Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)


Director: Tobe Hooper
Screenplay: L. M. Kit Carson
Cast: Dennis Hopper (as Lt. Boude "Lefty" Enright); Caroline Williams (as DJ Vanita "Stretch" Brock); Jim Siedow (as Drayton); Bill Johnson (as Leatherface); Bill Moseley (as Chop Top); Lou Perryman (as L.G.)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #85

Twelve years later and Tobe Hooper would return to the film that cemented his reputation in horror cinema with a sequel. Attempting to repeat the first Chainsaw film would've been nigh on impossible to complete successfully. Thankfully, despite its negative critical reception originally, the sequel became a personal favourite of mine for what it did drastically different to step out of its prequel's shadow. As much as the first film is the masterpiece, number two is the one I love for what, contestable with Lifeforce (1985), is the peak of Hooper's more manic and hysterical filmmaking. Now the Leatherface clan, cannibalistic sociopaths, are running a successful dining business, only to have to worry about their slaughtering of two yuppies having been recorded live on air during a radio show hosted by Stretch (Caroline Williams), and the uncle of one of their previous victims Lt. "Lefty" (Dennis Hopper) gunning after them as a man as deranged as them once they've reawakened their presence in public again. The result is as eighties as possible - the rough, grimy independent scored by atonal drones is now a colourful Cannon Releasing picture score by cult bands like Oingo Boingo and The Cramps - but the same grotesque tone of the first film is still there, only more weirder. The first was impossible to top in terms of its unrelenting, decaying tone, but the tone Hooper adopted from The Funhouse (1981) onwards, added carnivalesque tone with the grubbiness of before, perfectly suits what the first sequel needed to do to differentiate itself.

Whilst the first was an audiovisual hell of rotting props, the sequel's madness is more exaggerated and openly, gleefully twisted thanks to Tom Savini's more openly visceral practical effect and a cast (Bill Moseley and Hopper especially) that's willing to chew the scenery, Caroline Williams the sole sane figure in the midst of the madness around her with the exception of Lou Perryman as a great good ol' boy and potential love interest L.G. Even the set locations seem as heightened and alive as the characters, the radio station a richly coloured and cluttered environment, whilst the finale set in an abandoned war museum that includes attritions about the Alamo is one of the most unique sets for an eighties horror movie you'll find, skeletons in various bizarre positions to catch out of the corner of your eyes and a junkyard of lighting sources, bones and horrible yet strangely humorous trinkets to cast your gaze over. In the middle of all this, Dennis Hooper at his most heightened behind Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (also 1986), a religious minded cop obsessed with vengeance, and Bill Moseley nailing his debut, and cementing his cult status at the same time, with Chop Top, a twin of the Hitchhiker which cross-pollinates a hippie and a Vietnam war veteran into one of the strangest characters in American horror film history, caked on grey makeup and metal skull piece, the kind of character that in any other film would've been excruciating in his maniac behavour, from molesting corpses to crying out for the Leatherface family to build 'Nam Land, but is utterly compelling to watch instead. (Especially when compared to examples trying to replicate Moseley's work in later Chainsaw sequels) Add to this Jim Siedow returning as the Cook, having some of the funniest and political satirical lines, and what could've been utterly overbearing in tone is perversely playful.  

Especially as someone who's taste in horror comedy can vary, this one manages to find the right balance, something that need to include the presence of screenwriter L. M. Kit Carson, a man who two years earlier wrote the script for Wim Wender's Paris, Texas; whilst the story had to be boiled down further due to the low budget the production was given, it's noticeable how more inspired and full of memorable dialogue the script is, even when it comes to moments of exposition, and honestly even next to the first film, this is the film in the series where the quality of the writing, even in a b-movie horror film, really has a significant effect on its virtues. The result of this is that this greater sense of humour, well written, makes the material even more disgusting at points. This is still a film, whilst funny to reflect on, where someone's face is removed with an electronic carver you'd used to cut turkey, a lurid nastiness that's perversely funny common in a lot of Hooper's films and, unlike the first where I just found it intense and nightmarish throughout, has more space here to skewer your reactions to the carnage involved. 

Now fed on Reaganomic politics and the era of yuppie culture, it's a vastly different film from the first but for the better, allowing for me as a fan of the pair to have two films that don't conflict together, able to exist in the same universe but within the span of one being a seventies film and the other an eighties film, the former a rough and nasty film to reflect its period, the later reflecting the horror comedies of the eighties which still caused one to feel icky and weird, the former a nasty and real looking film of events that could take place in backwater USA, the later whilst feeling authentically Texan even as someone who hasn't set foot there whilst being intentionally broad, Chop-Top all the worst qualities of the previous eras politics made into a cartoon and no one paying broad mind to the clear lack of sanitary measures to the Leatherface family's award winning chilli, especially when Siedow can convince someone a tooth is actually a piece of shell. The politics are merely a slither to the second film for me personally, a background influence that's still as important and a virtue but not overpowering, like with the first film, with this being a piece of carnivalesque American grotesquery first. A large part of the film's success is that, knowing of its troubled production history (the budget slashed down to badly, the negative reaction from the producers about the film being a comedy horror story than a remake of the first film), it's maddened tone feels natural and uncompromised. Even before the final act where the film becomes it's most intense, the experience is as frenzied as you could get already as a living breathing fantasy. 


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