The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
By: Liam Ronan on December 2, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
MGM (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. English, Spanish, French Subtitles. 101 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Bill Moseley, Jim Siedow, Bill Johnson, Lou Perryman
Screenplay: L.M. Kit Carson Music: Tobe Hooper, Jerry Lambert
Tagline: After a decade of silence... The buzzz is back!
Country: USA
A misunderstood, much-maligned horror epic from 1986, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 still has the ability to shock even the most jaded viewer. This Gruesome Edition finally gives the movie the recognition that it so rightfully deserves.

When late night radio DJ Stretch and sound engineer LG inadvertently record the on-air murder of two teenagers who have telephoned their live request line, it's the beginning of a rapid descent into insanity, cannibalism and brutal death.

Manic Texas Ranger Lefty Enright believes that the culprits are the same chainsaw killers who murdered his younger brother during the events of the original movie, and who unbeknownst to him are now putting their murderous skills to good use running a mobile fast food business that uses only the very freshest meat. Having spent years fruitlessly trying to track them down, Lefty convinces Stretch to replay the recording on her radio show in a bid to flush the cannibal clan out of hiding.

His ploy works only too well as Stretch and LG endure an all-out assault by the ferocious Leatherface and his demented brother, Chop Top. With the radio station destroyed and LG taken for the larder, Stretch follows the killers back to the cadaver-filled underground lair that they share with older brother Drayton, the family cook and head of the business. Lefty is hot on their heels and after tooling up with chainsaws like an old-fashioned gunslinger, he descends into the depths of the lair to confront the killers and rescue Stretch.

After the success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974, Tobe Hooper spent years resisting pressure for a follow up, instead choosing to make Death Trap, Poltergeist, Salem's Lot and The Funhouse and wasting time going nowhere on movies such as The Thing, The Dark and Venom.

By the time he finally agreed to a 'saw sequel as part of a three-movie deal with Cannon Films, times and attitudes had drastically changed. Twelve years had passed since the virtually bloodless original had first made a name for itself. In its wake, slasher epics had drenched the screen with gore, and technicians such as Rick Baker and Tom Savini had become superstars in their own right. Hooper felt that there was no way he could satisfy modern audiences by simply dishing out more of what he had done with the original movie. The sequel was going to have to find new ways to shock people.

Collaborating with Paris, Texas screenwriter LM Kit Carson, Hooper decided to take the vogue for slasher epics by the throat. If audiences really liked this sick shit, he reasoned, he was going to ram it down their throats. Together, they fashioned a screenplay which also serves as a crazed satire of 80s commercialism. The unemployed slaughterhouse workers of the original have taken the American dream by the horns, going into business for themselves and creating a successful enterprise out of killing people and serving them up to their fellow hungry Americans. For them, meat really is murder. By taking consumerism literally, the Sawyers have come a long way from roadside barbeque stands. As Drayton himself proudly announces, "I've got a real good eye for prime meat. It runs in the family."

My first exposure to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was a trimmed bootleg tape that had to rely on its heavy atmosphere of sickness and decay to deliver the goods. Seeing the full uncut version is a jaw-dropping revelation as Hooper pushes the gore to extremes and straddles a very fine line between gruelling horror and sick slapstick.

We've since had the likes of Hostel and the Saw trilogy to numb our senses, but in 1986 this was hardcore violence, something not normally found in American horror movies. It is just as intense when viewed today. Back then, anyone expecting the kind of onscreen kills that Friday The 13th fans could applaud and whoop along with must have felt like they'd been suckerpunched.

During the attack on the radio station, good ol' boy LG suffers multiple hammer blows from Chop Top. In any other film, one or two strikes would make the point, but Hooper revs the entire scene up and over the top. Blow upon blow upon blow rains down on LG as he convulses and spits blood, sickening us with a timely reminder that this isn't all about yuks and chucks. It's vile stuff, similar to the tone that Rob Zombie would later take in House Of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, movies in which Bill Moseley won a lead role after impressing Zombie with his portrayal of Chop Top.

In other places, the dark humour is jaw-droppingly beyond the pale. Discovering a terrified Stretch hiding in the Sawyer's abattoir, a smitten Leatherface tries to win her charms by making her dance while wearing LG's freshly-removed face over her own features. "No! It's wet!" she protests. A partially skinned LG lurches back into life long enough to set her free. He hawks, spits and mutters his last words before finally succumbing to his massive injuries: 'Aw, shit." The last thing he sees before expiring is his own severed face staring back down at him. Yup, it really is that kind of movie.

Leatherface loses the idiot-like demeanour of his earlier incarnation in favour of a more ferocious, violent personality. The perversity levels shoot up several notches in skin crawling scenes that see him demonstrating his sexual potency to Stretch by rubbing his chainsaw against her crotch, making good use of its phallic potential.

Stretch is different to the 'final girls' of other horror flicks of the period in that she's a strong, risk-taking heroine. She's the one who tracks the killers down and discovers their lair. In the film's climactic scenes, she goes feral, tearing into Chop Top with tooth and nail and fist.

Lefty too is a crazed character. Obsessed with tracking down the killers of his wheelchair-bound younger brother Franklin, you just know he's crossed the line when he reasons that you have to fight fire with fire and visits a chainsaw store. Tooling up with some mean looking machinery, he tests the 'saws out by taking wild swings at a tree log, carving it into bits. By the time he descends into the Sawyer's lair, he's quoting bible verse and singing hymns, mostly to himself. He's crazier that the Sawyers are.

