10/26/09

Halloween Top 13: The Sequel #6- Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Great sequels sometime follow up the previous film with more of the same, but sometimes they get inventive with the story line and taking it in a new, unexpected direction. Tonight’s film takes the latter route. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was a dark, twisted film filmed with a grainy, almost documentary style. It introduced us to the family of cannibals as they harvested fresh meat from a vanload of teens. While it was not a bloody affair, it featured some disturbing moments that make it one of the legendary horror films. It was twelve years later in 1986 that Tobe Hooper returned to the series to give it a second installment. This time they amped up the blood, turned on the black comedy, and even got Dennis Hopper along for the ride.

After a scrolling text opening reminds us of the events of the first film, we’re introduced to a couple of teenage yuppies who keep calling into “Stretch” Brock’s (Carolina Williams) radio show and bothering her. After they play chicken with a pickup truck, it follows them and Leatherface (Bill Johnson) appears in the truck bed menacing them with a chainsaw. Eventually, Leatherface cuts the top of the driver’s head off and they crash. “Stretch” hears all of it over the phone. The next day with a newspaper reports on “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper), former Texas Ranger and Uncle to some of the kids killed in the original massacre, who is seeking the cannibal family. “Stretch” takes the tape of the preppies being killed to “Lefty” who asks her to play it on her show. She does and the family comes to pay her a visit dragging her engineer L.G. (Lou Perryman) away to make some of their prize winning BBQ. “Stretch” escapes from the station only to fall into the family’s clutches again. Her only hope is “Lefty” now wielding two chainsaws and tearing down the run down theme park where the family lives.

During Tobe Hooper’s twelve year break from the Chainsaw films, he made seven movies including the 1979 TV movie Salem’s Lot, the 1985 space vampire classic Lifeforce, and, though it has been much debated what kind of influence he had over it, 1982’s Poltergeist. Returning to the film that made his name, Hooper enlisted Texas based screenwriter L.M Kit Carson, who had written the screenplay for Wim Winders’ film Paris, Texas. Carson’s inspiration hit him while shopping for Christmas presents in a Dallas mall, and he decided to put yuppies in the sites of Leatherface and the gang. This inspiration coupled with the idea to have Leatherface romance “an eighties woman who doesn’t scream” formed the basis for what would become TCM 2. From there the chainsaw wielding ex-lawman, the showdown in the Texas themed amusement park, and the chili cook-off, all fell into place to form a darkly comic version of the original film’s world. Hooper was quoted as saying that people missed the humor in the first film. I’ve seen that flick a lot, and I’m still missing it.

Unfortunately for Hooper, he only landed one of the original cast for the film when Jim Siedow retuned as The Cook. Siedow’s unique look and performance was irreplaceable, and his presence in TCM 2 gives the necessary thread needed to carry over from the first. Plus, Siedow is a great actor. He only had six roles before his untimely death (two were TCM films and one an episode of Amazing Stories directed by Hooper), and it’s a shame that more people didn’t use him as a character actor. Siedow credits his performances to Hooper’s specific direction, "I spent hours trying to figure out what I was going to do. How was I going to play this crazed cook? I didn't know what kind of director Tobe Hooper was. Fortunately, he was a very fine director -- he knows what he wants and he gets it out of you. I would've played it altogether differently if he hadn't told me what he wanted and it wouldn't have been as good."

One of the big losses of the film was that the original Leatherface, Gunner Hanson, was not sure if he wanted to return to play the chainsaw loving brute. He now lived in Maine, and while he was taking too long to decide, they had to move on and replace him with Bill Johnson, an actor from Texas. Johnson’s Leatherface is still plenty creepy, but the exploration of the gentler, comedic side of the character really makes Johnson’s turn behind the mask singular among the men who’ve played the part. Leatherface provides many of the funniest scenes in the film, and I could not control my laughter when he swung around an electric kitchen knife in minute parody of the chainsaw dance from the end of the first TCM. That’s not to say that he doesn’t bring the chills either. When Leatherface is rubbing “Stretch” with his chainsaw in a bit of over the top phallic symbolism, it’s pretty damn eerie if you ask me. Johnson also takes part in the best chainsaw duel of all time, but more on that when I get to Mr. Hopper.

First, I have to talk about Bill Mosley. In the first film, Edwin Neal played the manic, crazy Hitchhiker who got the kids roped into becoming a family meal. That character was killed at the end of the first film, while his brother, Chop-top, was off seeing action in Vietnam. This time, Chop-top is back complete with steel plate in his head and quotable lines like “Dog will hunt!” No one could have brought this maniac to the screen quite like Bill Mosley, and he does it with such crazy eyed brilliance that you can’t help but watch him anytime he’s onscreen. This was his first starring role, but Mosley would become a fixture in horror films including the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, Army of Darkness, and another film that will remain nameless until it appears on the countdown.

