BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Lou Perryman, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson
So just how do you go about making a sequel to one of the most original and influential horror films of all time? By making the same film again, albeit set in a different location or played out with a different cast of characters? By hiring a new crew of filmmakers to put another spin on a similar idea? Nah – what you do is throw loads of money at the original director as part of a three film deal and let him do what he likes, which in this case meant changing from the grisly tone of the original The Texas Chains Saw Massacre to insane black comedy, throwing in some much-needed gore courtesy of an at-the-top-of-his-game Tom Savini, giving the lead role to a recently-sober Dennis Hopper and bringing a much-loved horror icon from the 1970s kicking and screaming into the horror-comedy era of the mid-1980s. Which makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 possibly the most bonkers sequel in history and quite ripe for a special edition from Arrow Video.
In this 1986 sequel, the murderous family from the first film – now going under the name of Sawyer – are still going about their gruesome business but, having had to move away from the family farmhouse, are now based in an underground cavern beneath an amusement park. On one killing spree the demented killer Leatherface (Bill Johnson) attacks two high school seniors whilst they are on the phone prank calling local radio DJ Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock (Caroline Williams – Hatchet III) live on air. Whilst investigating the murders, Lieutenant Boude ‘Lefty’ Enright (Dennis Hopper – Easy Rider/Land of the Dead), the uncle of Sally and Franklin from the first film, is convinced that this is the work of the same killers and is visited by Stretch, who captured the incident on tape. Lefty tells her to play the tape live on air and soon she is visited by Leatherface and his unhinged brother Chop Top (Bill Moseley – Texas Chainsaw 3D/The Devil’s Rejects) who try and take the tape from her.
After a brutal confrontation with Stretch’s colleague L.G. (Lou Perryman – Poltergeist), Leatherface and Chop Top head back to their lair with L.G.’s body, followed by Stretch, who is in turn being followed by Lefty, and the scene is set for a final showdown of insane proportions.
The first and most obvious difference to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the inclusion of some gruesome blood effects – because despite what some people will tell you, the original film contains virtually no blood whatsoever – and if you wanted gore effects in 1986 you hired Tom Savini, who had just hit a career peak the year before doing the effects for George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead. But despite having Savini on board the film isn’t reliant or heavy on the red stuff, the best of it appearing during Leatherface’s first attack on the two students, because despite The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 being a very different film than its predecessor it still relies heavily on putting your senses into overdrive for its shocks.
And to do that effectively you need a strong cast delivering good performances, and this film has those very things. Dennis Hopper was an unlikely leading man in 1986 but his appearance gives the film some weight amongst the relatively unknown supporting cast and his off-the-wall performance is as unsettling as any of the Sawyer clan’s, especially as he recites lines from the Bible whilst cutting down the family’s hideout. There’s also a scene where he goes into a chainsaw shop and buys two saws without saying a word that is just as crazy than if he were going off the deep end. Caroline Williams is a suitably feisty final girl and her on-screen friendship with Lou Perryman is sold well enough to garner sympathy when it all goes tits up but the film is really carried by the performance of the Sawyer family, once again led by Jim Siedow as The Cook (or Drayton Sawyer as he’s called here). Bill Johnson does well enough as Leatherface, his campy theatrics fitting the tone of the film (although according to the commentary a lot of his scenes were played by his stunt double), but the jewel in the crown is Bill Moseley as Chop Top, who was apparently hired after Tobe Hooper saw him in a Texas Chainsaw spoof called The Texas Chainsaw Manicure. Being both scarily intense and over-the-top crazy to the point of lunacy, Moseley has the biggest presence out of all the family and is basically giving an audition for his part as Otis Driftwood in House of 1000 Corpses 15 years before the event. His first scene with Stretch is probably the highlight of the film.
There are those who criticise The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for not treading the same path of its predecessor and going in another direction, but after you’ve made pretty much the definitive exercise in terror then where else is there to go? The film does touch on some of the same beats as the first film; there is a twisted dinner scene where the family’s ancient Grandpa (Ken Evert) is wheeled out to dish out some pathetic punishment on Stretch, but the added gore does bring another level of intensity once it all hits the fan. It could be said that Chop Top’s attack on L.G. is torture porn long before the term was coined but there’s such a maniacal glee that comes along with all of the violence that anyone who wrote this film off as trash when it first came out was really missing the point.
Coming in limited edition packaging with new artwork, the main film is bolstered by a commentary from director Tobe Hooper, a separate (and very amusing) commentary from Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and Tom Savini, deleted and alternate scenes, a featurette detailing the making of the film, an interview with horror expert Stephen Thrower plus a trailer. But what may be of extra interest to fans is the contents of the second disc, which contains restorations of early Tobe Hooper films The Heisters and Eggshells, as well as a commentary from Hooper, an interview with the director and a trailer reel of his films. To be honest, neither film is actually very good and will only appeal to Tobe Hooper completists (if there are any) but their inclusion here is welcome nonetheless and gives some added value to the set. There is also a 100-page book with new writings on the main film, photos and posters, so hardcore fans will want to snap this up.
Much like Jaws and Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was such a perfectly put together film that it didn’t really need a sequel, and just like those films the sequels that followed became more and more diluted and formulaic that we got a point where the Illuminati were getting the blame for Leatherface and his family doing what they do. And after the inevitable remake – which actually turned out to be excellent – somebody saw fit to return to the original and do an alternate sequel with this year’s Texas Chainsaw, which had its merits, but due to Tobe Hooper’s involvement it is this film that is seen as the true sequel and probably the only one of the pre-remake films that should be considered essential if you want more Leatherface action after seeing the original. It’s a odd film that you’ll either love or just not get at all but that’s really what gives it its appeal, and the inclusion of Savini’s make-up effects certainly puts it up there alongside Re-Animator and Evil Dead II as an example of mid-’80s horror-comedy mayhem, even if the film doesn’t get as much recognition as it probably deserves.
Special Features: Audio commentary with director and co-writer Tobe Hooper, moderated by David Gregory, audio commentary with stars Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special-effects legend Tom Savini, moderated by Michael Felsher, It Runs in the Family documentary featuring interviews with stars Bill Johnson, Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, co-writer L. M. Kit Carson, cinematographer Richard Kooris, special effects supervisor Tom Savini, production designer Cary White, alternate opening sequence with different musical score, deleted scenes, Still Feelin’ the Buzz interview with horror expert Stephen Thrower, Cutting Moment with Bob Elmore interview with the stuntman, gallery featuring never-before-published behind-the-scenes images, original trailer, The Heisters – Tobe Hooper’s early short film restored in HD from original elements, Eggshells – Tobe Hooper’s debut feature restored in HD from original elements and featuring audio commentary by Tobe Hooper, In Conversation with Tobe Hooper featurette, trailer reel of all the major works by Tobe Hooper, limited edition packaging featuring numbered certificate, 100-page booklet featuring new writing on the director’s early works by Brad Stevens, an investigation of Tobe Hooper’s three-picture Cannon deal by Calum Waddell, new writing on The Texas Chainsaw 2 by Kenneth Muir, a look at the film’s long battle with the BBFC and an exclusive interview with Hooper by Stefan Jaworzyn, author of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion, rounded off with an appraisal of the highs and lows of the Texas Chainsaw franchise by Joel Harley, all illustrated with archive stills.
UK Release Date: 11th November 2013