Movie review: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

In middle, high school, and a bit in college, I did quite a number of movie reviews and of my journalism career, they stand out as my favorite aspect. So on occasion I’ll do a movie review, more likely than not of a movie that was released several years, if not decades, ago, for what purpose? Maybe just to intrigue a new generation, maybe to help someone find a movie the spirit of which they’ve been looking for, plus it’s fun for me, I don’t know.

The movie I want to talk about in this post is Tobe Hooper’s 1986 Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which of course was the followup to his 1974 smash hit Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the first film in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.

To start with, I was first introduced to TCM in 2003 with Michael Bay’s remake of the original, which is still my preferred version. I thought it was the absolute most terrifying thing I’d ever seen and even at that age, at nine or 10, my horror-movie-viewing history was to be admired by even the cultest of cult-horror directors and fans.

Following this I quickly saw the original, which is starkly different from the remake but has a horror unique to itself, which I’ve only appreciated with age and repeated viewings.

The sequels to the 2003 remake, TCM: The Beginning and Texas Chainsaw 3D, were successively worse and I’ve yet to see Leatherface, released just last year. I will eventually see it and whether I will write another review on it, we will see.

But it was not until this past December, during my Christmas break from work, that I committed to seeing TCM 2, Leatherface: TCM III, and TCM: The Next Generation, the immediate sequels to the 1974 original.

I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen these before. Certainly I’d had no lack of opportunity nor any reluctance, I simply never got around to it.

First, I must emphasize that the franchise can be divided into two canons (Star Wars fans will appreciate this characterization): 1) Those made between 1974 through 1997 and 2) those made between 2003 and 2017 (perhaps onward).

I make this differentiation because the 21st-century canon remains fairly grounded in the classical slasher-horror genre, though it tends toward the extreme of this and will no doubt make viewers unaccustomed to gratuitous gore uneasy, maybe even ill.

The 20th-century canon, while initially starting as a slasher (in fact, after 1960’s Psycho, is probably the earliest pioneer of the slasher sub-genre that was to become mainstreamed with 1978’s Halloween and beaten to death through the ’80s and ’90s), quickly descends into madness in the second film.

Make no mistake, the 1974 film is insane! But it pales in comparison to the madness of 2. We’ll come back to that.

III is negligible, aside from the fact that it stars a young Viggo Mortensen in an uncharacteristic villainous role, as well as cult-horror-movie mainstay Ken Foree.

The Next Generation, which I believe is the only film in the franchise released direct-to-video, is perhaps the most watchable behind the 1974 film. It stars a teenage Renée Zellweger with no more charisma than she has now, as well as Matthew McConaughey, his first starring role after his feature role in Dazed and Confused.

Watching McConaughey in this film, you will likely wonder, as I definitely did, why, with the talent for playing a vast array of personalities he displayed in this film so early in his career, he sold himself short for so long with films like Failure to Launch, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. The McConaughey in this film is almost indistinguishable from the grizzled jaded man we see in the “McConaissance” films, which include Interstellar, Mud, and Dallas Buyers Club.

The Next Generation is where the 20th-century canon really gets weird and becomes part-slasher, part-black-comedy, and part-quasi-science fiction. I would encourage you to watch the first and second films, skip the third, and conclude the 20th-century canon with The Next Generation.

Now, if you’ll pardon my taking the long way to get to the proper topic of this post, I will discuss the insanity of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

What first struck me is the 12 year gap between the first and second films. The first film was a box-office success, filmed on a budget of $300,000 and grossing more than $30 million.

By today’s standards, such a success would be instantly followed up with a sequel so as not to lose any of the momentum stirred up by the first film.

Perhaps Hooper has no intention to make a franchise out of the concept. But when interviewed about why he made the second film, he said he wanted to expound on the black comedy he felt was overshadowed in the first film because of its grittiness.

The second film is not all that funny in the traditional sense, but if you are like me and are titillated by abject insanity, there certainly is something humorous in the second film.

To start, Dennis Hopper is the uncle of the the siblings killed in the first film. He’s also a Texas Ranger and is obsessed with finding the people responsible for the disappearance of his family.

A radio DJ gets a request call one night from two young men on their way to a football game. While on the phone with her, they are attacked by Leatherface in the back of a pickup truck whirling his chainsaw at their car.

Yes. Whereas the first film was insidious in its buildup to horror, the second film takes no measures to be nuanced, which can be funny to the right sense of humor (mine).

The DJ contacts the police and Hopper’s character about the tape and Hopper is the only one who takes it seriously. He asks the DJ (aside from Leatherface and his family, characters’ names are hard to discern, as other characters are merely plot devices) to replay the recording live.

This draws Leatherface and his brother, Chop Top. If you’ll pardon another tangent, I’d like to tell you some about Bill Moseley, the actor who plays Chop Top.

He is perhaps the best actor not to have been nominated for an Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, or other major award. I would venture to say he should have received more recognition for his role in this film, as well as his performance as Otis in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and its sequel, The Devil’s Rejects.

TCM was his second film role and the first in which he had a feature role and from the moment he comes on screen, he is utterly captivating, giving Chop Top an immense amount of personality and backstory in just a few minutes. He’s erratic, moving with the agile gangliness of a lizard, unsettling, and compulsively heats up the tip of a hanger with which to touch a steel plate in his head.

Hopper’s character arrives at the radio station just in time to pursue Leatherface and Chop Top back to their house, both under the impression that Leatherface killed the DJ.

He hadn’t. Instead, the DJ had cast a spell over Leatherface by allowing him to move the unmoving blade of his chainsaw up between her legs. Her relationship with Leatherface continues to grow throughout the rest of the film. Leatherface no doubt views her as a motherly figure, as no mother exists in his family currently, but there’s the incestuous element, as well, which is not surprising in a movie like this.

For some inexplicable reason, the DJ, having narrowly escaped being hacked to pieces in the radio station, follows after Leatherface, Chop Top, and Hopper’s character to the house of the murderous family. She falls into a trap door while Hopper continues into a mine entrance leading underneath the house.

It’s important to note here that, previously in the film, Hopper had gone to a roadside chainsaw store.

Yes indeed, a store wholly dedicated to selling (and likely renting) chainsaws. From this store he’d bought two obscenely long chainsaws, as well as two smaller chainsaws.

Now, as he approaches the cave mouth, he has all four chainsaws hanging off him.

Let’s just go with it.

So he goes into the mine and quickly finds the skeletal remains of his invalid nephew, who’d been wheelchair-bound in the first film, in his wheelchair.

Hopper’s character had originally had a button, which turned his craziness on and off. Seeing his nephew, the button breaks and from here on out, Hopper is nuttier than squirrel shit.

He revs up one of the enormous chainsaws and proceeds to slash through the wooden pillars supporting the mine ceiling and eventually the underground meat-processing plant the family has built. Fans of the first season of True Detective will no doubt be fascinated with the macabre décor which the audience is shown.

Hopper’s character loses all depth in his madness. Harnessing the spirit of a Baptist preacher, Hopper weaves through the caverns, hacking the pillars, all the while repeatedly yelling, “Bring it all down! Bring it all down! I’ll take ya back to Hell! I’ll take ya to Hell!”

The highlight of the film is probably the chainsaw duel between Leatherface and Hopper (eat your heart out, Star Wars fans).

An interesting aspect of this film is that the house is not the same house we saw in the 1974 film and we certainly didn’t get as much a visual of the meat-processing activities or equipment in that film as we get in this.

This film had a budget of $4.7 million and as you watch it, you’ll get the impression the production team spent every last penny of it. It’s almost impossible to imagine how a film as insane as this ever got made, and while far from perfect, I’m glad it exists because it is the most outrageous, over-the-top film I’ve ever seen. More than that, I appreciate the sets, which are the most nightmarish visuals ever recorded on film.

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