Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Bill Moseley and Bill Johnson
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre from 1974 is an undeniable masterpiece. It’s full of suspense, a dark atmosphere and genuine horror. The low budget proto-slasher film holds a place in the hearts of most horror fans. The idea that it is based on a true story has fascinated people since it first came out, although it is inspired by the same events as Norman Bates from Psycho and Hannibal Lector, so it isn’t true at all.
It must have been a challenge when 14 years after the original’s release director Tobe Hooper was back to bring a higher budget sequel. It was 1986 when the second film finally came out, and by this time there was a whole production line worth of horror films, especially slasher films which the original had helped popularise. Was there even room for a new Texas Chainsaw Massacre when there was a yearly Friday the 13th and regular Halloween films. When Leatherface and family finally arrived back on the screen, to remind people how scary these films could be, there was a lot to live up to. The original is genuinely scary, almost 50 years later. And when the second film finally did come out, it was critically panned.
As part of trying to avoid expectations Hooper and writer L. M. Kit Carson turned the tense filled horror into a black comedy. Leaning in more on the humour that was in the first one and getting rid of tension for all out gore and gruesome. The poster parodies the poster for The Breakfast Club, which is probably funnier than the film itself, showing that this was different from the original. For the most part this works. Straight from the beginning this isn’t the same kind of film as the first one. Gone is the character build-up at the beginning, which is replaced by 2 guys who are prank calling a radio station, while messing with other drivers on the road. They are annoying and when they get cut down moments later on what must be the longest bridge in Texas it’s entertaining as you are glad they’re gone. There isn’t horror in the deaths as you don’t care, but just gore and chainsaw swipes.
While they are being killed by Leatherface, they are on the phone to the local radio station where DJ Stretch, played by Caroline Williams, listens to the whole event. It’s recorded and she takes it to a former ranger nicknamed Lefty, played by Dennis Hopper, who initially turns her away before later accepting her help in hunting down the family. Why she doesn’t take the tape to the police first is glossed over. They don’t believe Lefty, so the audience is led to believe that they don’t care about killings if they involve chainsaws in Texas. It happens all over the state, and it is just passed off as accidents or missing people.
The film then gets going and we end up in the new hide out for the cannibal family. Instead of a small shack in the middle of nowhere that is believable and more personal on scale like in the first one, they have now moved into a seemingly never ending set of underground tunnels that are lined with body parts and hanging skulls. It’s gruesome and watching Leatherface skin someone, who turns out is still alive is stomach churning, but it isn’t scary or have any building terror. The one scene in the radio station that does this, is out of touch with the tone for the rest of the film.
For most of the later part, we are essentially watching a re-hashing of the first film. They tie up the heroine, while she screams and then grandpa, wielding a hammer, tries to hit her and drops the hammer multiple times. She then escapes and runs away while Hopper has a chainsaw duel with Leatherface.
The best part of this film is the effects. Tom Savini is a genuine master of practical horror effects. Any film with his participation is going to look good and Texas Chainsaw 2 is no exception. From the peeled skin of their victims, to the slicing of people with chainsaws, knifes and the exposed metal plate in Chop Top’s head. It all looks great, in the goriest and most horrific way possible.
Dennis Hopper’s character is a strange one. For the first half of the film, he is quiet and thoughtful, investing the disappearance of his nephew from the first film. He knows that the police aren’t looking into it properly and takes matters into his own hands. Then he buys a few chainsaws and turns into a complete nut-job for almost no reason. It’s great to see a chainsaw duel, but most of his action is just running around chopping support beams in the underground tunnels, which acting hysterical. He’s got a death wish and I wish we got more time with him to explore this.
While it is nowhere near as good as the original, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is still enjoyable to watch, it’s funny, entertaining and full of great effects that still stand up today. It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it does attempt to follow up one of the best horror films of all time by trying something completely different. Stretch is a good character that you really want to survive. The ending shot is also pretty great in mirroring the first one while also spinning it on it’s head. It’s not a must see, but horror fans who haven’t already seen it will more than likely get something out of it.