THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, 1986
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams and Jim Siedow
Review by Mark Engberg
A radio host is victimized by the cannibal family as a former Texas Marshall hunts them.
If you are reading this, then you are probably a fan of the slasher horror sub genre and have probably seen Tobe Hooper's remarkable The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And if you are a fan of the 1974 classic, then you have seen the sequels, re-makes, comic book appearances, etc.
It may be easy to spread the hate on the subsequent chapters (Matthew McConaughey and Rene Zellweger?), but don't forget about this misunderstood and most disturbing member of the family.
Critics mostly put it down because it seemed to satirize itself with over-the-top gornography and black comedy. They argued that the first one affected audiences with minimalist blood splatter and felt that this first sequel lacked subtlety and grace. Moreover, they probably felt that Hooper traded scares for jokes for the purpose of entertaining audiences, rather than shocking them.
However, I will argue that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is the scariest and most demented horror feature I have ever seen. It contains scenes that have haunted me in the middle of the night wondering if there really are guys out there burning their heads open with lit wire hangers. The film is comprised of the most twisted villains armed with the worst imaginable weapons. The premise may not be revolutionary, but the storyline does contain some of the scariest scenarios and best acting you can expect to see in a horror movie.
As a fan of psychological horror, it bothers me how much this movie affected my appreciation of the genre. The regular questions I usually ask when analyzing a good horror story become meaningless when I sit down to think about this movie. What motivates these antagonists? Do we have empathy for the characters?
I have no idea what motivates a man like Leatherface, and I want to get back to him in a minute. I don't know what motivates any of the incredibly deadly and hopelessly insane members of the Sawyer family. They are so hideously crazy that I have bewildering empathy for anybody confronted by them.
And what is truly amazing about TCM2 is the undisputed fact that it is also incredibly funny. The rantings of Jim Seidow's Drayton “Cook” Sawyer are even more riotous and profane than they were in the prequel. Seidow is the only cast member to return from the previous Chainsaw, and his ferocious banter has not mellowed any in the twelve years between pictures.
Bill Moseley wins the lifetime achievement award for Scariest Performance Ever as Chop-Top, a Vietnam veteran who apparently lost part of his skull in the war. When he's not bashing in somebody's head with a hammer, he can usually be spotted chewing on his own burned scalp flesh in the background. Moseley won the part of Chop-Top after impressing Hooper in the independent short The Texas Chainsaw Manicure. Moseley has also recreated this character on an album called Spot the Psycho that he released with the equally bizarre guitarist Buckethead.
But any review on a TCM movie would be disastrously incomplete without an analysis on Leatherface. In my opinion, it is unfortunate that the production companies still making these movies have decided to transform this character into just another unstoppable hulk of unreasoning masculinity. Just like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, Leatherface does not seem to feel pain or emotion. And that makes him much less frightening to me. As Tobe Hooper undoubtedly understood, Leatherface was much more disturbing when he was a big retarded guy who liked to eat people's faces.
He did not chainsaw you into oatmeal because he disliked you. He simply didn't know any better. For some reason, that just seems scarier than any qualified motive.
And a great horror movie can only be called such because its heroes are so captivating. Dennis Hopper entertains with some crowd-pleasing scenes where his character goes heroically nuts. But it is Caroline Williams, as the radio DJ Stretch, who humanizes the movie with her ill-fated good intentions and superb acting. Unlike so many other damsels in distress, Williams embodies her Stretch with such panic and fear that it seems natural to empathize with her. When she screams, we want to scream with her . . . and get as far away from Texas as we can.