Drayton personifies the small businessman suffering beneath the weight of the American dream, obsessed with property taxes and quality control. "The small businessman always, always gets it in the ass," he complains after receiving some particularly eye-watering chainsaw damage. When Lefty confronts the killer clan, it doesn't even occur to Drayton that he may be seeking revenge - his first assumption is that he's a competitor in the meat trade, so he tries to buy him off. Drayton also gets some of the best lines, especially when he discovers Leatherface's crush on Stretch. "What sex is, well, nobody knows. But the saw… the saw is family!"

However, the real star of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is Chop Top. He's a sick, bizarre, crazed individual, an overlooked horror icon that deserves his own McFarlane or Neca figurine. Fond of wearing Sonny Bono wigs to hide the metal plate in his head and dressed in hippy garb, he has the disgusting habit of heating up a wire coat hanger and using it to scratch the edge of the plate, gleefully eating any flakes of skin that he might dislodge in the process. He's a jittery bag of psychotic energy who carries around the stuffed corpse of his brother, Nubbins - actually the Hitchhiker from the first movie. Chop Top likes nothing better than to stick his arm all the way up inside his dead brother's body and use him as a plaything. I guess they do things a little differently in Texas. Prone to flashbacks about his time in Vietnam, Chop Top urges Drayton to abandon the meat business and open up a theme park based on the conflict - preferably one where America gets to win this time. "It's what the public want," he shrieks. "'Namland! Fire in the hole!" Hooper and Carson present Chop Top as some kind of demented anti-Rambo, that most gung-ho of all 80s American heroes, mixed with the dark fallout of the hippy dream. Visiting the radio station with murder in mind, he takes time out to discuss his love of music. "Hey, can you play Inna Gadda Da Vida? Woah, it's heavy!"

Other moments bring out his sadistic nature without any humour to temper it. "Burn her like a rat! Burn her like a rat!" he chants as the Sawyer clan discuss what to do with the captive Stretch, punctuating his song by flicking a lighter at her bare legs. And if you were ever dubious about his state of mind, at one point he even cuts his own throat with a straight razor. "Jess like eatin' a cracker!" he cackles gleefully. This is lunacy as an art form.

On the downside, the cheapo synth soundtrack is desperately misplaced at times, mainly during the opening credit sequence where it sounds like a poor man's rip off of the main theme from Psycho. But things pick up with tunes from the likes of The Cramps and Lords Of The New Church.

The original opening sequence - all moody shots of the moon hanging over a Texan wasteland and included here as an extra - establishes a far darker, more sombre mood. The existing credit sequence is very dated and segues into the kind of stupid scenes that dominate the bulk of 80s horror movies. Hooper chooses to lay his cards on the table by making a pair of yuppie rich kids the first kills of the film, but, boy are they annoying!

I never doubted that this film would one day be revisited and given the credit it has long been due. In many ways, I prefer it to the original - they are two very different films, made at different times and reflecting two different societies. With The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Hooper delivers another classic American horror film.

Useless trivia: Lou Peters, who plays doomed good ol' boy LG, served as assistant cameraman on the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Video
A great looking anamorphic transfer that puts previous releases in the corner. I was especially looking forward to the last third of the film and had my fingers crossed that I would be able to make out the fantastic underground lair set design properly for the first time since watching that fuzzy bootleg all those years ago - it's all corpses, candles, carnage and chandeliers. I'm happy to say that the disc didn't let me down. Great work by MGM.
Audio
A Crisp Dolby Dolby Surround 2.0 makes sure that there's a definite buzz in the air with this release!
Extra Features
This Gruesome Edition offers plenty to get your teeth stuck into. It Runs In The Family is a six-part featurette based around interviews with the likes of writer LM Kit Carson, director of photography Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, SFX artist Tom Savini and actors Bill Moseley (Chop Top), Caroline Williams (stretch), Lou Perryman (LG) and Bill Johnson (Leatherface).

It's no surprise to learn that Dennis Hopper doesn't feature - he was fresh out of rehab when he took the part and seems loathe to discuss the film today - but a major let down is a no-show by Tobe Hooper. Luckily, Carson more than makes up for the director's absence with some interesting nibs about the evolution of the script and production problems with Cannon that saw entire segments dropped at the eleventh hour. Kooris and White provide plenty of snippets about the incredible underground lair set, and Savini offers some great on-set footage from his workshop filmed during production.

The first commentary track has Tobe Hooper discussing the film with interviewer David Gregory while a second track brings most of the actors together with Savini. In the first, Hooper explains that Nubbins is the corpse of the Hitchhiker from the first movie and reveals unused plot elements - Lefty was going to be the father of Stretch at one point - but I was surprised that he didn't have more to say. The second track is good fun - all of the participants are having a ball and Moseley is especially informative about the production.

Perhaps the best extra is the inclusion of five deleted scenes. All are sub-VHS quality, but they are great fun nevertheless. The most interesting is where the Sawyer clan head out to collect some fresh meat and find it in an underground parking lot where football fans are enjoying a mini-riot. One jock gets a chainsaw through the head in what would have been a stand out gore highlight had it been included in the finished print. Another features Joe Bob Briggs meeting a sticky end and offering a critical commentary of his own death. Chop Top also reveals that he received his head injury in 'Nam courtesy of a VC swinging a machete, and that the subsequent compensation he received from the army helped to bankroll the Sawyer's new business.

An excellent trailer and a stills gallery round off a very decent set of extras.
The Verdict
Discard the old bare-bones edition and go pick this gem up now. The buzz is back!
Movie Score
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