The years have been pretty kind to Tobe Hooper’s madcap and legitimately deranged sequel to his cold stone original classic but it wasn’t always the case. When released back in 1986 as part of Hooper’s lucrative 3 picture deal with Cannon films (which also produced the utterly bizarre Lifeforce and the bland remake of Invaders From Mars), Chainsaw fans were horrified to see the stark, brutal realistic style of the first movie reduced to an offal drenched, black comedy that was equally goofy as well as ghoulish. However, as the years went by the screams of blasphemy eventually turned into cheers of support and now TCM2 is seen as somewhat of a spirited, if defiantly unsubtle, satire of 80’s culture as Leatherface and his cannibalistic brood turns his revving saw from hippies to yuppies.
13 years after Sally Hardesty and her ill fated friends came calling at the wrong farm house, two obnoxious, dipshit preppie kids are chainsawed to death while hurtling down a Texas road during a drunken celebration. During their gruesome demise they happened to be on the phone trolling a local radio DJ who records their screams as evidence but who is stonewalled and then used as bait by vengeful Texas ranger Lefty (a manic Dennis Hopper looking like he hasn’t slept in a decade) to draw out the killers to enact some good old Texas justice on the people who killed his nephew. Stretch the DJ is visited that night by Choptop, a music obsessed psychopath with an exposed steel plate in his skull and his brother, the hulking beserker Leatherface, who are looking to retrieve the evidence and kill anyone close to it so rambling family patriarch, Drayton Sawyer, can continue his thriving chilli business (care to guess the secret ingredient?). Soon Stretch is lost within the maze-like lair of the abandoned theme park where the clan have made their home and must run a gauntlet of madness and mutilation (not to mention the amorous advances of a clumsily smitten Leatherface) while Lefty chainsaws the place down on a frenzied warpath.
There’s a lot wrong with Texas Chainsaw’s sophomore outing. It’s quite possibly one of the most unsubtle horror sequels ever made with almost all of it’s scenes running at least two minutes too long with a lot of the actors given carte blanche to seemingly ad-lib as much as they like. Hooper’s not exactly tight with his editing either and seems to want to include as much of the rambling macabre material as he can.
So while Choptop actor and cult horror actor Bill Mosley spits multiple golden one liners while bashing a redneck’s head in with a hammer; including ALL of them merely dilutes the scene (“Time for incoming mail!!” is even screamed twice). It also doesn’t help matters that it also sports a dreadfully derivative and cheap sounding soundtrack that sounds like a ripoff of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho played on a Casio found at a thrift store.
And yet there’s still gold in them thar hills… Visually, Texas Chainsaw 2 is magnificent. Cannon (never a studio to make great business decisions) pumped way more cash into the project that a film called Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 had any right to have but trust me when I say it’s all up there on the screen. The makeup effects work by horror legend Tom Savini is truly breathtaking with Leatherface’s redesign a stylistic highlight and more eyebrow raising gore gags than you can shake a partially skinned good ol’ boy at. The sets too are phenomenal and probably still stand as some of the greatest production work ever done in the horror genre with excruciating detail going into the Saywer family’s cavernous, gaudily lit carnal house.
At the end of the day, it seems that it was Tobe Hooper’s plan all along to make the movie an obnoxious, horrific vaudeville experience; a film that repulses, annoys and amuses all at the same time which is the most apparent during the legitimately uncomfortable, yet blatantly absurd scenes where a traumatised Stretch tries to spurn Leatherface’s adolescent crush by “breaking up” with him gently. And while it may strongly test the patience (and stomachs) of some viewers, it’s cockeyed, imperfect view of the world is wildly different from everything else released at the time (it’s amusingly hinted by the director at that the family’s business is paid for by the government due to Choptop’s head injury occuring while fighting in the Vietnam war).
Ugly, unfocused and as unsubtle as a chainsaw up the butthole (which, you guessed, actually happens) it also boasts a brand of farcical, nihilistic slapstick that is quite unlike anything you’ve experienced before. That doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily enjoy it but then I honestly don’t think Tobe Hooper wanted you to.
“The saw is family!” drawls Drayton at Leatherface at one point, and like all families you ultimately love them no matter how irritating or weird they may often be.