Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #386
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: 22 August 1986 (USA)
Sub-Genre: Exploitation/Black Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $8,025,872
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Tobe Hooper
Producers: L. M. Kit Carson, Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan, Tobe Hooper
Screenplay: L. M. Kit Carson
Special Effects: Tom Savini, Bart Mixon
Cinematography: Richard Kooris
Score: Tobe Hooper, Jerry Lambert
Editing: Alain Jakubowicz
Studio: Cannon Films Inc.
Distributors: Cannon Films Inc., Pathé Films Inc.
Stars: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson, Ken Evert, Harlan Jordan, Kirk Sisco, James N. Harrell, Lou Perryman, Barry Kinyon, Chris Douridas, Judy Kelly
Suggested Audio Candy
Tobe Hooper & Jerry Lambert “Main Theme”
How on God’s earth do you even contemplate following up The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Tobe Hooper’s cruel masterpiece is still every bit as culturally significant as it was way back in 1974, when the world simply wasn’t equipped for its bleak madness. Everything about it positively reeks consternation and it lodges itself deep into our psyches long after the film have unspooled. To this day, my prefered Texas experience would involve dusting down an old VHS player and watching it in all its unprocessed, seedy quality, despite the evident quality of its Blu-ray transfer. Indeed, as I observe, I do so as a fly on the wall as opposed to soaking this in from the secure vantage of my chosen futon. I live it, and anyone complaining that life sucks has clearly never been to Texas in an old run-down camper van.
It was always going to provide the toughest of asks stepping into the shoes of Leatherface and his odious family unit, and only one man alive was ever up to the task. Hooper sat on this sequel for some time, pondering which direction to take with original writer Kim Henkel and coming up blank. At one point it was considered that the cannibal sickness spread through an entire town, lampooning Kevin Connor’s already satirical take on the original, Motel Hell. Cannon Films then brought in L. M. Kit Carson to draft another treatment and finally found their angle. The original had a blackened vein of comedy running through it but second time out we were to be in on the joke and unrestrained humor jostled directly to the forefront.
Of all the original cast, only Jim Siedow returned owned a return ticket. The iconic Leatherface was no longer played by the hulking Gunnar Hansen and instead Bill Johnson revved up the saw. Straight off the bat, it makes a massive difference as Johnson’s moves are exaggerated to extremes and his performance lacks the restraint (if you can call it that) of Hansen’s pitch-perfect representation. This is entirely pre-meditated of course and isn’t exclusive to Bubba as virtually all players have that same cartoonish quality. Hooper also brings in fresh meat courtesy of Bill Moseley, and his wonderfully over-emphasized Chop-Top steals many of the film’s best scenes. But the real showstopper is the great Dennis Hopper as the embittered rhinestone-clad uncle of Sally Hardesty known as Lieutenant ‘Lefty’ Enright.
In fact, Hopper didn’t rate his turn particularly highly and considered this to be his least favorite performance. Personally, I disagree wholeheartedly as he attacks the role with every ounce of the vim and vigor which made him so untouchable in the first place. However, he is clearly hamming it up. Meanwhile, Caroline Williams gives a far more grounded account of herself as the unwitting object of Leatherface’s misplaced affections, local radio host, Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock. Her outline was far more structured, act scared and sickened, display the usual histrionics, then call upon your inner strength and fight your demons head-on. She plays Stretch straight down the line and this keeps us rooted in Texas territory. When all about her, folk are losing their heads, she acts as anchor and this is a relatively hefty burden but one that she carries well.
Of course, laughs aside, this wouldn’t be fit to wear the Texas mantle if there wasn’t a little drawn-out suffering and the scene where Leatherface manages to grab some bonding time with his fair maiden and commences to dry hump her with his massive tool (of the multiple toothed variety, not one-eyed rattler) is both unnerving and disquietingly arousing. His phallic weapon represents his sexual frustration and suddenly a little empathy is thrown into the mix, laced with abject horror obviously. We already know that he is downtrodden and considered the runt of the litter but it also becomes uncomfortably clear how repressed he is also. Perhaps if he’d accepted Dolly Parton’s kindly invitation to swing on by The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas he’d have freed up some sailors and wouldn’t be so edgy.
One common misconception is that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series plays ball decidedly close to the freeway regarding grue and this simply isn’t accurate. Sure, both this and Jeff Burr’s underrated Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III ran into no end of resistance and the latter was submitted to the MPAA eleven times before finally receiving its rating, but neither are particularly graphic per se. There can be no doubt that this outstrips its predecessor when it comes to what Hooper is willing to show but it’s far less effective as his tongue is never far from his cheek, even when the blood is flowing.
You only need look at the original theatrical artwork for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 to know exactly where it is pitching its tent. The family group shot is little more than a wry dig at John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club and Hooper has never hidden the fact that he was playing primarily for laughs. However, he still holds this close to his heart, and I have to say that it won an exclusive spot in mine too. The set design is exemplary, particularly the Sawyers’ fairground hideout, Hopper’s Lefty may be as mad as a march hare on acid but his deadpan delivery is a joy to behold, it’s brisk and entertaining; indeed there are many reasons to cherish the sequel. Personally I believe Jonathan Liebesman’s excellent The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning to be the closest come to a film worthy of breaking bread with the original but, in a series with more troughs than peaks, this still clings defiantly to the upper echelons.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: It was a no-brainer to ramp up the excess for the sequel as over a decade had passed, judgments softened, and a far more visceral age was already dawning. Cunningly, the ever-present comedy allowed him to expose more second time around and, while the impact was greatly lessened as a result, there were still flagship instances of grue. Lopped off scalps, peeled off epidermises, and fleeting contact between saw and midriff, orchestrated by the great Tom Savini, all raise the quota. Elsewhere, The Sultan of Splatter was on and off of his game. Leatherface’s make-up wasn’t a patch on the original, whereas Grandpa’s makeover is amongst his finest ever work. See, even Savini has his peaks and troughs.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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