Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
As I approach the last handful of films on the Birthday List, this is where I expect the quality to start varying wildly. The problem is that when you near the early 80’s, it becomes more difficult to pin down the exact release date of the various films, so you’re left with whatever you can get hold of. The rules to The Birthday Series are simple: take your date of birth, and review a film that was released somewhere as close to that date as possible. There’s always the odd classic that leaps out, but the rest of them tend to be a mishmash of schlocky garbage, nonsense sequels, unfunny comedies and heavy-hitting drama. It is strange, actually, but one of the anomalies of my list is the sheer absence of action movies. Which is a shame, because I like those. Anyhow, I haven’t had a horror movie in a while, so let’s step up with Tobe Hooper’s belated sequel to his all-time classic: it’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (release date 22nd August 1986). I vaguely recalled seeing this about 15 years ago, and not liking it very much, so this bodes well for this review.
May contain a Chili cook off and spoilers below
There’s a golden rule of cinema that should always be paid attention to: if there’s a huge gap between the original movie and its sequel, then chances are the sequel will be awful. This actually applies to any sequel, so if number 4 is filmed 10 years or more after number three was released then forget it- the chances are it will be a very, very bad film. A recent case in point is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which is crap. There’s a reason for this, actually, and its obvious: if the film-maker had no interest in returning to his characters for that amount of time, and he’s suddenly pulled an about face while spouting nonsense about being true to his vision, then there’s a high chance that he’s doing it purely for the cash and the love that made the film successful in the first case is no longer there. So, with a 13 year gap between the Original TCM and throwing in Hooper’s well documented drug problems, this looks like being a nailed-on platinum stinker. There’s actually no reason at all other than money for this film to exist, frankly. Hooper should have been riding high with his 3 big-budget films just released (Poltergeist, Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars), but unfortunately two of them bombed hard on release. Therefore, in an act of blatant career salvage and not at all for the money, he returned to the property that made his name. Except this time something was different, this is the 1980’s Hooper, the man with the over the top sensibilities, the man who bought the cartoonish violence and gratuitous sex of Lifeforce to the world.
Helpfully reprising the scrolling narrated opening of the first film, we’re told that it’s 13 years since the events of the original (duh), and the Texas Police have proved to be somewhat (read: totally) inept in finding the cannibalistic Sawyer family. Yet the chainsaw slaughters haven’t stopped- is someone covering them up? Actually, I wish the film had gone down this route, because that’s far more interesting than what they came up with. Anyhow, we’re introduced to DJ Stretch, a flagrant Adrienne Barbeau in the Fog rip off played by Caroline Williams. She fearlessly rides the late night airwaves, helped out solely by lascivious tech L.G. (Lou Perryman).
Next thing we know and the film cuts to a pair of despicable coked up morons, one of whom has a frankly inexplicable pair of 3D glasses on, who are brutally chainsawed to death by Leatherface riding on the back of a pickup on the longest bridge in Texas. They were, bizarrely, on the phone to Stretch the entire time, so she’s taped the whole thing, and replays it on air. Unfortunately, for her, Drayton (Jim Siedow)hears the tape while returning home from winning the Texas v Oklahoma Chili cook off (it’s all in the meat, apparently, and he’s “got a great eye for a cut of meat”). He’s, to put it mildly, disturbed by this, so sends out Chop Top (Bill Mosely) and Leatherface (Bill Johnson) to butcher stretch and retrieve the tape. Little does he know that Leatherface is about to develop a crush on Stretch and allow her to go free.
In the meantime, Lefty (Dennis Hopper), uncle of the late unlamented Franklin, is desperate to find the murderous clan and gain revenge for his nephew’s very timely evisceration. Incidentally, I think Franklin holds the distinction of being the first disabled person killed on camera that had the audience cheering. So, he gets tooled up, and follows Stretch (ill-advisedly tailing the family) out to an abandoned Texas themed amusement park where the family now live. Stretch is captured, and in a pathetic and odious homage to the original, we get a lame repeat of the dinner party scene (complete with fossilised Grandpa) before Lefty busts in and him and Stretch slaughter the lot of them. The film ends with Stretch repeating Leatherface’s demented chainsaw dance from the first film at the top of the fake Matterhorn.
Right, I’m not mincing any words here, this is basically a shit film. I’m really fucking sorry, but I don’t understand the reputation rehabilitation that it seems to have undergone in recent times. There are several problems here, not least of which is the long shadow that the classic original casts over the production- there’s so much here that is openly comparative and in almost every way it comes across as lacking. In the original, for example, the dinner scene is tense, taut and genuinely unsettling, whereas here it’s boring, crass and tiresome. Part of the problem is that the family cavort around like cartoon retards, and as hard as the actors try they’re just so over the top that the film carries no menace whatsoever. It doesn’t help, actually, that Hooper intertcuts these scenes with Hopper running around their home chainsawing posts randomly in a fashion best described as berserk.
The acting here is mostly reasonable. Williams may be Barbeau-lite, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. She certainly fills out a pair of Daisy Dukes memorably, and she’s definitely got the screaming apparatus. Mosely and Siedow chew the scenery with more gusto than Hopper’s chainsaw, but really they’re in the wrong film. Hopper, incidentally, is completely demented and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he’d been skiing the slopes of the midnight coke mountain with Hooper between takes. Johnson is not a patch on Hansen in the original, lacking the brutish presence and hulking menace of his predecessor behind the human-skin mask. But, again, this isn’t his fault, it’s Hooper’s.
I lay the vast majority of the blame for this shitty effort at Hooper’s feet. As mentioned, this was 1980’s Hooper, and his sensibilities had totally changed. The original film is raw, gritty, realistic and visceral, whereas this sequel is an orgy of over the top cartoon nonsense. The biggest victims here are the Sawyer clan, who have been reduced to a series of annoying caricatures who gambol around and repeat the same aggravating catch phrases over and over again. Particularly irritating is Chop Top’s “HERE COMES THE MAIL” which got right on my last nerve.
Which reminds me, actually, there’s too much focus on Chop Top at the expense of the series’ iconic character, Leatherface. He’s, frankly, repellent eating the gore around his metal plate that he scrapes off with a coathanger. He’s also speaks in “hyuk hyuk” style garbage and the character is a pain when on screen. From his first appearance he makes me miss the Hitch-hiker from the original film, and his presence in the film is a massive drag factor.
I’ve already talked about Hooper’s over the top sensibilities ruining the film, but I’m not quite done yet. For some reason he decides to inject a grimy sexuality into this sequel, and the most disconcerting, for all the wrong reasons, scene in the film is the initial confrontation between Stretch and Leatherface. He’s, understandably, turned on by the comely DJ, so uses his chainsaw to unsubtly probe at her crotch while he humps away at the handle end of it. Honestly, watching a mental deficient wearing human skin on his face shagging a chainsaw that’s rubbing up against an attractive woman’s crotch is not something I ever want to see again. I’m a bit cross that I’ve seen it twice now, actually. I’m sure Hooper is going for some kind of Beauty and the Beast thing with Leatherface and Stretch here, but it’s, well, icky and the antics he coerces her into performing in the lair are both extremely gross and incredibly tiresome.
While I’ve beaten this film like an old mule, I do have to note that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 isn’t a total loss. Not far off, admittedly, but it’s redeemed by a few scenes in the film. The chase with the douchebags and Leatherface is fun, in a completely schlocky way, for example, and this has the best gore effect in the movie. Moreover, the smaller moments, such as Siedow’s reaction to winning the Chili cook off are great fun, but it’s just a pity that the rest of the film is so squarely aimed at over the top stupidity. Furthermore, there’s a chainsaw duel and they’re always entertaining.
Overall, this is garbage, obviously, and I’m at a dead loss as to why it’s been rehabilitated when it clearly shouldn’t have been. I don’t recommend this, because it’s blatantly rubbish, but it’s not the worst film on this list. While it is stupid and ludicrously over the top, it isn’t without redeeming features and Williams did probably deserve better. What this film is possibly most useful for is as a marker in the continuing decline of Tobe Hooper from great prospect to low-rent hack. As such, I give The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 1 Dancing Leatherfaces out of a possible 4, and I’d like to stop thinking about it now, if that’s alright with you.
Next up is the brilliant, and totally underrated, John Hughes parody Better off Dead, and I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!
So, until then,
The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux:
- 2011- The Skin I Live In (2.5 out of 4)
- 2010- The Last Exorcism (2.5 out of 4)
- 2009- Post Grad (1 out of 4)
- 2008- The House Bunny (1 out of 4)
- 2007- Knocked Up (1 out of 4)
- 2006- Volver (1 out of 4)
- 2005- Red Eye (2 out of 4)
- 2004- Dead Clowns (Orangutan of Doom)
- 2003- Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (1 out of 4)
- 2002- Talk to Her (4 out of 4)
- 2001- Jeepers Creepers (2 out of 4)
- 2000- Gossip (1 out of 4)
- 1999- All About My Mother (1 out of 4)
- 1998- The X-Files (1 out of 4)
- 1997- Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (2 out of 4)
- 1996- The Last Supper (3 out of 4)
- 1995- The Usual Suspects (4 out of 4)
- 1994- Color of Night (2 out of 4)
- 1993- Surf Ninjas (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1992- The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag (2 out of 4)
- 1991- Pump Up the Volume ( 3 out of 4)
- 1990- Wild at Heart (3 out of 4)
- 1989- Bull Durham (3.5 out of 4)
- 1988- Crossing Delancey (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1987- The Big Easy (3 out of 4)
- 1986- Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1 out of 4)
- 1985- Better off Dead
- 1984- Oxford Blues
- 1983- MetalStorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn
- 1982- The Thing
- 1981- Honky Tonk Freeway
- 1980- Schock
- 1979- Rich Kids
- 1978- Coma