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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - 1986

Directed by Tobe Hooper

Written by L.M. Kit Carson

Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow
Bill Moseley & Bill Johnson

For those creating sequels, a real no-win situation must be faced. If you make a film that differs a great deal from the first film, you'll disappoint people who return for more of what you gave them originally. If you make a film just like the previous one however, people will complain that you're simply repeating yourself and adding nothing new to what you gave audiences in the first place. Exceptions can be made for continuing a story, as long as that continuation isn't too contrived - but overall sequels, for the most part, have trashy reputations. There was no topping The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the sequel would likewise not have that cinéma-vérité style that suited the first so well - thus Tobe Hooper made the right decision as far as the follow-up was concerned. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 would satirize the genre, Texas and the first film - it would simply be a lot of fun. This, of course, was bound to upset a fair few people who were expecting something a little different and more serious - but I think Hooper got close to making a film that was perfectly in tune with what he wanted here, and it's one that I, for the most part, like.

It has been over 10 years since the events in the first film occurred, and the cannibal family that Sally escaped from have remained undetected despite a month-long manhunt, and numerous subsequent disappearances. One night, radio D.J. Vanita 'Stretch' Brock is dealing with a couple of prank callers when she hears what sounds like their murder. She finds the man most interested in finding these killers, former Texas Ranger Lieutenant 'Lefty' Enright (Dennis Hopper) and offers him the audio tape with the killing on it. He initially refuses to have anything to do with her, but later returns and asks her to play the tape over the radio that night - obviously setting a trap. Stretch plays it, and after coworker L.G. McPeters (Lou Perryman) leaves she soon finds herself face to face with Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) - the geek-like brother of the Hitchhiker in the first film - and Leatherface (Bill Johnson). Stretch manages to avoid getting killed by pretending to be romantically interested in Leatherface, but when L.G. comes back to the station he's butchered. Stretch then proceeds to follow the pair, along with Lefty, to their lair where Cook (Jim Siedow) and Grandpa (Ken Evert) await their fresh meat.

When you find out that practical make-up effects master Tom Savini is lending his talents to this film, you know that it's going to be a change of direction as far as Chainsaw Massacre is concerned. Perhaps Tobe Hooper had the same fortunate "artistic choice" that Steven Spielberg had enforced upon him during the making of Jaws (ie, less shark, more foreboding build-up) as far as horror effects were concerned in the first film. This, however, was about to change. I wouldn't call this film one of the goriest I've ever seen, but we do get a few nice effects thanks to Savini. These were the days when actors would spend upwards of 4 hours in make-up chairs early in the morning to prepare to shoot scenes, and you can just imagine how stultifying that would be for the people stuck in that chair. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is so silly that the gore in it is to a large extent inoffensive - and the only places where the film really becomes uncomfortable are the scenes which slightly suggest sexual violence, but the film never veers into the arena of bad taste. The tone makes it feel about as far from the more realistic original as you could get.

Screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, a Texan who knew Hooper from his younger days, had just come off a huge success adapting Paris, Texas coming into this - but the writing process was messy and particularly hurried with constant revisions being reworked into each day's shoot - at the same time the film's budget was being adjusted by Cannon. The satire Carson was writing wasn't necessarily what the producers wanted either, and might have gone a lot further if creative freedom had of been granted to the people actually making this film. The end result isn't quite as funny as Hooper and Carson would have hoped it would be, but the light-hearted elements make it a lot more fun than what it otherwise would have been. It didn't have any need to be believable, and as such production designer Cary White, early on into what has turned out to be a successful career, was able to transform an abandoned theme park into a cannibal lair which has tunnels that go on for miles and are decorated by various skeletal remains and everyday items. Just admiring what was created there would take numerous viewings, and is admittedly very impressive. It's lit by literally hundreds of everyday lamps and globes throughout the tunnels.

Cinematographer Richard Kooris was another Texas native, and another person getting into the film business that Tobe Hooper had known for a while. He'd actually considered using Kooris for the first Texas Chainsaw film, and this influenced his decision to go with him this time. Kooris did not have a great career, and this film would be the most notable on his scattered resume. Visually, it's a film which uses dark shadows to hide potential menace - and that can creep into scenes gradually. The score has a low-budget horror feel to it and is credited to Tobe Hooper himself, and Jerry Lambert. It's not a score I'll ever want to listen to again, or particularly examine in any detail, and doesn't live up to the bizarre score that accompanies the original Chainsaw film. It feel rushed, as does the editing by Cannon go-to schlock-editor Alain Jakubowicz - and this aspect of the film feels way off. There are all kinds of accusations that have been aired about the editing being taken away from Hooper - and I do think that this was put together by someone who didn't really care all that much about the film.

The biggest mystery in the film for me personally is Dennis Hopper, who gave a wonderfully strange performance in Blue Velvet, which came out the same year this did - and although David Lynch would be nominated for an Oscar in that case, Hopper never received a Best Supporting Actor nod - which is a shame. In this, Hopper looks a little unsure of what he's meant to be doing, and what kind of tone he's meant to be setting - and this film obviously suits the same kind of "crazy" acting we saw in Blue Velvet. Sure, he gets to stomping, sawing and yelling in the cannibal's lair late in the film, and he features in a chainsaw buying scene which is a lot of fun. He does act crazy - but he still holds a lot in reserve, and to me it just seems like he wasn't communicating all that well with his director. Hopper would go on to call The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 the "worst film [he'd] ever appeared in" - however I don't think that's coming from seeing the end result, but by the frustrations he may have had while giving his performance. A lot of people still enjoy what he does give in this - and he's by far the best actor amongst a group doing their best to either scream or act downright loony - I just think that was a missed opportunity.

Despite all of these flaws, and the fact that the film was taken out of Hooper's hands again and mangled, the basic spirit of anarchy and good-natured fun still manages to shine through all of it. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 can be very enjoyable at it's best moments, and of course like all of Tobe Hooper's Cannon films, it has become a cult classic adored by it's multitude of fans. If you approach it fairly well forewarned that it's a broad satirical riposte and not a serious horror film, and keep in mind that this is a low budget Cannon production, then you won't be on the same kind of wrong track so many other people were when first seeing it. In fact it's becoming something of a horror classic to the latest generation of film fans who have gone back to examine it. Even a half-good performance from Hopper can be transfixing, and the Carson/Hooper team kept their vision alive through the hurried production. Like a fever dream turned carnival ride, with great production design which produced an unreal underground lair, it's entertaining to say the least. It's not a masterpiece, but it was misunderstood in it's day and has come back to claim it's due.