Wednesday, April 9, 2014

TCM At 40 Retrospective: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Caroline Williams, Dennis Hopper, Bill Moseley, Jim Siedow, Lou Perryman

You have one choice, boy:  sex or the saw.  Sex is, well...nobody knows.  But the saw...the saw is family.
                                                      ~Drayton Sawyer
As noted by commentor "DrZeek", I have indeed touched base on this film ever so slightly in this post during 31 Days Of Halloween.

It took 12 years to continue the saga of chainsaws, cannibals and Texas but it happened.  With influx of iconic horror figures like Jason and Freddy ruling the multiplexes, Cannon Films wanted in on the action and brought Leatherface back.  And, as time would have it, Tobe Hooper was completely available and willing to do this film.  He had been given a really bad reputation after directing on Poltergeist (Many believe he was a mess on that film and Steven Spielberg actually directed it).  His non-Poltergeist efforts after Texas Chainsaw Massacre had been television movies, genre films and glorified B-movies.  Many see him as someone who didn't live up to potential or hype, but I personally have quite loved a lot of his output, especially the film that bombed for him before this one, Lifeforce.  So, the stage was set for a reunion film/followup to the original.
The studio and Tobe Hooper were on two completely different wavelengths when it came to this film.  Hooper was aiming for this dark horror comedy that he claims went over everyone's heads in the first film.  He wanted to push that angle even more this time around.  And honestly, I think he was right in assuming that going for straight horror again and recapturing everything from the first one had a slim chance of equaling or topping it.  Cannon Films, however, wanted a straight horror movie.  It wasn't until the film was practically finished that Cannon knew what Tobe Hooper was doing.  I believe Tobe ended up walking off before this movie was done.  In the editing process, they tried to salvage their horror movie by chopping it up to change the tone and make it more straightlaced.  Also funny, is they didn't have a finishing shot or sequences for the end of Dennis Hopper, Leatherface and Drayton Sawyer.  So, you get an incredibly lame closing curtain for those characters in trying to fix that in postproduction.
TCM Part 2's finished product wound up getting an X upon early rating approvals and in a unique twist, the studio didn't want to keep at hacking this movie, so it went out Unrated (It has since been reassessed to an R rating).  It made double its budget back, but was pretty much considered a disappointment.  Like many  box office "disappointments" of the 80s it found its glory and cult following on the home video market when it came to VHS.
When I was younger and I first saw this film, I found it to be weird, a little unsettling and ultimately pretty crazy.  I wasn't one for seeing or understanding the comedy elements in horror films back then either.  If horror films were "jokey" I just chalked it up to bad screenwriting and a poor movie.  At a young age, I didn't realize that there were so many other approaches you can take to horror besides just being measures in suspense and gore.  How strange I didn't get that a horror movie with a poster that was parodying The Breakfast Club would be a comedy (facepalm).  Oddly enough, I was intrigued by this film enough that I added it to my VHS collection (and subsequently every format since).  It has aged extremely well.  I now can see in it what I couldn't appreciate before.  Normally I'm not a fan with a studio hacking a film, but oddly enough I think Hooper's desire to make the film the studio didn't want and the studio in turn trying to morph his vision into what they originally wanted turned out to be the best product.  What we get now is a film that is a perfect midnight movie for the horror genre.
Of all the Texas Chainsaw films, this one has the absolutely best cast of characters, headlined by the scene stealing Bill Moseley.  His Chop Top is such a wicked unsettling presence.  If you're a fan of Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects but you haven't seen this, immediately fix that.  The guy plays just this incredible dirt bag weirdo and an incredible wild card.  If there's one reason to see this movie its Chop Top.  The guy is gross, dirty, scary and pretty damn funny at the same time. Dennis Hopper never shares a scene with him, but he brings a big performance as well.  He is the Nicolas Cage of his era, and this movie is a shining example.  Always giving a full commitment and bringing it.  There's an fantastic moment in the film where he visits a chainsaw shop and starts playing with them outside.  Its absolutely brilliant.
Our final girl in the film is a radio DJ named "Stretch".  Caroline Williams is a horror vet and I think is a little bit of an acquired taste for some.  I wasn't quite taken with her the first time I saw it (she has a HEAVY Texas accent), but now I think she's great.  Any time I check out an older or newer genre picture and she's there I get incredibly excited.  She goes through a torturous gamut, including being pretty much molested by Leatherface with his chainsaw.  Oh and she has to wear a freshly cut skin mask too.  Oh, and one of her early scenes includes on of the greatest jump scares in horror history that gets me every damn time.  I'm not gonna tell you where it is, but I can't believe I fall for it even when I know exactly where it is.
Is this a fantastic movie?  Not in the traditional sense.  But over the years I have grown to absolutely love this film.  Like I said, its a midnight movie quality feature.  Its high on camp, big over the top performances, gore, dark humor and its slightly wild and messy plot.  How can you not laugh that the chili champion of Texas is the cannibal Drayton Sawyer from the first film?  I haven't even mentioned that this film features effects from Tom Savini either!  I enjoy and applaud the sequel for going this direction as it really doesn't allow for fair comparison to the first film.  While it does follow it up, it goes for something different while staying in the same mold.  And as we'll see, until last year, this was the ONLY film in the series that progressed the story and took it somewhere different than as to just be some fresh retelling of the original film.  I highly recommend this movie if you "get" this kind of film and have a lot of fun with them.  I could seriously probably write a ton more about this movie.  And maybe one day we'll find the time.  Chop Top rules!

Next Time:  Viggo Mortensen says there is one chainsaw to rule them all

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