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Dustin's Review

The Texas Chainsaw
Massacre 2
  (1986)
3 Stars
Directed by Tobe Hooper.
Cast: Caroline Williams, Dennis Hopper, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson, Lou Perry, Barry Kinyon, Chris Douridas, Judy Kelly, Kirk Sisco, James N. Harrell, Ken Evert.
1986 – 101 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an NC-17 for extreme pervasive violence and gore).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 2008.

Lieutenant 'Lefty' Enright:
I'm the Lord of the Harvest!

Drayton Sawyer:
What's that? Some new health food bunch?

Twelve years after "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" became an instant independent film classic and riled up a lot of close-vested folks with its grim, ultra-realistic depiction of carnage and decay in the Lone Star State, director Tobe Hooper (1981's "The Funhouse") agreed to return for a long-awaited sequel. This wouldn't be any old obligatory continuation, though. As deadly serious as its predecessor is, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" is a ripe and wicked horror-comedy, as black as pitch and every bit as violent as naysayers mistakenly accused the first film of being. Of all the sequels, this is the one that triumphantly stands apart from the pack, daring to be different and actually succeeding against all odds.

When obnoxious Mercedes-driving college kids Buzz (Barry Kinyon) and Rick (Chris Douridas) call into K-OKLA's Red River Rock 'n' Roll request line, they have no sooner begun to harass late-night radio station deejay Stretch (Caroline Williams) when they are attacked on the road by a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Bill Johnson). Stretch, hearing the whole incident go down, believes she has the tape to prove it. When revenge-seeking Lieutenant 'Lefty' Enright (Dennis Hopper), older brother of the first picture's Sally and Franklin Hardesty, urges Stretch to play the recording live on her show, she has no idea that the boys' killers will be listening. Narrowly escaping an attack on the station, Stretch follows Leatherface and steel-plated brother Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) back to their underground lair at the abandoned Texas Battleland theme park. She plans to meet Lefty there and smoke the culprits out, but soon finds herself trapped in the catacombs, running for her life from the cannibalistic Sawyer clan.

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" may initially turn off fans of the original who are expecting more of the same, but it is in the ballsy decision to do something different that it remains the cult favorite it is today. For one, there are virtually no teenagers in sight. The protagonist is a tough and intelligent, albeit horrified, young woman in her late-twenties. The setting, up until the second half set in the nightmarish abode of the Sawyers, appears to be a well-populated part of Texas, with patriarch Drayton (Jim Siedow) interacting with the locals and even proudly entering (and winning) a chili cookoff contest. As for Lefty, he is out for vengeance for the death of invalid brother Franklin and will do whatever it takes to bring his killers to the justice they deserve.

The film is just about as macabre as they come and not without tautly embroiled tension, but it also happens to be surprisingly funny and consistently quote-worthy. When the gourmet yuppette host (Judy Kelly) of the cookoff takes a taste of Drayton's chili and stumbles upon a tooth mixed into the beef, Drayton quickly thinks on his feet: "Oh, that's just one of those hard-shelled peppercorns." And, after "far-out fan" Chop-Top makes his presence known at the radio station, raving all along about the snuff tape she's been airing, an edgy Stretch is forced into giving him a tour of the studio that includes such valued items as a rolodex and the "exit" sign. Her failed attempts to bid him goodnight are a riot.

By the time Stretch has fallen into the maze of caves lived in by the Sawyers, the picture turns into a skewed, barbed-wire satire of consumerism and the American Dream, with Drayton and sons Leatherface and Chop-Top playing the parts of a bickering dysfunctional family who also happen to be savage, people-eating maniacs. As Drayton runs around preparing dinner and griping about what fools he has for sons, Chop-Top dances with his zombified corpse of a brother and annoys skin-wearing sibling Leatherface by chanting, "Bubba's got a girlfriend!" That Leatherface truly wants a girlfriend—and has grown a soft spot for Stretch that he hates to end by slaughtering her—sets him distinctly apart from the two-dimensional, cold-blooded psycho he was portrayed as in 1974.

Director Tobe Hooper and screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson (1984's "Paris, Texas") play all of this with their tongues firmly in cheek, and they continue on this path right up to its grimy, grisly, blood-soaked conclusion. Stretch, affable and good-natured at the onset before calamity ensues, becomes the levelheaded heroine who anchors the film with a much-needed offset of levity. Caroline Williams (1989's "The Stepfather II") is a game, dynamite ball of charisma as Stretch, her disarming southern accent and the ability to sweat and get dirtied up while still looking fantastic in a pair of tight jean shorts the cherry on top. When she comes upon the nearly-dead body of right-hand man L.G. (Lou Perry), the skin peeled off his face, her tearful reaction is as straight-faced and dramatic as the movie gets.

As Lieutenant Lefty, Dennis Hopper (2005's "Land of the Dead") gnaws the scenery and plays the role as if he's a few cards short of a full deck himself. Bill Moseley (2003's "House of 1000 Corpses") is brilliant as Chop-Top, in one scene lighting the end of a clothes hanger and scratching away the skin surrounding the steel plate in his head. Moseley is tartly comical and evil in equal measures. And as head of the family Drayton, Jim Siedow (the one actor reprising his role from the original) is wonderfully, viciously acerbic in his line readings. He's at the end of his ropes with his dim-witted sons, but he loves them all the same.

Lefty's ultimate confrontation with the Sawyers, getting into a chainsaw fight with Leatherface and cutting up Drayton's crotch real bad ("He sure took care of my hems"), is well choreographed and gruesomely satisfying. So, too, is the climactic battle between Stretch and Chop-Top set on top of the treacherous rocky cliffs of the theme park's mountain. In the old VHS version of the film, the memorable final shot showed Stretch swinging a chainsaw at the top of the mountain while civilization—a highway filled with passing cars—lurked behind her at the bottom of the frame. On the widescreen DVD, this is tragically cut off the shot. It's the one instance in memory where full-screen cropping would have been beneficial.

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" is as potent a follow-up as one could expect from the series, unapologetically traveling in fresh directions while serving up audiences the gory goods. The cinematography by Richard Kooris is vibrant and alive, taking full advantage of the locations and making particularly effective use of the neon colors at the radio station and the rainbow-colored Christmas lights strung along the walls of the Sawyers' underground hell. The soundtrack is also superb, with choice cuts from The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, Timbuk 3, Concrete Blonde, Lords of the New Church, and Stewart Copeland nicely complementing the action. When it comes to humor-laced horror that isn't an outright spoof, there are few films that work quite as well (or with the same amount of bravado) as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2."
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman