The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is probably the third worst Dennis Hopper movie I’ve ever seen.
And that… that’s just awful.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Twelve years have passed since the cannibalistic Sawyer family massacred the Hardesty kids and they’ve been running around Texas wreaking havoc ever since. Late night radio show host Stretch (Caroline Williams) has the misfortune of overhearing one of their victims during a request call-in, which puts her on the Sawyers’ menu. Kidnapped by the loony Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) and love-struck Leatherface (Bill Johnson), Stretch finds herself dragged to a ghoulish underworld to be turned into award-winning chili by Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow) and Grandpa (Ken Evert). Only Lieutenant Lefty (Dennis Hopper), older brother of the Hardesty kids, can save her. Unfortunately, he’s about as nuts as the Sawyers.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is, well… different. Holy crap, is it different. Rather than try and recapture the gritty, low-budget atmosphere of the original film, Tobe Hooper instead opts for an approach I find difficult to quantify. A lot of folks call this one a “dark comedy”, but the humor seems unintentional. The “funny” scenes such as Leatherface dressing Stretch up in the skinned face of her best friend and then dancing with her are more “silly” than rib-ticklingly hilarious and I don’t think they were meant to evoke laughter from the audience. At the same time, I don’t think this is a movie that tries so hard to take itself seriously, with the Sawyer family’s various quirks and eccentricities cranked up to full volume and definitely coming across as “goofy”.
Much of the tension and suspense that defined the original is present, as Stetch spends basically a full hour trying to find her way out of the Sawyers’ subterranean maze, but the campiness of the whole production defuses much of the nail-biting. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is too goofy to take seriously and too inept to be funny. It’ll likely leave you disappointed upon your first viewing because it is nothing like the original and confused after your repeat viewings because you aren’t sure if you’re supposed to hate it or not. At least, that’s been my experience.
To credit the positives of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, it has some fantastic set designs. It’d almost have to, since the movie only really takes place in two places: A radio station and the underground lair. The radio station reminded me of my stepdad’s auto repair shop in Chantilly, which is probably why I liked it, but there’s just a lot of grimy, redneck personality to the joint.
The sprawling labyrinth of the Sawyers, on the other hand, is just very impressive in its macabre design. It has enough human skeletons decorating it to make the catacombs of Paris green with envy and they’re all posed in typical Texas Chainsaw Massacre fashion (look for a Dr. Strangelove homage amongst the corpses). The place is a mix of mine-like tunnels, huge metal pipes, rope bridges, chutes and ladders — all lit by lamps and Christmas lights. While you may question how a bunch of nutty rednecks that can hardly seem to focus on a damn thing for more than ten seconds could have possibly constructed something so elaborate, you’re better off not thinking too intensely on the internal logic of this movie. Tobe Hooper clearly didn’t.
Of the cast of the original film, only Jim Siedow returns after the twelve year-long break to resume his role of Drayton Sawyer. Along with Bill Moseley’s Chop-Top, he actually offers the most impressive performance in the entire film, really getting into the role of exasperated older brother and caterer extraordinaire.
Chop-Top may annoy some, but you cannot deny that Moseley just goes bananas with the part and sells the character from start to finish. Perhaps it pigeon-holed Moseley into a certain type of role, but he really shines best as manic loons (see House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects) over quiet stalkers (DON’T see Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 3).
Leatherface is given a sympathetic angle in this installment as he weighs his devotion to the family against his inexplicable affections for Stretch. The “romance” of it all is actually kind of embarrassing to watch and will elicit more uncomfortable squirming from you than any of the violence. The whole thing falls flat as a plot point at the end when Dennis Hopper shows up to have a chainsaw duel with Leatherface on a dinner table.
And speaking of Dennis Hopper, I think the most offensive thing about him in this movie isn’t his scenery-gobbling performance but the actual complete and utter uselessness of the Lefty character. For nearly an hour of the film, while Stretch is running around the maze, Lefty spends that time singing Bible songs and chopping down support beams (that never actually collapse the structure except in sections where it inadvertently inconveniences Stretch’s escape). For close to sixty minutes, all we see of Lefty are quick cuts back to him sawing at two-by-fours simply to remind us that his character still exists. By the time he shows up at the end to battle Leatherface you might just shout “Finally!”
And the script seems to be confused as to just what his relation to the Hardestys is. The cop talking to him at the beginning refers to Sally and Franklin as “your brother’s kids”, implying he was their uncle. Later, though, when he finds Franklin’s corpse in the maze, he refers to him as “brother”, and still later, when he hallucinates that Stretch is Sally, he calls her “sister”.
Again, I’m thinking harder about this movie than the people who wrote it. I should really knock that s--t off.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is just a mess that isn’t sure exactly what it wants to be, only so long as it’s nothing like the original. In a sad, sad twist of fate, it actually isn’t even the worst installment in the series. Let’s give a round of applause to Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation for accomplishing that seemingly insurmountable task.
Still, while there’s a lot to loathe about this movie, there are some genuinely good attributes to make it worth at least a single sit-through, too. If you suffer through anything, at least watch as far as the car chase on the bridge at the beginning of the movie. That scene is especially well-done and one of the best moments of the film.
Screenshots courtesy of Cannibal Reviews.