Tobe Hooper, 1986
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Johnson
“Lick my plate, you dog dick!”
Picking up several years after the events of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lieutenant Lefty Enright (Hopper) is on the trail of Leatherface and the rest of the Sawyer family for killing his niece and nephew years earlier. He has tracked them to a small town in Texas, where they have come across the path of a local DJ, Stretch. She accidentally recorded them killing two college boys that called into her station and turns the tape over to Lefty. He encourages her to play it in on the air, but this attracts the attention of Leatherface and his brother Chop Top, who come to pay their respects. Stretch convinces Leatherface to spare her life, but they kidnap her coworker after badly beating him. She follows them to their home, an abandoned carnival above ground and a cavernous, maze-like horror-show below ground. Lefty shows up with a few chainsaws to save Stretch's skin and get revenge.
I might be the only person on the planet who thinks Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a better film than its predecessor, but I stand by that. After the hugely influential, deadly serious original, this sequel goes in the perfect and opposite direction. Instead of trying to recreate the same relentless atmosphere (complete with at least an hour of constant screaming from Marilyn Burns), Hooper, who thankfully returned to direct, takes the sequel to a different place entirely. This is a pitch black comedy full of weirdness, gore that includes graphically skinning someone alive, and a vibrant sense of style. Tom Savini is responsible for the plentiful gore, which might be too much for more sensitive viewers.
This was Hooper’s last film with the infamous Cannon Films, who also released his Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars. Instead of penning the script himself, he worked with L.M. Kit Carson (Paris, Texas), who developed some rounded out characters we actually care about and some very funny dialogue. Basically absent from the first film, the dialogue here boasts such amazing lines as "You have one choice, boy. Sex or the saw. Sex is - well - nobody knows. The saw is family."
Dennis Hopper (as Enright) and Bill Moseley (as Chop Top) steal the film, though there are enthusiastic, entertaining performances from all the actors, particularly the wonderful Jim Siedow (Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Caroline Williams (Halloween II, Days of Thunder) is sassy and likable as Stretch. The screenplay frequently uses her to poke fun at certain horror tropes, such the sexualization of the “final girl.” The ending, which mocks Leatherface’s rage-dance from the first film, is really something to behold.
There are also plenty of weird, simulated sex scenes involving chainsaws and the set builds upon the gore and bone-filled Sawyer house in the first film. They have a whole fun-land to themselves, an adult playground above ground and a charnel house below, packed with dead animals, bone sculpture, corpses in the walls, and stretched, torn skin seemingly everywhere. Again, going the opposite direction of the first film, there's a rockin' soundtrack that features The Cramps, Lords of the New Church, Roky Erickson, Concrete Blonde, Oingo Boingo, and more. Hooper cleverly ties the soundtrack into the film by way of Stretch and several of the early scenes take place at her DJ station.
I cannot recommend Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 highly enough. It has long been one of my favorite films and has had a nice revival in recent years. Earlier this year I had the great fortune to see Exhumed Films present it on 35mm at the International House in Philadelphia. Bill Moseley (Chop Top) was there to briefly introduce the film and do about an hour long Q&A afterwards. I've ran into him a few times at horror conventions and he is always kind, gracious, and enthusiastic about horror. The stories he related about his short film, Texas Chainsaw Manicure, and how he won the role of Chop Top, among other things, were delightful. If you have a chance to bump into Moseley at a horror convention (he does a lot of them), I highly recommend saying hello. Texas Chainsaw 2 wouldn't be the same without his wonderful, insane performance as Chop Top. "Dog will hunt!"
The film was banned in certain countries upon release or heavily censored due to the graphic violence and creative use of human skins. I'm reviewing the American Blu-ray, which includes most of the special features from "The Gruesome Edition" DVD. Texas Chainsaw 2 was also recently released on a knock-your-socks (and feet) off 3-disc, special edition Blu-ray from Arrow Films. They have outdone themselves, once again. For the cheap among you, there’s also the bare bones MGM DVD.