Now I have to get into the other stars of the film. Dennis Hopper should need no introduction. If you don’t know who he is, then I don’t know where you’ve been for the past 40+ years. Hopper is listed as the star of the film, and he is the biggest name, but he really has limited screen time in this film. For the last half of the picture he’s relegated to chain sawing apart the family’s decimated amusement park until he finally stumbles into a confrontation with Leatherface. This leads to the chainsaw duel that I mentioned earlier. If you haven’t seen Dennis Hopper duel wielding chainsaws while battling an overweight, cannibal in a suit and mask of human flesh, well, then you really haven’t lived. For all the good stuff that TCM 2 has to offer, this is my favorite moment. If for no other reason, this scene would land this film on my shortlist of sequels every time.

There’s one last person I have to mention and that’s Caroline Williams and her role as the DJ “Stretch”. If I was asked to describe what a female TV in Texas in the 80’s at a rock station would look like, I would probably say she’d be thin, wear cutoffs, probably a ZZ Top t-shirt, and more than likely be surrounded by tons of empty Shiner Bock beer bottles. That perfectly sums up what you get with “Stretch”. Her performance in the scenes where the character uses her feminine wiles to come on to Leatherface is nothing short of perfectly executed. By the time she gets to her final showdown with Chop-top, this poor girl had been through the ringer and Williams’ definitely plays that to the hilt. The last image of her, a reflection of Leatherface at the end of the first film, is haunting and a bit funny at the same time, kind of like the whole film.

Apart from choosing great performances, Hooper made a wise decision to enlist Tom Savini for the effects this time around. Savini had already proved many times over that he knew his way around the blood, guts, and corpses that the movie would require, and since the whole experience was TCM turned up to eleven, the gore needed to match. The version I have is unfortunately not the special “Gruesome Edition” that came out some time back so I have never seen the gore shots that were cut to get an ‘R’ rating. I can only imagine that the other shots would measure up to the same degree of bloody excellence that the film and Savini were striving for.

Many people don’t like TCM 2 because it doesn’t retain the same dark feeling of the first film, the grit is gone replaced by the slick camera work of a Hollywood film, and the family played for laughs even though they are out doing dastardly deeds. To me they’re related films, but separated by time and place. Hooper had gone “Hollywood” in a big way, and times had changes so that a film like TCM could not have been made with the same macabre vision. This was now the eighties, and TCM 2 brought the more humanized versions of the creeps from the first film into the next decade. The Chainsaw franchise would never see another worthwhile sequel, and don’t even get me started on the recent series of remakes. Yet with these two films, Tobe Hooper cemented his vision of redneck horror into the canon of the horror film. As a person who lives in the South, I see someone who looks like The Cook or Chop-top fairly often, and if they’re serving Barbeque, I just lost my appetite.

Bugg Rating


1- The Evil Dead 2
2- The Devil's Rejects
3- Blood Feast 2
4- Feast 2 & 3
5- Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2


Hey, what a coincidence that TCM 2 would have been on that list. Fran keeps harping on me to catch up with the Feast films, but I haven’t made it around to those yet. Maybe someday soon, but before I catch up with anything, I have to finish counting down films. With only five to go, you know I’ve got some good stuff in store for you folks. So stay tuned, and I’ll be back tomorrow with another selection.

5 comments:

  1. Hell yeah! TCM2 is wicked fun--and this is coming from a big fan of part 1 (in fact the first is still my favorite horror movie). You're right, the two films are very different, but that's why I like part 2. If it was just more of the same, I wouldn't have liked it as much.

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  2. I absolutely hold the original dear to my heart but I love the sequel as well. Yeah it is a black comedy, but it is still gory as hell. The Mose as Chop Top really puts the film over for me. I am still sad that the Chop-Top spinoff trailer never became a full-length feature.

    And Cook has some great lines too...

    "Give 'em the ol' 'F you, Charlie!'"

    "Dog will Hunt!"

    I remember back in '95, I bought some bootleg VHS version of this film with the deleted scenes (Joe Bob Briggs, etc.) and I still have that old tape this very day.

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  3. I too am a huge fan of TCM2 for all of the reasons you mentioned and I love that opening scene with the yuppie kids getting a little taken off the top with the help of a Leatherface chainsaw.

    I love Mosley in the film too…he really is fucking nuts and it’s impossible not to watch him as he burns the end of a hanger only to scratch his head with it. Speaking of Mosley, I am very curious as to seeing what sequel he was involved in that made your list...
    Great post as always!

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  4. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobOctober 28, 2009 at 3:27 PM

    Caroline Williams was such a gorgeous chick back in `86 at the time of filming, she was however 29, it would have been much more perfect if the bird could have been closer to 21. Although having said that, strickly speaking, the bird is still not bad looking now at age 52.

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  5. jervaise brooke hamsterMay 4, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    I want to bugger Caroline Williams (as the bird was in 1975 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

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