[wptab name=’The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 Review’]
In 1974, Tobe Hooper struck gold with a film that damn-near scared the hell out of anyone who saw it. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a horrifying experience occasionally punctuated with Hooper’s off-kilter brand of humor; while the violence was often brutal and the moments tense, the film found some levity, chiefly in the deranged family the protagonists happen upon while on their trip. A dozen years later, Hooper returned to Leatherface and his chainsaw with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, a significantly more tongue-in-cheek affair that almost satirizes the concept of the original film. Instead of peppering the horror with comedy, Part 2 is nearly consumed by it, giving audiences more laughs than conventional scares.
The immediate interesting decision from writer L.M. Kit Carson is to throw out the formula of the slasher film entirely, instead focusing on a radio DJ named Stretch (Caroline Williams) after a call-in to her show results in the debauched murder of two young guys on the highway. She teams up with Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), a former Texas Ranger whose nephew was killed by Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and his clan in the first film, and eventually finds herself lured into a death trap when she accidentally falls into the cannibals’ house of horrors. Pursued by Leatherface, Chop Top (Bill Moseley), and Drayton (Jim Siedow), the rest of the film basically becomes one long chase sequence as Stretch attempts to navigate the labyrinthian corridors to freedom.
Reducing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 down to a slasher film’s most basic parts gives Hooper room to do some characterization; that means putting his antagonists, the cannibal Sawyer family, at the forefront of the plot. He quickly makes a joke about the stupidity of people around town, since Drayton has duped everyone into eating mystery meat chili and calling it the best around, and he plays with the tension of situations by relying on Moseley’s menacing but ultimately ridiculous persona in the first scenes. TCM Part 2 starts off with one foot strongly rooted in the horror of its predecessor, calling attention to the highly-demented personalities that the audience is supposed to follow; Leatherface dances with a corpse in a truck bed, and Chop Top continues to poke at his damaged skull and eat pieces of it with a metal wire, and these are grotesque in a way that mimics Texas Chainsaw Massacre at its best.
But it’s clear that – startling moments aside – TCM Part 2 is less interested in overt scares than it is in providing a viscerally crazy experience. In a nutshell, that’s the best way to describe Carson’s plotting throughout the film; it’s more of a dizzying ride through a haunted house, complete with detailed setpieces and pop-out scares, rather than a film with a strong sense of story. Hooper’s stylistic visuals add to the effect, giving the viewer vertigo-inducing shots of long caverns filled with Christmas lights and a fight up a spiral staircase. As a gore-filled romp, TCM Part 2 provides everything a viewer could want when it comes to Leatherface and the Sawyer family, especially as Stretch makes her way into the bowels of the Sawyers’ lair.
The lack of a plot, though, begins to become an issue once Hooper’s character Enright gets wrapped up in things. The seams begin to unravel, showing the grue under the surface; Carson’s plot wants to make some sweeping generalizations about mental health, including references to Chop Top’s military service and Leatherface’s transformation from trying to cut Stretch in half to saving her after she pretends that she might not be as disgusted with him as she first appeared, but the film leaves little time to delve into that. Enright in particular is a loose end that feels like it was simply a chance for Hooper to get Hopper to embarrass himself wielding dual chainsaws. The eventual psychological toll on Stretch transforms her into a chainsaw-slinging version of Leatherface in the film’s final shot, but it doesn’t feel addressed enough throughout to have much impact.
The other big issue is the tiresome amount of screaming and yelling that takes place. Hooper gives Moseley free rein, and he takes advantage of that by making Chop Top into one of the loudest and most obnoxious characters in a horror film. In a way, that’s exactly how the audience is supposed to feel about the cannibal, but TCM Part 2 continues to feature these moments where Chop Top and Drayton yell at each other endlessly, raving about nothing at all; it begins to wear on the viewer, especially when Stretch is doing her own wailing on top of it. There’s a little too much of the inanity, adding to the feeling that Carson’s script has very little in the way of actual content.
Those flaws aside, though, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 provides an entirely different experience from its forefather. The emphasis here is on a comedy of errors, with Hooper poking fun at some of the things that worked in the original picture and also mocking the slasher formula that became so prevalent in the ’80s. While the film is noticeably lacking a tight plot, Tom Savini’s gory special effects and the detailed setting of the Sawyer den provide most of the fun. Setting aside preconceived notions of what a direct sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre might be like is a must, but if the viewer is able to do that, one is in for a horror film that often cannibalizes its source material.
Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 offers two different versions of the film. The first is a new 2K HD scan from the interpositive, which is technical lingo for “looking pretty goddam gorgeous.” Tobe Hooper’s visual style is quite apparent in this version, and colors really come to life during the film, especially darker scenes set in the Sawyer dungeon; the scene with Christmas lights in the tunnel really stands out. The other version, included on the second disc, is the original MGM HD master with color correction supervision by Director of Photography Richard Kooris. For most fans, the 2K scan will be the go-to print, but this edition is good as well – although the lights have a sort of glaring glow to them, especially the Christmas lights and eerie red-tinged sets that give off a foggy blur.
Audio comes in both 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Audiophiles will enjoy the 5.1’s surround so that you can hear the chainsaws revving and the screams erupting in all of their glory, since it is definitely the superior track; dialogue is clean and clear. English subtitles are also available.[/wptab]
[wptab name=’Special Features Review’]
Where to begin? Maybe we’ll start with the three commentary tracks first. New for this release is a audio track from Director of Photography Kooris, Production Designer Cary White, Script Supervisor Laura Kooris, and Property Master Michael Sullivan. They’re sometimes a quiet bunch, but they do give a lot of nice insight into the filming process, like the transformation of a local chainsaw shop into the emporium featured in the film. Two other audio commentaries, one from director Tobe Hooper and one from actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, and SFX artist Tom Savini, also make their appearance, ported over from previous releases. Three different commentary tracks alone, along with the two cuts of the film, should have buyers jumping at this Blu-Ray, but this thing is packed with even more.
On Disc 1, which features the new 2K transfer, behind-the-scenes footage provides a look at some of the effects work; also included is an extensive collection of stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and posters and lobby cards for those interested in the classic imagery. Extended outtakes from L.M. Kit Carson and Lou Perryman (both deceased) cut from the It Runs in the Family documentary are provided, totaling about a half an hour; these give additional insight, those certainly aren’t vital after the 80-minute doc. Deleted scenes cut from film are also included – these are mostly Sawyer family killings, and the quality is quite rough, but it’s interesting to see some additional work from Savini’s SFX crew. An alternate opening credits sequence is an additional scene that was cut, with different music. Theatrical trailers and TV spots round out this disc’s content.
Disc 2 contains the MGM print along with the two audio tracks and English subtitles. The features listed first include a number of new interviews shot specifically for this collection. The first focuses on the special effects work, featuring interviews with Bart Mixon, Gino Crognale, John Vulich, and Gabe Bartalos; they wax nostalgic about the set, working with Tom Savini, and a couple of great stories about work on scenes that didn’t make it into the film, and this feature runs a lengthy 40 minutes. Next is a nearly 20 minute interview with the two yuppies in the film, actors Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon. They talk about how much fun it was to work on set and how the success of the film has impacted them in the cult circuit. An interview with editor Alain Jakubowicz is third, and he talks about how easy it was to cut The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 because of its simplicity, and even talks a little bit about re-editing Invaders from Mars. Stuntman Bob Elmore (often standing in as Leatherface) gets his own interview clip discussing what it was like to play the iconic horror villain. Along with those interviews is an episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds by Sean Clark, who visits locations from the film in present day – this lasts nearly a half hour, and it’s interesting to see how much the city has changed since the film was made.
That’s the end of the new stuff on the disc, but pièce de résistance is the inclusion of the full-length documentary It Runs in the Family, a six-part series of interviews with cast and crew about the making of the film. This is just an added bonus – while Scream Factory’s interviews are newer and, often, better, It Runs in the Family is a little more comprehensive in its scope.
Finally, this thing also comes with reversible cover art and a slipcover. It’s packed, and you’re definitely going to want this in your collection.[/wptab]