brandon Early said...

I've always been a pretty staunch defender of TCM2, Erok. I'm going to check your post now.