AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: 21st August, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 101 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
It’s been 13 years since the events that took place in The Texas Chainasaw Massacre, and killings have been occuring all over Texas. Tracking them is Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright, former Texas Ranger, and uncle of Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother Franklin who were victims of Leatherface and his family back in 1974, but nobody believes his claims that the murders are connected. When two drunken high school seniors, Buzz and Rick, are slaughtered by Leatherface, the commotion is heard and recorded by on-air radio DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock whom they were harassing. Lefty asks Stretch suggests to Lefty that she play the tape on her nightly radio show so the public will have to listen to him….
Dennis Hopper once described this movie as the worst one he’d ever been in, though he also later said the same thing about Super Mario Brothers. And Tobe Hooper’s sequel-cum-semi-remake is quite a hard film to get a handle on, so much so that I can never actually decide whether it’s a good film or a bad. Hooper obviously realised that trying to top the gritty, claustrophobic, grim terror of his original 1974 classic would be a very difficult task so decided not to even bother. Instead, he opted to make a really campy, goofy film which plays nearly everything for laughs, albeit laughs which are often of quite a sick kind, and thereby is only occasionally actually frightening despite Hooper this time deciding to really go for the gore, something which which despite its reputation was very sparse in the original. Here, he seems to be partly making the film that the first one had the reputation of being. Some of the intended chuckles do tickle my pallette though I will also say that this film also has what seemed to me one of the queasiest moments I’d ever seen back when I first saw it, when Leatherface makes the heroine wear somebody else’s face. Of course this bloodthisty teenager had already seen nastier stuff in other films but there was something about that moment which still makes me feel rather sick and certainly doesn’t make me laugh. Then there’s the often over the top performances which kind of seem at home here but are sometimes hard to adjust to, while dumb plotting is dumb plotting however you want to take it. But there’s certainly some memorable stuff in this movie and it does sometimes seem to cleverly play around with things in the first film, from subtly repeating and even twisting certain motifs to exaggerating things to ludicrous extremes.
Hooper and Kim Henkel who’d co-written the original had an idea for a sequel that would feature an entire town of cannibals, and also be a satire of the film Motel Hell. The title was to be Beyond The Valley Of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Cannon bosses Menaham Golan and Gary Globus would only produce the film if it was closer to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. L. M. Carson wrote the screenplay, but just before shooting Cannon took $1 million from the budget so Carson had to cut his script down, even doing this whilst shooting took place. Hooper didn’t even want to direct, just produce, but couldn’t find a director the budget would allow. Cannon, wanting more of a straight horror film, weren’t too happy with the final product and ordered scenes of the Sawyer clan going on a nocturnal rampage including some rioting football fans getting gorily killed and an appearance by cult film critic Joe Bob Briggs, plus a subplot where it’s revealed that Lefty is Stretch’s father, be removed. One video release actually contained the film with some of this footage plus some other minor bits added though the added material was of poor quality and contained no sound effects. Released unrated in the US, the film did make a profit, but was banned in Germany, Singapore and Australia until recently. In the UK, the BBFC told Cannon that perhaps 20 minutes and maybe even 25 minutes of footage would have to be cut, negating plans for both a cinema and a video release.
The voiceover, rather fast and intense, should immediately clue you in that this won’t be a serious piece. The opening sequence is certainly memorable, two young punks in their car ringing up and taunting radio DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock until they are stopped on a bridge by a truck containing Leatherface in the back, hiding behind a dead family member he’s decided to take with him, who then proceeds to slice half the head off one of them before the car collides off the bridge. There are rather too many silly things going on here though, from Stretch not apparently being allowed to hang up on her horrid callers, to this car not being able to outrun a pick-up truck travelling in reverse despite the pedal supposedly being held to the floor. But the biggest problem plot-wise with this film is the fact that this tape containing an audio record of the killings in no way points out the identities of Leatherface and Chop Top who was driving. All we hear are some screams and a chainsaw noise. Big deal. Yet we’re supposed to believe that it’s enough for the two maniacs to want to kill off this woman. O well. At least we’re soon reintroduced to Drayton, the leader of the Sawyer Clan, here winning a trophy for best chili at a barbeque competition. Of course we know that the meat he uses is of the human variety and someone who tastes the chili even bites into a tooth, though Drayton passes it off as a peppercorn shell. Just the thought of this leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but we’re also given some idea of how this family of complete and utter loons can survive and even make money besides the little barbecue stand in the first film.
