The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a landmark in horror films, one of the many steps (for better or worse) that took us from Pyscho to the 1980s horror franchise boom. Independently made by unknowns, the film grabbed the public’s imagination with its horrific blend of current fears about madmen, real life murderer Ed Gein’s misdeeds, and a story that is a fairy tale in its simplicity (essentially and updated Hansel and Gretel) but told with such brutality and commitment that it is still one of the most uncomfortable and at times terrifying films ever made, even 37 years later.
Many consider The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the first full-fledged Slasher film, but it is as much a Slasher film as its direct predecessor Psycho is. Yes, both films feature the violent death of a few individuals at the hands of maniacs with weapons (knife, chainsaw, hammer, hook), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s victims are the “dead meat teenagers” that would populate Slasher films, but the horror of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t come from a masked maniac stalking his victims. No, only The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s middle act could be described this way. The film begins with a disturbing encounter with a crazed hitchhiker, moves to Leatherface dispatching his victims, and ends with a harrowing and lengthy “worst family dinner in history” in the clan’s filthy, trophy stuffed house. The Final Girl does manage to escape, but does little else but scream, her mind broken, and the evil is not even temporarily stopped.
That’s a long way of telling you that while The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a big influence on the slasher genre that followed, it is an Uncle rather than a Father or Grandfather to the genre. Still, even if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t a Slasher film, the success of the sub-genre lead practically everyone in Hollywood to jump on the slasher-franchise band wagon and create a franchise out of earlier horror hits. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was a misguided attempt by notorious B-movie company Cannon Films, to create a Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise but returning writer-director Tobe Hooper (Eaten Alive) and returning writer Kim Henkel did their own thing. Unfortunately, that “own thing” is a painfully dull and lifeless parody of the original and, for some reason, Motel Hell, which was itself a mediocre-at-best parody of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
DJ “Stretch” (Caroline Williams, Days of Thunder) works at a dead-end rural Texas radio station near the Oklahoma border. One night a couple of yuppie assholes on a joyride call into her show to harass her. Unfortunately for them, they piss off the wrong rednecks and they soon meet their deaths on air at the hands of Leatherface (Bill Johnson). Disgraced Texas Ranger, “Lefty” Enright, the uncle of two of the victims from the first film, has tracked the murderous clan (now known as the “Sawyers”) and their continuing rampage through Texas for the last 13 years. He sees the Sawyers’ handiwork in the Yuppies’ wreck, but the local police believe the deaths an accident. Stretch sees a newspaper article about Lefty and approaches him with her tape of the murders and Lefty convinces Stretch that she should play the tape on her station every hour on the hour to make people believe him. What Lefty really wants is bait for the clan. As he hoped, Leatherface and Chop-Top (Bill Moseley, House of a 1,000 Corpses) arrive at the station and terrorize Stretch and her producer (Lou Perryman, Poltergeist). Stretch manages to charm Leatherface into letting her live, but she pursues the Sawyers back to their base of operations-an enormous abandoned “Battles of Texas” theme park. Lefty also follows the Sawyers, and begins to destroy their underground home by sawing through its supports with a chainsaw. How long can Stretch keep the Sawyers at bay and will Lefty be able to stop the Sawyers? Does Lefty even care if he finds or helps Stretch? More importantly, do we?
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a sprawling mess of a film. The core idea-a DJ accidentally records the last moments of some victims of the Sawyer clan and must team up with a half-crazed Texas Ranger to end the massacre might make for an entertaining follow-up. Unfortunately, other than the opening murder, which is fairly intense, there isn’t a single scene that holds any terror or impact. The original film is grueling to sit through because it is genuinely harrowing whereas The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is grueling to sit through because it is genuinely dull. Hooper re-stages the dinner scene and plays up the elements in a way he intends to be blackly comic, but succeeds only in making the scene lifeless. New ideas such as Drayton as a successful chili salesman (expanding on the idea that unsuspecting consumers participate and fund the Sawyers activities) fall flat and are barely explored. “Subversion” of the original’s villains, such as making Leatherface a goofy and impotent chainsaw maniac (at one point stopped when Stretch talks dirty about his chainsaw skills, laying bare the penetration metaphor that horror film hating critics saw in the original) misses, not only the point of what made the original characters horrifying, but also the comedic mark.
When you’ve cast Dennis Hopper as a crazy Texas Ranger who buys three chainsaws and carries them into battle with evil like a rifle and two six shooters, and you can’t do anything amusing or interesting with that character, your film has serious, serious problems. Caroline Williams’ Stretch seems to be a stab at turning the “final girl” archetype on its head, as does the decision to kill no women in the film, but other than the “sex as weapon” scene and her final killing of the awful “Chop-Top” character, Stretch spends the film as scared and confused as any other Final Girl. She also engages in jaw-dropping, stupid actions, like following the men who just attacked her with a chainsaw to an abandoned amusement park, where she gets out to continue her pursuit, all without picking up as much as a letter opener to defend herself with. Bill Mosley’s “Chop-Top” character is an enormous and very silly step down from the original “Hitchhiker” character and Bill Johnson’s neutered Leatherface is another attempt by Hooper to answer the response their original film received with a big middle finger.
That’s not even touching how flat and boring most of the film is, the ludicrous expansion of the original film’s creepy redneck home into a sprawling complex that clearly inspired Rob Zombie (indeed, this film inspired much of his work, Cthulhu help us all). The complex was built using a great deal of time and effort to no greater effect than to simply remind us that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is not the original film, and in a way that description can be applied to the entire film. The only kudos that are in order are to Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead), whose make-up work and gore effects are excellent. Tobe Hooper is at his best directing a basic story and not trying to deliver a message of any sort, and here he attempts to not only to answer his critics but to satirize his most well-known and popular work, and he fails on all counts. Once again the audience is left to wonder “Is there any franchise that Cannon films successfully continued?”
The trailer: NSFW: