TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, PART 2 (1986)
Director: Tobe Hooper
All the way back in 1974, Tobe Hopper directed one of the most important and influential movies of the horror genre: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Twelve years passed while Hooper made movies like Poltergeist, Salem's Lot, and a remake of the 1953 sci-fi flick Invaders From Mars before he finally returned to what brought him to the table in 1986 with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2.
Our story begins with Stretch (Caroline Williams), a radio DJ working the night shift when two annoying rich kids heading to Dallas for the big Texas/Oklahoma football game decide to prank call the station's request line from their car phone. Stretch can't hang up on them (why, I don't know), so she's forced to listen as a truck the punks ran off the road earlier meets up with them on a bridge. Someone climbs out of the truck bed and starts swinging a chainsaw at their car, and in the chaos, the driver gets the top of his head sawed off and the car crashes into an overpass.
At the crash scene the next day is Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper). As a former Texas Ranger and the uncle of Sally and Franklin Hardesty from the first Massacre, he's been on a fourteen-year quest to exact revenge on the chainsaw killers. After Lefty puts an article in a Dallas newspaper asking for witnesses to make a statement, an enthusiastic Stretch shows up at his hotel room and offers to give him a cassette tape of the phone call made by the rich kids. He asks her to leave, stating that he wants to do things on his own. But Lefty soon realizes he needs help, so he confronts Stretch at the radio station and persuades her to play the tape on the air with the hope that it will bring the killers out of hiding. It succeeds, as members of the cannibalistic Sawyer family show up at the station and trash the place, killing station manager L.G. (Lou Perry) in the process. Lefty and Stretch follow them back to their hideout, climaxing in a chase throughout a series of subterranean caverns beneath an abandoned amusement park.
The movie is about as far as from the original as it could. While the first Massacre was a raw "take no prisoners" nightmare, the sequel is a little more lighthearted. The movie isn't as much about Stretch or Lefty as it is about the family, who've become almost parodies of themselves here. Returning from the first film are Leatherface (Bill Johnson), the crusty heap of dust the family calls Grandpa (Ken Evert), and Drayton (Jim Siedow), who's now a caterer using the meat of the family's victims to make his award-winning chili. Replacing Edwin Neal's hitchhiker is Bill Moseley as "Chop-Top,", a wise-cracking hippie with a metal plate protruding out of his scalp thanks to a tour of duty in Vietnam. While this isn't totally a bad thing, it could have been better. The plotline of Lefty getting revenge on the Sawyers would have made for an intriguing movie. While this one is watchable, it was disappointing too.
Dennis Hopper is great as Lefty. He give the character its own unique charm and elevates the movie, hamming it up all the way through. He's the biggest reason to watch the movie, so Dennis Hopper fans would do good to check this one out. Meanwhile, Caroline Williams (who has a quick cameo in Texas Chainsaw Massacre III as a TV reporter with no dialogue) is good as Stretch, though she isn't really required to do much outside of screaming her head off. I also enjoyed Jim Siedow's portrayal of Drayton. While he was a bit different from he was in the prior Massacre, I thought he worked great as a total sleazeball. I did like Bill Moseley as Chop-Top as well, though the character's biggest drawback is that he almost hits Jar Jar Binks levels of annoyance at times. And finally, Bill Johnson isn't too bad as Leatherface. Leatherface is still a menacing figure, but he seems like a wuss because he actually develops a crush on Stretch. What self-respecting horror villain falls in love? I could see it if Stretch was a chainsaw killer too, but come on now. She's the victim, not the villain. On the aspect of the film's music, the score (composed by Jerry Lambert and Tobe Hooper) isn't too bad at all. Its cartoony feel really lends itself to the cartoony feel of the movie, and I can't complain about it. The makeup effects, created by a team led by makeup legend Tom Savini, look really cheezy and fake at times, but look good at other moments (L.G.'s face being peeled off, for instance).
The major complaint that I do have with the movie is the previously mentioned cartoony feel. It starts off like it could be as gritty and jarring as the original, but it does turn into a big cartoon with blood and violence. One scene features Lefty showing up at the Sawyer hideout with an arsenal of chainsaws, and instead of the family attacking him, Drayton just offers him a giant wad of cash from his catering business. It does lead to a cool Leatherface/Lefty chainsaw vs. chainsaw showdown, but what purpose does it serve? It just really numbs the family's animalistic nature from the first movie. The final twelve minutes of the film is absolutely perhaps the most odd. From Drayton trying to pay off Lefty, to the chainsaw duel, to Chop-Top chasing Stretch through the caverns (which had a major letdown of an ending), it's all a mish-mash of the bizzare and the insane.
Overall, I'd give Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 a fitting two stars. It's probably just for fans of Leatherface and crazy B-grade horror movies, but the first film and the remake remain the best of the five Massacres.
Final Rating: **