On July 25th, one of the most terrifying movies ever committed to film comes home. The 40th anniversary restoration cut of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will be showing in a few very lucky Texas theaters throughout the upcoming weekend. As of this writing, the restored version of the film has been in select national showings for close to a month. For dates and theater information, click here.
In honor of TCM‘s 40th birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to do a series on everyone’s favorite inbred, backwoods cannibals: Leatherface and the murderous Sawyers (or Hewitts, whichever you prefer). But I didn’t want to phone in a feature about the original because I believe it’s already a perfectly-executed work of deranged art. There really isn’t much to say about it other than that it was (and still is) one of the only horror movies that has ever truly scared me. Even today, first time viewers don’t come away unaffected by those incredibly raw and horrifying 83 minutes. I know I didn’t.
But since the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974, the movie has, for better or worse, developed into a franchise. Counting 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D, there’s been one proper sequel, a further two (almost) chronological sequels, a reboot, a prequel to the reboot, and a ret-conned sequel. The TCM sequel legacy has never been looked upon favorably and with good reason: the original is a hard act to follow. However, I think it’s an injustice not to consider these films on their own merits, as they contain a lot of great moments.
Over the next few days, I’ll be reviewing each sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So let’s get started with the first one: 1986’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Tobe Hooper and L.M. Kit Karson
Twelve years after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released and after co-creator Kim Henkel’s idea for a sequel (which would have featured a whole town of cannibals and was to be titled Beyond the Valley of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Tobe Hooper finally let viewers see what took place after the first movie. This time we find the Sawyer family on the outskirts of Dallas instead of holed up in their isolated farmhouse. They spend their days picking off victims and using their remains in a most unsavory way. Local K-OKLA DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams) takes a call from two unlucky college kids as they’re being chainsawed to death (while driving, no less) and she broadcasts the slaughter in the interests of public safety. This draws the attention of Lieutenant Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper in arguably one of his best roles) who just happens to be Sally and Franklin’s uncle, two of the family’s victims from the first film (Sally being the sole survivor). Obsessed with vengeance, Lefty tracks the cannibals to their hideout which turns out to be an abandoned war-themed amusement park: Texas Battle Land. As Lefty descends into the vast network of dark tunnels under the park, he encounters the family’s psychosis on a much larger scale than we’ve seen before.
The unique, labyrinthine setting of the Sawyer’s hideout is a big part of what makes this picture work (it also represents a huge missed opportunity for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights; come on guys). The filthy warrens and winding, seemingly endless tunnels of Texas Battle Land serve as a foreboding backdrop to the admittedly lighter, comedic tone of this film. Without so menacing a setting to counteract the Sawyer’s new-found love of wise-cracking humor, I think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 would’ve been a lot less enjoyable to sit through. In any case, Dennis Hopper is excellent as Lefty, screaming half-crazed evangelical damnation and vengeance over the roar of his own dual chainsaws. Jim Siedow reprises his role as the delightfully mad Cook and, along with his sons – Chop-Top (Bill Moseley nailing one of his very first roles) and Leatherface (sadly not reprised by the menacing Gunnar Hansen) – the three of them comprise a less-child friendly version of the Three Stooges. Of course, the Stooges were never too big on disembowling and eating their foils, but the comparison is… fairly accurate.
Though I wasn’t aware of the film when it was initially released in ’86 (I was 3 and my fascination with chainsaw massacres was a long way off), I can imagine fans of the original being put off by the shift in tone. But I think Hooper made the right move. Attempting to recapture the mind-numbing lunacy of the first film would’ve been a mistake. If he had tried and failed, the fan backlash would’ve probably been much worse.
As far as TCM sequels go, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is generally viewed as the best of the lot, at least now that fans have had almost thirty years to digest it. Aside from the fantastic setting of the movie’s last half, Dennis Hopper, Bill Moseley, and Caroline Williams all turn in great performances that elevate the film above typical sequel dreck.
The best way to experience The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is with Fox Searchlight’s 2006 “Gruesome Edition.” In addition to five deleted scenes this version contains two commentaries: one with Tobe Hooper and another with Bill Moseley and Caroline Williams. The Gruesome Edition is currently available on Amazon.
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