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Cinema Recall Podcast Terror Tuesday: ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ (1986)

In 1974, Tobe Hooper shocked the world when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released.  This film wasn’t just a horror film, it was a ride into hell. With its documentary style approach, it felt like all the events that were taking place on screen, actually did happen. It was found footage way before it was ever even thought of as a genre. In 1986, Hooper made a sequel that was met with some hatred when it was first released. Now over 30 years, it may be the best sequel this series ever made.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was written and directed by Tobe Hooper with co-screenplay credits by L.M. Kit Carson. The cast features Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams and Bill Mosely. The story starts off at a radio call in show where two yuppie assholes are prank calling Stretch (Williams), the nightly DJ while driving on the road.  The two jerk wads decide to play a game of chicken with a pickup truck. This ends up being a bad idea for these two because that truck is owned by the Sawyer Family and Leatherface doesn’t like playing chicken unless he’s plucking feathers, and by feathers I mean skin from humans. So the two yuppie rejects from Wall Street are killed, and the whole thing is recorded on the show.  Lieutenant “Lefty” Enright (Hopper) wants  Stretch to play it on the air so that the police will take him seriously again. But the only one who is listening is Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow) and he asks his two boys Chop top (Mosely) and Leatherface (Bill Johnson) to dispose of Stretch once and for all. However when Leatherface sees this lady in the flesh, he can’t  bring himself to harm her. Soon Leatherface will have to think with his heart or his saw.

There is a lot more comedy with this movie than the first one. Although it begins the same as the first one with the narrator reading a crawl telling you the events of the first film, it jumps right into the scene that had the banter between Stretch and the two jerks in the car. From this small section you would never tell it was a horror feature. Leatherface doesn’t appear until almost 10 minutes into the movie and when he does it’s comical. Showing him dancing on top of a car is a far cry from when we last saw him of opening that steel gate and bashing that one guy on the noggin.  Having the Sawyer family become capitalists and sell their award winning chili with human flesh at cookouts is brilliant, but the social satire was lost on viewers in 1986, and I think now it’s a bit easier to recognize. While the atmospheric setting and certain characters were the most memorable thing from the original, I think all the main characters are the most entertaining thing about this sequel.

Let’s start off with our two heroes. Now Dennis Hopper made this feature right before great films like River’s Edge, and Hoosiers. His character almost feels like he would be Frank Booth (From Blue Velvet) older brother that got into being a police chief rather than be a crime lord.  I love the moment when he is testing out chainsaws on the trees the same way that a madman would cut into someone’s flesh. His catchphrase of “Tear it all Down” when he tries to destroy the Sawyer home is just awesome because he says it every time he cuts into the home. Almost like the saw won’t work unless he says the lines. Caroline Williams as Stretch is good because she is at times more heroic than the girl in the last movie. For one, she actually does stand her ground with Leatherface and is able to somewhat communicate with him. When she asks, “Are you mad at me?,” this kind of throws the big guy off because for years, he was told that certain humans are the same as food and he never thought of them as anything but that. As much as Stretch is a badass, are you telling me she couldn’t escape from that old man who could barely hold a hammer? The girl from the first flick did and she had way less strength than Stretch.

As for our villains, Bill Johnson’s take on Leatherface is way different than Gunnar Hansen from the original. I’m not quite sure why he wasn’t cast in the sequel, but there is suppose to be a really good documentary about the making of this movie on a Blu-Ray I got that I am excited to watch.  Johnson’s Leatherface is almost like a boy who is just discovering sex for the first time. I could maybe buy into him having feelings of caring for something the way you would a pet, but to have Leatherface actually use his saw as a phallic symbol was a little bit too much in my opinion. This never seemed to be the kind of guy that had sex on the mind. He also from the first movie, seemed to be unsure about what gender he would like to be identified as, which explained the makeup and wigs. Now we compare this with Bill Mosely’s character of ChopTop, who almost feels more at home with the Firefly Family than he does with the Sawyer clan. This makes sense because Bill Mosely also portrays the ruthless brother Otis in Rob Zombie‘s The House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects features. Sporting a metal plate on his head, and using the heated end of a hanger to burn a section between his brain and the plate for sexual thrills, Chop Top gets pleasure out of killing people. Unlike his brother Leatherface, who seems to do it out of frustration or because he was told to.

The co-writer of this feature is L.M. Kit Carson who also wrote Paris Texas and the remake of Breathless. I am curious to check both of those out, especially Breathless because the original Goddard film had such a unique vibe to it that I am curious to see what the 80’s does to the 60’s.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was Mr. Hooper and Mr. Carson’s response to what would happen to this clan of killers who kill people and turn them into food, while also living in Ronald Reagan’s‘s America. Make a profit out of it, is what you do. 

The moment that does stand out the most is when Chop Top is first introduced and Stretch is giving him the tour of the radio studio. If the rest of the movie was just them in that space and having them  outwit each other, I would be fine with that. I don’t like how it ends because it feels too open-ended. I get that it does mirror the ending of the first one just with the roles reversed. It just was climatic without much satisfaction. Still I am giving Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 3 stars out of 5.

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