Dennis Hopper - "Lefty" Enright
Caroline Williams - Vanita "Stretch" Brock
Bill Johnson - Bubba "Leatherface" Sawyer
Jim Siedow - Drayton "Cook" Sawyer
Bill Moseley - "Chop-Top" Sawyer
Lou Perry - L.G. McPeters
Genre - Horror/Slasher
Running Time - 100 Minutes
In 1974, a movie was released that terrorized audiences, and became so notorious that it was banned in several countries. That film was Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. The controversy and box office success of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE gave Hooper much respect and fame in Hollywood. He went on to direct 1976's decent TCM-like EATEN ALIVE, 1979's classic SALEM'S LOT, 1981's just okay THE FUNHOUSE, and then his most successful film criticially and commercially in 1982's POLTERGEIST [co-produced by Steven Spielberg, which has led to rumors about who really directed the film that are still brought about today].
The success of POLTERGEIST helped Hooper get offered a three-picture deal with now-defunct production company, Cannon. These films included 1985's alien space vampire film LIFEFORCE, 1986's remake of INVADERS FROM MARS, and the unexpected sequel THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. Even with a big star like Dennis Hopper, makeup effects expert Tom Savini, and a key screenwriter in L.M. 'Kit' Carson, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 bombed. With LIFEFORCE and INVADERS FROM MARS also bombing, many blame Tobe Hooper and his producers for financially collapsing Cannon.
It's sad that the blame went to Hooper here when it concerns THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. I can imagine the audience going apeshit over how different the sequel was compared to the original. Obviously, Hooper and Carson knew they could never top that film, so they decided to go with the "black comedy" route instead of a true horror film. Audiences were most likely turned off by this, and critics aren't usually favorable toward horror sequels to begin with - all adding to the film's box office failure. However, time has been very kind to this film and there's a reason for that: the film is actually very good if you can open your mind a bit or two.
It's been thirteen years since Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns in the original TCM film) and her friends were attacked in the backwoods of Texas. After being committed to a mental asylum and telling anyone and everyone about her ordeal, there's been a hunt for her attackers. Unfortunately, no trace has been found, although chainsaw murders have been occurring all over Texas.
The murders come again in the forefront when two drunken rich kids challenge a random pickup truck in a game of chicken. Unfortunately for them, the pickup belongs to the Sawyer family, led by The Cook (Jim Siedow) and his sons Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) and the infamous Leatherface (Bill Johnson), who murder these kids gruesomely. The problem is that the kids were on the phone with a local radio DJ nicknamed Stretch (Caroline Williams), who has heard and recorded the entire incident. Holding the evidence on cassette tape, she locates Texas Ranger Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), the uncle of Sally and Franklin Hardesty, who has vowed revenge against these attackers. Lefty has convinced Stretch to play the tape on air, as a way to use her as bait for the Saywers. It works, as Chop-Top and Leatherface to intrude the radio station to steal the evidence and murder Stretch.
There's a problem though: Leatherface has developed a huge crush on Stretch. With Lefty on their tail, will Leatherface's love life ruin all the work the Sawyers have accomplished for years?
Anyone expecting something even remotely close to the original THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE will truly be disappointed with this over-the-top sequel. The gore is more in your face. The characters are more eccentric than ever. And it's more silly and humorous than it is scary. To say that this sequel will cause shell shock to anyone thinking they're getting a true continuation to the original would be an understatement.
But I applaud both Hooper and Carson for doing something drastically different with the franchise. There's absolutely no way the original could ever be topped. So why not go in the other direction and make us laugh at what's going on with this family and the characters they're terrorizing? The great thing about the screenplay is that while it is pretty funny, the themes are still very serious and extremely clear: The Sawyer Family are dangerous and will kill you regardless of who you are.
The family dynamics are what makes the story work. As we already know in the original, Leatherface and his clan are a bunch of nuts that love each other as much as they hurt each other. They all have a common bond to kill in order for The Cook to have enough human flesh to make his special chili and win prizes for his "delicious" food. But Leatherface's childlike mentality and his crush on Stretch puts a damper on things. I gotta say that the scene where Leather dry humps Stretch with his chainsaw and suddenly becomes impotent when he can't make it work is pretty odd, yet hysterical. And his thrusts towards her using the chainsaw as a phallic symbol make me laugh to no end. Chop-Top is too busy babbling on and off while more focused on dancing with a corpse and scratching the metal plate in his head with a hot hanger. They're so dysfunctional that they're not only funny, but also real in a really twisted way. While not this extreme, we sort of know families like The Sawyers, which makes them watchable and oddly easy to relate to.
There was also supposed to be a family dynamic between Lefty and Stretch. In the original screenplay, Stretch was Lefty's illegitimate daughter. However, the studio wanted it out in sake of making the film scarier, not understanding this was meant to be a comedy [and having no idea how to market this film, which led to the low box-office take]. In fact, most of the screenplay was actually written as the film was being shot because the studio kept taking money away from the original budget during filming! And the fact that the film is actually consistent and clear shows how much a strong screenwriter 'Kit' Carson is.
And to say that this film has extremely memorable dialogue is an understatement. From "Bright lights, big titties," to "Dog will hunt," to "I'm the Lord of the Harvest!", and to my favorite "That got the hemorrhoids, at least it'll save a trip to the hospital," THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is extremely quoteable.
The special effects by Tom Savini are very good here. His best moment is probably during the beginning, where one of the rich kids gets sawed in the head by Leatherface. Blood just spews out of his now shaved and open skull as his friend just screams in terror. I also liked the L.G. skinning scene and its aftermath. And of course, the makeup of Grandpa was pretty dead-on to the original. We also get a ton of rotting corpses, skeletons, entrails coming out of walls and human bodies, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Love Leatherface still kickin' with a chainsaw right through his gut. Savini did a great job here as always.
And I have to make mention to the production team, who really created a creepy set design for The Sawyer Family hideout. It's like an underground labyrinth, decorated with Christmas lights, walkmans, hooks, wires, and chandeliers. Just a really fun looking set that really makes the last half of the film work.
The direction by Tobe Hooper is pretty similiar to his work on the original. While the grittyness of the film is gone due to the higher production value, Hooper's sense of pacing and approach is very much the same. The action squences, such as the game of chicken and the classic chainsaw battle between Lefty and Leatherface are filmed wonderfully, and are fun and exciting to watch. The stunt work is great. The sound design and editing rocks. I do think the labyrinth chase isn't as good as the chase in the original with Sally running through the woods, but it's okay. I still believe the original TCM is Hooper's best directorial film, but the sequel is no slouch either.
The acting in this film is what makes the film work. Dennis Hopper, may he rest in peace, is fuckin' insane as Lefty. He really embraces the role of a confused and tired man, who just goes nuts with three chainsaws in order to get revenge for what happened to his family. The dude is batshit crazy, singing hymns and quoting stuff from the Bible. Hopper plays the role to perfection and seems to be having a blast. Here's an Oscar nominated actor who didn't need to be starring in a genre film like this, yet he does and treats it as seriously as any other role. And that's why Dennis Hopper was so damn great.
The other actors are just as good. Caroline Williams gives a focused performance as Stretch. She screams really well and looks FANTASTIC in Daisy Dukes. I can see why Leatherface fell in love with her. Her tough Southern Gal charm won me over too. Bill Moseley as Chop-Top is probably the most memorable of the villains. This was his breakthrough performance and it's easy to see why. He hams it up and plays the whole Vietnam-vet with a steel plate in his head as sort of an over-the-top zombified hippie. Plus he has great dialogue to work with as well. He steals every scene he's in, pretty much. Jim Siedow is always great as The Cook, bringing the funny with his brass one-liners. And Bill Johnson was okay as Leatherface. While not as scary as Gunnar Hansen, Johnson brings a bit of sensitivity and childlike humor into the character. While not my favorite version of Leatherface, Johnson's acting works in context of the film. I really can't complain about the acting here.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE WANTING TO SEE AND HEAR "BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG TITTIES"
- Stretch wears a ZZ Top T-shirt as she works. Well I will admit, she's got legs and she knows how to use them...
- Rick's friend got sawed in the skull. Talk about a splitting headache!
- L.G. constantly likes to spit. No wonder he's single. Everyone prefers a swallower.
- Chop-Top likes to use a wire hanger to scratch himself and pick his scabs, tasting them each time. Joan Crawford is not a fan of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2.
- Leatherface dry humped Stretch with his chainsaw. I can see why she was so scared. His thrusting abilities are a cut above the rest!
- Lefty called The Sawyer Hideout "The Devil's Playground". I thought that was Mel Gibson's house?
- Leatherface put a victim's face on Stretch's. Damn, Joan Rivers could have saved a lot of money on plastic surgery if she had just won Leather's heart!
- Grandpa is 137-years-old and still as fast as Jesse James. Believe me, Sandra Bullock found that out the hard way.
- Lefty used the chainsaw between The Cook's legs. Talk about tearing one a new asshole a bit too literally!
THE FINAL HOWL
THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE will always be one of my favorite horror films, but THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is definitely worth a watch. Honestly, it plays like a spoof of the original film and maybe a bit misleading as a sequel. But I enjoy it either way as it's own film. The acting works. The direction works for the most part. The story is pretty funny as well. It's nowhere as good as the original, but if you go in with an open mind, it's a very entertaining movie.
3 Howls Outta 4