Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986): Black Humor Takes Over

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
dir: Tobe Hooper

Poor Tobe Hooper. After directing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he became a hot commodity and got the job directing Poltergeist with Steven Spielberg producing. But, many of the actors and people on set of Poltergeist had constantly accused Hooper of being drunk on set, and Poltergeist being the work of Steven Spielberg taking control.

In any case, Poltergeist was a success, and landed Hooper a 3-picture deal with Cannon, which included Lifeforce, Invader From Mars, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. None of these three were box office successes, especially not on the scale of Poltergeist. Which may have been the Poltergeist curse on Hooper.

In any case, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is Hooper pulling a Sam Raimi and making an explicitly darkly humorous horror movie after an original where the dark humor that was present was buried under oppressive layers of chaos and horror. Sam Raimi went with splatstick in his sequel Evil Dead 2, which was released the year after Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. But, Hooper led the way by making this movie's humor pitch pitch black. It should be telling when a scene where Leatherface uses a chainsaw as a surrogate penis, and he actually has an orgasm, is not the height of absurdity.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 takes place 13 years after the sequel, stating that Texas has been plagued by the chainsaw murders since the original murders took place, but the police, so far, haven't found anything and have disavowed knowledge of the murders. It turns out the family has been driven into an underground bunker in metro Dallas, and Pa is now a maker of the finest chili in Texas, made from human meat of course.

The film opens with a couple of kids wreaking havoc all over Texas' highways until they're killed by Leatherface in a truck. But, they were also harassing a local radio host, Stretch (Caroline Williams as a low-rent Laurie Metcalf), who apparently had no way of hanging up phone calls, who winds up recording their murder.

The case is being followed by Lieutenant Lefty, an ex Texas Ranger, whose nephew had gone missing, but never found. Lefty is played by Dennis Hopper who plays thinly veiled rage until he goes into full on Frank Booth mode by the end.

Lefty and Stretch team up for a game of cat and mouse, and find the lair in some elaborate underground habittrail of bone and wood. Lefty had already bought a pair of chainsaws, and decides to go chopping everything to pieces, while Stretch is romanced by Leatherface, then tortured and chased by the family.

Of course, this all leads to the climax...of DUELING CHAINSAWS!!!  In the '80s, dueling chainsaws were a Thing here in Z-movie land. They popped up in this movie, in Phantasm II, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Motel Hell, and even Tiger On Beat, a Chow Yun-Fat film. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Dennis Hopper goes up against Leatherface in a rather epic climactic centerpiece that's pure hilarity. I mean, dueling chainsaws with Dennis could you not want to see that.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a movie of two senses. It wants to appease the horror fans who would be turning out, especially if they were fans of the original. It wants to have moments of extreme violence and gore (even if it was severely cut for the original theatrical release) for the 80s, but then Hooper wanted to make a movie that appeased his sick sense of humor. One of the family is a Vietnam vet who has a metal plate in his head, damaged by a chainsaw. Pa rants about property taxes in a satire on what the blue staters think of rednecks. Everything about this film is almost a satire of itself.

Even when Stretch is attacked in the studio, there is a good long sequence of Leatherface sawing the hell out of a tub of ice and beer, before he decides he's in love with Stretch. Meanwhile, his brother won't stop ranting about nothing and everything and is newly exposed metal plate. It's a scene of pure absurd hilarity.

As such, Tobe Hooper was almost just trying to make a buck with this, but he failed in the end. It was wrongfully maligned by the critics, not seen by audiences, and generally ignored for the longest time. It's time for the post-Sam Raimi crowd to see it, and fall in love with the horror comedy edition of Leatherface, before he turned into a drag queen.

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