Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Caroline Williams, Dennis Hooper, Bill Johnson, Bill Mosley, Jim Siedow, and Lou Perryman
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 feels more like an endurance test than an actual movie. With its endless scenes of dismembered corpses, flayed flesh, and severed limbs, each scored with the loud roar of a chainsaw and the leading lady’s excessive screams, I felt like the movie was challenging me to see if I could sit through it to the end. I endured every agonizing second of it, and having been left in gap-jawed disbelief by the movie’s impossibly stupid final shot, I really wished that I hadn’t.
The original movie was an intensely visceral film with characters who, although they weren’t necessarily three dimensional, felt real enough and were sympathetic enough that you didn’t really want to see them die. In contrast, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2 begins by introducing us two drunken dill-holes who terrorize other drivers on the road, harass a local radio DJ, scream “Woo-hoo!” every five seconds, and shoot at every road sign they drive past. These two nitwits are so impossibly irritating that I was actually relieved when Leatherface (Bill Johnson) showed up to finish them off.
Their demise is recorded by the DJ they harassed, who goes by the name of Stretch (Caroline Williams). According to IMDB, the character’s full name is Vanita “Stretch” Brock, although I can’t remember her being called Vanita at any time during the film. She takes the tape to a vengeance seeking lieutenant named Lefty (Dennis Hopper), who turns out to be the brother of the invalid Franklin and Sally from the first movie. He tells her to play the tape on her radio show so the police will believe him that a chainsaw wielding killer is on the loose.
Her decision to do so makes her a target, which leads to a scene where her radio station is invaded by Leatherface and his older brother Chop Top (Bill Mosley), so named (I guess) because he has a giant metal plate around his skull (which he keeps scratching at with a coat hanger). This scene goes on and on and on as Leatherface goes after Stretch while Chop Top starts cracking wise as he bashes in the skull of Stretch’s co-worker L.G. (Lou Perryman, who was tragically murdered in real life) with a hammer.
Jim Siedow reprises his role as Drayton Sawyer, father to Leatherface, who now enters his human cooked chili recipe at the Texas-Oklahoma Chili Contest. When one of the judges finds a human tooth in a bowl of chili, he tells her “Ah, must be one of them hard-shelled pepper corns!” Ha-ha. He has since relocated his family in the deep dark caverns of an abandoned amusement park, where the bulk of the climax takes place. Stretch follows Chop-Top and Leatherface back to the amusement after the attack at the radio station (I’ll explain how she survived in a second), and instead of going to the police, she continues following them.
I guess because he’s working with a bigger budget this time, director Tobe Hooper never once shies away from the gore. When L.G. repeatedly gets bashed in the head with a hammer, we see it in gruesome detail. And when Leatherface starts peeling off the skin of a recent victim, you can be darn sure we see that too (it gets worse when said victim wakes up). All of this is truly disgusting, but never scary, and when the movie tries mixing in moments of black humor in with the gory violence, it becomes downright insufferable.
The screenplay by L.M. Kit Carson adds a ridiculous and inexplicable touch by having Leatherface develop a crush on Stretch. Given that he’s shown to have no qualms in murdering attractive women in the past, it makes no sense for him to want to spare her and make her his girlfriend. At first I thought maybe it was because she was wearing short shorts (he runs the chainsaw up her leg until it touches her crotch), but then I remembered the girl he hung from the meat hook in the previous movie wore similar shorts, so that didn’t make sense either. The reason he develops a crush is quite clear. Stretch finds herself cornered by the guy more than once, and since all she does is stand there and scream, why not simply make Leatherface go soft and develop a soft spot for her? It’s there simply for the convenience of the movie.
Williams is painful as the cowering Woman in Danger, given very little to do but scream at the top of her lungs and generally behave like a typical horror movie idiot until the end, where she…well, never mind. Hopper, a terrific actor, sleepwalks through the first half of the movie until he goes so far over-the-top in the second half that it would be downright comical were it not for the fact that watching an actor of his caliber embarrass himself like that is just downright depressing. Siedow is painfully one-note as the screaming and cackling patriarch of the Sawyer clan, while Mosley is so irritating as Chop Top that I was ready to jump through the screen and hack him with a chainsaw myself (I know, that’s not a very Christian thing to say).
How is this movie, which is nothing but a mindless exercise in violence and gore, from the same Tobe Hooper who made the original movie? That film expertly established an atmosphere of dread, whereas this film goes straight for the violence. It would be something if the movie were at least well-made, but it’s not. The cinematography Richard Kooris is nondescript, and both the production design and set decoration used to create the Sawyer lair (which has many dark corridors and is decorated with human limbs and (for some reason) Christmas lights) are grossly over-produced.
In the end, what we’re left with is a movie that looks bad, sounds bad, and grates on the nerves from the first frame to the last. Many critics complained that not only was Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II an inferior film to the original (which it was), it was just a bad movie overall. I, on the other hand, actually liked that movie, and would gladly watch it ten more times than a third of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2 one more time.
Rated R for graphic bloody violence, disturbing images, and profanity.
Final Grade: no stars (out of ****)