The clearly tormented Lefty refuses Stretch’s offer to help, then reconsiders and allows her to play the tape on air. In one of the funniest scenes in the film, he strides into a chainsaw store and selects several chainsaws, leaves some money and mancially tries one of them out on a log – all while not saying a thing. It works because much of it is understated, and – well – we all know that Dennis Hopper hadn’t long come out of a phase where he was, with all due respect, something of a nutter. Leatherface and Chop Top show up to terrorise Stretch, but the majority of the second half takes place in the Sawyer’s underground lair which features very impressive, if gruesome, set design. One tunnel featuring different coloured lights and dead, partially eaten, bodies, really does come across as an evocative vision of hell, and I must really single out set designer Cary White here because his work is truly impressive. It’s just as well because after a while the constant gooning around of the Sawyers gets a bit tiresome. Drayton isn’t given the touches of depth he had before even though Jim Siedow’s performance is fascinatingly odd the way he seem to ad-lib his lines. The new family member, Bill Moseley’s Chop Top, is just annoying and I couldn’t wait for him to shut up even though he has the memorably disgusting habit of heating up the end of a wire hanger with a lighter and scraping off the skin surrounding the metal plate on his head and then eating it! Despite wearing possibly the character’s most revolting mask, looking like it’s made from several faces, Bill Johnson doesn’t provide Leatherface with much fear though he’s a bit of a lovesick sissy in this film anyway. Not having Leatherface be scary leaves a hole and nor is his Beauty and the Beast-type subplot developed enough to be touching. Then there’s Ken Evert’s Grandpa, “137 years old and still as fast as Jesse James” though hilariously unable to keep hold of the hammer with which he’s supposed to bash Stretch’s head in at the dinner table for more than a couple of seconds. And we even get to see Grandma, which betters a similar bit in Friday The 13th – Part Two.
Towards the end the film just seems to be rehashing its predecessor, though the chainsaw duel, better than the one in Phantasm 2 though inferior to the one in Tiger On The Beat [all three films made within two years of each other] is pretty neat. By this time Hopper has really dialed it up, screaming evangelical damnation over his chainsaw – in fact he’s probably scarier than the Sawyers despite us being allowed to see a great deal of their grisly handiwork. Yes, the blood really flows – this film remains probably the goriest entry in this franchise – though Tom Savini’s makeup effects are variable, some great [a man with some of his skin cut off truly is horribly convincing], some not so good. One killing where a guy’s head is repeatedly bashed in with a small hammer which is a good example of how stretching violence can actually takes away much of the impact. If we’d seen just two or three blow then it wouldn’t have been quite shocking, but Hooper decided that we needed to see loads more so the shock is diffused – though whether it’s actually funny is another matter. After this, Lefty tries to calm Leatherface down by arousing him, his chainsaw moving ever closer to his crotch before he begins to masturbate with the other hand. Is Hooper just trying to wind people up in the way that, say, Brian De Palma attempted to do with his drill killing in Body Double, or is he cleverly mocking the phallic imagery and sexual frustration that drive many slasher movies? It’s hard to tell.
Though you maybe wouldn’t expect it, this film contains some very stylish cinematography from Richard Kooris who seems possibly influenced by Dario Argento or Mario Bava in some scenes that use red, blue and green. He was probably encouraged to go over the top because everything is over the top in this movie. Caroline Williams’ performance as Stretch is rather strange as, what begins as quite poor gets better as the film progresses, despite being given little more to say than “oh my God” and “leave me alone”, as if the film was shot in sequence. But then The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a pretty strange offering all over. Not intended to be taken seriously at all, it’s therefore best enjoyed as a grisly lark, though the supposed humour does tend to wear thin after a while and there is a genuine unpleasantness at times [which would be easier to take if it wasn’t suggested to us that it’s supposed to be funny], this film not really having the light touch that made Re-Animator and Peter Jackson’s splatter comedies such fun despite the sights they showed you. I’m going to be really honest here and tell you that I’m still basically undecided as to the quality of the film. But I am convinced that it’s easily the most distinctive, interesting and probably bravest of the Texas Chainsaw sequels, and I’m therefore very glad that it exists.
I can’t compare this release to Arrow’s older one as I never bought it, though opinions on it seem to vary. But I would imagine there’s a considerable amount of difference because I can’t see anybody finding flaws with this release. I compared it with my old DVD of the film, and the difference is simply astounding and ought to convince any film lover who hasn’t get got a Blu-ray player to go out and get one. Again, Arrow have managed to retain that 80’s look while still restoring a film to modern standards. And this release really shows how fine this film’s photography is, something which I hadn’t really paid much attention to previously.
Now the special features were, as far as I can see, all on Arrow’s previous release which ported over most of the extras from the Region ‘A’ release from Scream Factory, some of which in themselves were on the special edition DVD, but they’re pretty comprehensive and I hadn’t seen or hears any of them. First up is the documentary It Runs In The Family which runs a whopping hour and a half. You can watch this in one big chunk or select one of the six chapters – Texas Screenplay Massacre; The Art Of Mayhem; Cast Of Characters; Prime Meat; Father Of The Saw; Requiem For A Sequel – individually. The titles of the chapters give you an idea of what’s covered but the interviews here tell you pretty much everything you could hope to learn about the making of this film. There are some good stories in here including Hopper’s method of getting himself to the ‘right place’, plus a bit of behind the scenes stuff and even some props, though Hooper himself is totally absent. Fortunately he’s on the first of the two audio commentaries which are up next. Moderator David Gregory [who made the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth documentary] keeps a sometimes rather reluctant-seeming Hooper talking throughout as he fires one question after another at him. There’s little repetition from the documentary and some new nuggets, though Hooper avoids going into some of the more controversial issues surrounding the movie. The second commentary track consists of Savini, actors Bill Mosely, Williams and moderator Michael Felsher, the latter barely having time to ask any questions. When the introductory bit of a commentary has one participant doing one of his most famous lines and another repeating the scream she did throughout the film, then you know you’re in for a jokey affair, and sometimes they just resort to laughing at what’s unfolding in front of them, but each of the three key participants has no shortage of things to discuss. A fun, lively listen.
Next comes nearly half an hour of Stephen Thrower talking about the film. An excellent genre writer who’s written two books that sit proudly on one of my bookshelves, he offers a highly insightful look which never gets too dry. It’s nice that he saw the film for the first time the same way I did – as a bootleg video! The interview with the stuntman informs us that the stunt crew actually went through hell making this movie. At one point he tells of how Hooper was yelling at him as if he were an actual actor and that he threatened to cut the director with his chainsaw if he didn’t stop. The alternate opening has the titles unfold over night-time scenery rather than just a black background and moodier music. The deleted scenes truly do look terrible and don’t contain the cut Lefty/Stretch stuff but are interesting to see nonetheless and in my view should have all been left in. And finally we have some stills, rounding off a typically excellent release from Arrow. I may not be totally sure about the film, but this Blu-ray is a superlative example of the format in terms of restoration quality and extra material. I would imagine most horror fans would need no further encouragement even if they already own an earlier release.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definiton Blu-ray (1080p) presentation from a digital transfer supervised by Director of Photography Richard Kooris
• Original uncompressed Stereo 2.0 audio
• Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• It Runs in the Family: a six-part documentary looking at the genesis, making-of and enduring appeal of Hooper’s lm, with interviews including star Bill Johnson, co-writer L.M. Kit Carson, Richard Kooris, Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Tom Savini, production designer Cary White and more!
• Audio commentary with director and co-writer Tobe Hooper, moderated by David Gregory
• Audio commentary with stars Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special-effects legend Tom Savini, moderated by Michael Felsher
• Still Feelin’ the Buzz: interview with horror expert Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA
• Cutting Moments with Bob Elmore: interview with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s stuntman
• Alternate opening sequence with different musical score
• Deleted scenes
• Gallery featuring behind-the-scenes images
• Original trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson;