Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: If you don't love it, you can lick my plate...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, Tobe Hooper's 1986 sequel to his seventies horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has gotta be one of the most maligned sequels in the horror pantheon.

Cannon Films--the studio that put The Apple, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, and Hospital Massacre into wide release, no less--treated TCM2 like a sack of dirty diapers, barely releasing it in theaters and pushing it onto home video in record time. This is sort of like Anna Nicole Smith rejecting an especially garish pink hoochie skirt because it's in bad taste. No one but no one, it seemed, wanted an unapologetically sick and gory horror comedy during the Reagan Years.

I missed Tobe Hooper's sophomore 'Saw's original theatrical release, but my brother John caught it during its triumphant one-week run at the now-long-deceased Village Cinemas in Lakewood, Washington (the only theater in all of Washington State that ever screened it, to my knowledge) back in the day. For weeks thereafter, he quoted the movie's profanely funny dialogue ceaselessly. I seethed with envy, but ultimately tracked The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 down on home video a few months later, much to my deep and abiding joy.

With hindsight, TCM2 may have just been too much, even for schocketeers like Cannon's Golan and Globus. It's extremely gory and unsettling, despite trading the original's snuff film grittiness for gaudy carnival lighting and color. The humor carries no notions of cozy Elm Street-style snarkiness, and TCM2's cannibal clan carries over some of the greasy southern-fried creepiness of the original cast.

But Sweet Jesus in a Velour Tubetop, if you've got a strong stomach, this very sick (and very quotable) movie also sports an astonishing number of intentional belly laughs--more than any movie featuring onscreen flaying and decapitation has a right to, at least.

The Sawyer clan from the preceding Chainsaw is back in action, merrily carving up two obnoxious frat boys at the movie's opening. Stretch (Caroline McWilliams), a lady DJ, happens to capture the whole thing on audio tape (she's talking to the two jerks by phone right at the time of the attack). Everyone's favorite flesh-masked Stihl-brandishing killer Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and his brother Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) arrive at Stretch's radio station with murder on their minds, and then things get really harrowing. And messy.

And funny.

Hooper realizes at the outset that a sequel could never approach the sledgehammer impact of the first Chainsaw, so (aided by L.M. Kit Carson's delirious screenplay) he amps up the absurdity--and the comedy--this time out. Hooper even squeezes some social satire in, making these degenerates into hilarious sponges of American consumership and pop culture.

Even before Saw 2 hits the Saw Clan's amusement park/hideout, the whole movie is shot through an eye-straining prism of carnival neon and cotton candy primary colors, and the killers are imbued with distinctive comic personae; kind of like The Three Cannibalistic Stooges. Jim Siedow, the sole returning player from the original TCM, channels Pa Kettle by way of Sweeney Todd as the doddering patriarch of the Sawyer family; he's gained notoriety for his secret-formula prize-winning chili ("It's the meat. Don't skimp on the MEAT!"). Bill Johnson's Leatherface, meanwhile, displays the hyperactive, tongue-wagging energy of a dopey puppy.

The most amazing performance of the movie belongs to Bill Moseley, whose Chop-Top sports mouldering hippy threads and spouts anachronistic flower-power lingo when he's not emitting some of the most hilariously potty-mouthed insults and proclamations ever to scorch your ears (Moseley's become a bona-fide horror star on the strength of this and Rob Zombie's first two films). The only movie characters more quotable than this Sonny Bono-wig-do'ed freak dwell in Casablanca, Pulp Fiction, and Gone With the Wind. I swear to God.

The one name actor among this cast of unknowns, Dennis Hopper, fits right into the gallery of bloody excess as Lefty Enright, a fire-and-brimstone sheriff trying to rescue Stretch and avenge the death of one of his relatives. The Hollywood rebel openly slagged TCM2 and his work in it over the years, but his Preacher Casey-with-power-tools schtick tears into the material like, well, one of Leatherface's favorite cutting instruments.

So, if you can hunt up the bare-bones but good-looking DVD version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and your stomach's ready for it, give it a look. To paraphrase Chop-Top, it's like Death eating a cracker.


nilblogette said...

Moseley cackling while scratching the metal plate in his head with a burnt pice of wire hanger has stuck with me my whole life. Definitely an under-rated classic.

Eric said...

I haven't watched it in years, but I mostly remember the head-scratchin' and the fact that there's a Cramps song (Goo Goo Muck?) right in the beginning. When I heard that, I was like, wow, them Cramps sure are famous now, with a song in a big deal horror sequel like this. It sort of bridged the gap between punk rock and horror movies in my adolescent mind.

Anyway, Tony, you ought to extend this everyday posting business of yours until NEXT Halloween.