The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

US | 1986 | Directed by Tobe Hooper

Logline: A former Texas Ranger involves a radio host and her colleague as he seeks revenge on the serial killing family that murdered his nephew.

“After a decade of silence … the buzzz is back!” shouted the tagline to one of the craziest, silliest sequels ever. Watching it again on its 30th anniversary it’s easy to see where the movie gets its cult following from, the outlandish, black sense of humour, the surreal vibe, and Tom Savini’s graphic special effects makeup. But the movie is as ripe for “deep trash” plucking as they come!

Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedlow), the Cook from the original movie, has taken top prize again at the local chili cook-off. He reveals, “It’s no secret, it’s the meat. Don’t skimp on the meat. I’ve got a real good eye for prime meat. Runs in the family.” His boys, Bo “Chop-Top” (Bill Moseley) and Bubba “Leatherface” (Bill Johnson), have been playing silly buggers again, but they’ve brought some juicy victims back to the family homestead, a huge subterranean lair beneath a disused Texas Battle Land amusement park. Along with L.G. (Lou Perryman), whom Leatherface promptly starts to flay, is L.G.’s spunky radio colleague Stretch (Caroline Williams), host of KOKLA's Red River Rock'n'Roll Request show. She’s hoping mad hatter Lt. Lefty (Dennis Hopper), the vengeful, armed to the teeth “Lord of the Harvest”, will arrive in time to save her.

Tobe Hooper and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) screenwriter Kim Henkel’s original storyline for the sequel featured an entire Texan township of cannibals running riot, but Golan-Globus and Cannon Films wanted something on a much smaller scale - especially considering they’d produced Hooper’s previous movie, Lifeforce, which cost $25m and bombed - and as such L.M. Kit Carson, who had penned Paris, Texas, the Breathless remake, and the rare Dennis Hopper doco The American Dreamer, was brought in (perhaps on Hopper’s suggestion??) to write something on a more modest budget. In the end the estimated $4.7m movie made $8m.

Although the sequel is a dark comedy (much more so than the black-as-midnight-on-a-moonless-night original movie), a satire of 80s greed and excess, of political correctness, the tone scene-to-scene is wildly uneven. The worst stuff features the two yuppies in the opening scenes, and Lefty’s early shenanigans, the best stuff comes with the later scenes in the underground lair, which occupies much of the movie’s running time. Dennis Hopper had Blue Velvet come out the same year, and it’s quite obvious which movie his heart is in (yup, apparently he thought Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was the worst movie he’d ever been in).

Meanwhile Stretch’s cool credibility vanishes as screeching hysteria envelopes Caroline Williams’ performance and she becomes almost intolerable, while the histrionics of the Sawyer family, from Leatherface’s silly jig, Chop-Top’s insistent head-plate scratching, and the Cook’s vacuous rambling and leering, veers wildly into Lampoonville. Yes, yes, it all adds to the nutty, bad dream fabric, but this becomes a very tight, uncomfortable fit by movie’s end.

The freaky, cartoon-esque, fetishistic element of Tobe Hooper’s sequel is one of its strongest hooks, highlighted by Cary White and Michael Peal’s elaborate production design and art direction, all beautifully lit by cinematographer Richard Kooris, whom Hooper originally wanted for the first movie. Savini’s sfx crew deliver some astounding work, most notably on the skinned L.G., Chop-Top’s metal head plate, and the Dick Smith-inspired old man prosthetic work on Ken Evert as Grandpa Sawyer. It’s a real shame two of Savini’s other set-pieces – yuppies having their heads chain-sawed in half – were either left on the cutting room floor, or poorly edited into the final cut.

The harsh reality is Hooper was given a very tight release deadline, needing to deliver something in just a matter of weeks. The rushed result is obvious, indeed the movie is a hot, sticky mess, but quite unlike any other horror of the day. It's not scary like the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, not in the slightest. It’s the kind of deep trash nubbin’ you relish like a red hot sauce on a gamey hot dog covered with oozing jack cheese. Wash it down with as many Lone Star beers and Wild Turkey shots as you can get your hands on. Then light a really big reefer. You’ll need it. 

"Cook's out here chewing ass like it was steak ... We gotta run for that money now! Chase that dollar, boy! Gotta go fast to catch it," squeals Chop-Top ... "It's a dog-eat-dog world and from where I sit there just ain't enough damn dogs!" mutters the Cook.