Tobe Hooper's LIFEFORCE isn't great, but its themes make the whole thing eerie enough for a dark night alone.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. 1986. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Screenplay by L.M. Kit Carson.
Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson, Ken Evert, James N. Harrell, Lou Perryman, & Chris Douridas.
Cannon Films/Golan-Globus Productions.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Horror sequels are often unduly shit on. Many, in my mind, are actually worth their weight in blood. Some are most certainly worse than the originals, or they simply don’t bring enough to merit considering it as even a worthwhile sequel. But a lot are great, such as the often torn down Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Psycho II, Exorcist II: The Heretic, and I’m sure there are a few more.
One of those oft maligned sequels is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, from the director of the original, Mr. Tobe Hooper. Maybe part of why this sequel strays a little past where the original marked its territory is due to the fact Hooper only directs, and the writing duties are left up to L.M. Kit Carson (he did a great screenplay for Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas). Not saying this movie is poorly written. In fact, it successfully welds together the terrifying steel of Leatherface’s chainsaw with a good dose of backwoods Texas humour. One of the best aspects is the characters. Even Leatherface and his horrific appeal aren’t lost within all the black comedy, but rather we get doses of foolishness which lures us in, then the saw and the family do their work. Certainly not close to as nerve shattering as the original film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 at least tries to do something different instead of emulating the same style, over and over; a technique studios nowadays use too often, trying to capitalize on the money made from particularly successful movies. In straight up opposition, Hooper switches things up and leaves it all on the table. What else would you expect from a Cannon Films production?
On the air during her radio show, Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock (Caroline Williams) and L.G. McPeters (Lou Perry) overhear what may just be a brutal murder, when two young college age dude-bros encounter – unbeknownst to the DJ – Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and some of his clan.
In town is Lieutenant Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper). He’s investigating yet another possible chainsaw killing. His brother’s kids were killed by the dangerous chainsaw family a decade before. For ten years, he’s searched for those killers. When Stretch finds Lefty at his hotel and brings him the tape that possibly contains evidence of the latest murder, he doesn’t seem too excited. But after awhile, Lefty wises up.
Only it may be a little too late. One of the other Sawyers, Chop-Top (Bill Moseley), goes to visit Stretch at the radio station. And he’s bringing along a nice dose of steel with him.
Can Lefty and Stretch hold their ground? Or will they become yet another set of victims to the killer Sawyer clan?
As I said, this movie is all about the characters. Whereas the original Hooper classic focused on the terror, putting innocent young people in the way of murderous psychopaths, the sequel keeps on with the killing, only it shifts towards giving us more of the demented maniacs in plain view. The original kept things in the dark, sorts of closing the family off from society. In this sequel, Hooper and Carson let the Sawyer family loose into the world, as if they couldn’t possibly be stopped. Therefore, we get to see more of Leatherface and learn different things of his character; for one, he’s a horny bastard, or at the very least sexually frustrated to the maximum. Plus, now he does this weirdly creepy and simultaneously funny shake while wielding his chainsaw; it kills me every time, a crack-up, but still there’s something scary about his enthusiasm. Then we’ve got Chop-Top, played magnificently and to cult status by the ever impressive Bill Moseley. He is always a creepy guy, no matter what character he plays (aside from stuff like Dead Air), but definitely amps up his eerie qualities to play this guy; he seamlessly becomes a part of the Sawyer world, adding eccentricity and further questions about exactly how completely maniacal this family is truly.
Aside from the family, though, we’re treated to both Lefty and Stretch. Hell, even L.G. is a decent character thrown in there. Well the stars of this show, aside from Moseley, absolutely are Caroline Williams and Dennis Hopper. Williams is not only a gorgeous lady, she oozes charisma, and having her play the on-air radio personality here was awesome casting. She really makes the character feel like a DJ, she talks like one and acts like one, so there’s an authenticity to her character, instead of that occupation feeling like a vain attempt at making her interesting. Add in Hopper, channeling both a renegade lawman and also some of his Blue Velvet craziness, and this whole thing is a ton of fun. Hopper’s character is a little campy, a little wild, but always interesting. He makes for a good showdown with the family, Leatherface in particular.
Note: the first scene between Leatherface and Stretch is one of my favourites, in any horror film. Because it’s dark and funny at once, then there’s this extremely disturbing sexual angle to it. Most of all, it brings some of the issues surrounding Leatherface to the forefront. He’s essentially a mentally challenged man caught in a murderous rampage, so he doesn’t know how to talk to girls, or impress them, except with his big, hard, long saw. Genius scene, incredibly well-written.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 contains a hearty dose of nasty blood and violence. One scene is just Chop-Top bashing a head in, over and over, cut back and forth with Stretch trying to get away from Leatherface. Just the sheer amount of blood spurting out onto the floor is enough to make some of the weaker, casual horror watchers uneasy. There’s something else about this though, as it calls to mind the first film where Grandpa tried to use the hammer; here, Chop-Top knows how to use that hammer, and he uses it well. Later, we revisit the Grandpa scene in direct parallel; not as good as Chop, though. Even early on in the film where two of the dude-bros in their car run across Leatherface, we see a nasty, beautifully executed practical effect – a head gets sawed through, a cut going down into the skull and the face. Very nice makeup effects. Not sure how much he did himself, but makeup legend Tom Savini is credited on this picture, so if he supervised this work there’s no wonder much of it looks gruesome, and perfectly horrific. You could never have a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie with bad effects, or if you do then it’s sure to not live up to its predecessors. For all its faults, this sequel to the original at least matches its vicious brutality at certain times.
With a lot to live up to, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a 3&1/2 star horror. Never will it come close to its original. But Tobe Hooper crafts a nice, campy horror romp out of L.M. Kit Carson’s darkly comic, brutal screenplay. On the shoulders of Hopper, Moseley, and Williams, the characters come alive, and they’re able to carry much of the plot themselves. Maybe comedy isn’t exactly suited perfectly to Hooper’s creepy backwoods Texas world. But again, if anything you’ve got to applaud Hooper for not trying to carbon copy what he did previously in the original. If he simply slapped together another rehash, we’d all be complaining about that. Instead, be glad for his dare to be different, no matter the costs. This is still a lot of fun, has a fair share of blood and guts, as well as the fact Leatherface is weirder and wilder than ever. Make sure you toss this on next time you’re looking for a horror with comedy that’s not an outright comedy-horror flick. This can satisfy the need for kills and the need for some laughs in the right sort of way.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. 1974. Dir. Tobe Hooper. Starring Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, Wiliam Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen. Vortex. 18+. 83 minutes.
Between a mix of Tobe Hooper’s raw filmmaking style, and my ability to empathize fairly well, I was absolutely shaken when I first saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s the reason why horror filmmakers are perpetually fascinated by that same recurring plot of “murderous cannibal family lives in the woods and kills people off who wander into their home”. It’s one of the reasons I love horror films in general. It influenced, and continues to influence, a number of generations of horror fans and filmmakers alike. I remember my mother, who isn’t a stranger to horror (she read most of Stephen King’s work when I was growing up and passed all the books of his she owned onto me), telling me about the first time she watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and said it’d terrified her; quote unquote, the scariest thing ever. Of course, being a young male and thinking my mom couldn’t possibly offer me any insight on the horror genre, I went ahead and watched it anyways.
Needless to say, my mom has a fairly accurate opinion about what a scary film is. The first time I saw the movie is forever imprinted in my brain.
There’s something never right even from the very start of TCM, as we get the cringe-worthy sound accompanying the camera flashes while viewing macabre images. Then of course it kicks up a notch after the gang we’re going on a trip with along the Texas highway picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be far beyond stable. Hooper works in a lot of suspense, and an absolutely unparalleled air of dread before finally letting Leatherface loose for the first time. I remember first watching this when I was 12 years old (I was only born in 1985, so it would have been around ’97 somewhere), surely not supposed to be according to my parents. When Leatherface first blows through that door with that shriek of his, attacking the unsuspecting victim, I was absolutely terrified.
Even 20 years or so after first scaring audiences in the mid-seventies, it was still working its magical horror on people on my sorry ass. Today, I can still throw it on and be shocked when first meeting Grandpa; the scene where they try to get him to take some of her blood is at once horrifying, and also darkly comic. After all the years of desensitizing myself with horror of all kinds, I can still find a creepy thrill from TCM.
I put myself in the shoes of these people- imagine encountering something like Leatherface. You’d be petrified. The whole family are disturbing characters in their own right, and they bring some black comedy to such a wild horror film. Hooper’s raw way of filming TCM brought a whole new element to the idea of horror, and people for years to come (and still continuing on into the foreseeable future) would try emulating its feel, but nothing can ever top it for the gritty terror it induces.
You can pretend all you want, but if Leatherface burst out from some shut-up door in an old house where you were looking around, you’d not only be terrified, you would most likely die. Along with letting loose most bodily functions. Isn’t that terrifying enough? Hooper didn’t have to add much to make this terrifying for me except the script itself, and the performances that came out of it. I feel a lot of it, if not all, was very natural, and very much how I would imagine people might really react.
All in all, this movie gets a full 5-star rating. Hands down. One of the best, and continually most frightening horror films I have yet to see. It always makes me wonder when I am deep in the woods camping somewhere, or hiking, if there really may be people out there living in a big creepy house, killing whoever they can manage to get through their doors. Any film that lingers in your mind, making you wonder the impossible is a solid film to me.
I also love how Hooper was partly inspired by the tales he heard of the infamous Ed Gein, whom always played Muse to some of other very famous horror icons including Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, as well as the iconic mommy’s boy Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho; Gein used to make things out of skin, including a ‘woman suit’ he apparently used to put on and howl at the moon. You can clearly see where the inspiration for dear ole Leatherface came from while peering into the dark world of Gein. Not that he was like Leatherface much more than at face value (get it – face?), or any of the other characters, but there are bits and pieces of Gein littered throughout them. The most outrageous, of course, are here in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and I love every last second of it.