THAT’S NOT ROTTEN! ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ is a Worthy Sequel

GameStop, Inc.

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Not only does Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre have one of the most evocative titles in cinematic history, it’s also one hell of scary film. A low budget affair full of black humor and visceral terror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is among the pantheon of films inspired by the crimes of Ed Gein – other notable films being Psycho and Silence of the Lambs. Breaking from typical horror film tradition, there would be a 12-year gap between the first film and its 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Hooper would find himself directing films like Poltergeist and Lifeforce before returning to Texas for more power tool mayhem.

In the 13 years since the events of the first film, the lone survivor has slipped into a state of catatonia. With no evidence to go upon, the authorities believe that the events of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre never happened. Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) has been tirelessly investigating the crimes, Sally and Franklin Hardesty from the first film being his niece and nephew. Meanwhile, Stretch (Caroline Williams) is a local DJ who takes on-air requests. One evening she receives a call from some drunk and rowdy college students en route to a football game. Stretch hears and records the two men brutally murdered by Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and his demented family. Having an audio recording of their grisly demise, Stretch seeks out Lefty in order to get answers as to what she heard. Hungry for revenge, Lefty sets a trap with Stretch unknowingly being the bait. Soon Stretch and her station partner, L.G. (Lou Perryman) are terrorized by Leatherface, his brother Chop Top (Bill Moseley), and the Sawyer patriarch Drayton (Jim Siedow). Needless to say that everything culminates into a bloody finale.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 wasn’t warmly received. Much like Evil Dead 2, this sequel is a much more humorous take on the previous entry. Which is not to say that the film is lacking in scares or gore – it most certainly isn’t. There’s also a streak that parodies the excess of the ‘80s. The first two victims in the film are white trust fund kids. Loud, rude, and entitled, the duo makes harassing phone calls from their car phone, a rare luxury in the mid-‘80s.  The maniacal Sawyer family in itself is a corporation. Drayton travels Texas entering and winning chili cook-offs, and promoting his barbeque business. He, too, has a car phone. When the rowdy college students appear on the Sawyer’s radar, they’re setting themselves up for a hostile takeover. It’s dog eat dog out there, and the one with the loosest ethics can get ahead the furthest. All the while, the regulators look the other way.

Financed by Cannon Films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 had a rushed production. As Cannon often did, they had promotional materials and a release date secured before the film was even finished. From a visual standpoint, TCM2 is much more cinematic in a traditional sense than its predecessor, less of that raw ominous feel. In one scene around the Sawyer family dinner table, Hooper makes it look like Terry Gilliam’s take on the Manson family.

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Dennis Hopper was once to state that TCM2 is the worst film he ever made, he later said Super Mario Bros. was the worst film he ever made (I would say An American Carol). It wasn’t an easy shoot for Hopper, as he was just working on getting sober. For all its ups and downs, TCM2 does feature Hopper providing everyone the blue print on how to properly purchase a chainsaw. The film also jumpstarted the career of Caroline Williams, who’s worked steady ever since. It also provided the foundation for Bill Moseley’s career. If there’s a movie featuring murderous rednecks, Moseley is likely to have a key role.

 

I maintain an affection for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 because it isn’t beholden to the previous film, offering similar thrills in a different package. Its balance of dark comedy and sick thrills with an undercurrent of social commentary, elevate beyond its basest pleasures. It doesn’t belong in the upper echelon of horror films, but it does for horror sequels. Though there were 2 more sequels, a remake, and a prequel to the remake, TCM2 was the last good incarnation of the Sawyer family. A cut above the rest, if you will.

 

 

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