The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most beloved horror movies of the modern era. It’s full of intensity, actual terrifying moments, and visceral violence that stays with you for years after you watch it. It came out in 1974 during the golden age of exploitation horror before the genre was essentially taken over by the slasher genre that Halloween gave birth to in the late 70s.
The film also boasts that it has connections to real life events. Well… Sort of. Leatherface was inspired by Ed Gein who was a real life serial killer who did indeed take skin from his victims and started making a skin suit. There are some minor plot details that also came from the Gein case, but that was all in Wisconsin, not Texas.
Tobe Hooper, the director of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, started making more mainstream movies, most notably, Poltergeist. By the mid-80s, he was riding pretty high. He signed a three picture deal with our good friends at Cannon Films. What he delivered for them was not what they expected. His first film in the deal, Lifeforce, was a pretty large scale sci-fi monster movie that stretched the usual budget of a Cannon Film. They also didn’t expect Hooper to deliver a remake of a 1950s sci-fi film with Invaders from Mars. They DEFINITELY did not expect The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 to be a dark comedy causing Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus to lose their freaking minds with Hooper.
Frankly, I kinda wonder if Hooper was trolling Cannon a bit so he could make movies he wanted to make and they were there to give him the deal.
So, there you have it. Hooper wanted this second Chainsaw to be more of a send up of the horror genre of the time he basically helped create. While it did make almost twice its budget, the film under-performed. Hardcore fans of slasher films pretty much hated it. Critics didn’t care for it either. It probably was not helped by being released as “Unrated” when it couldn’t get less than an X from the motion picture ratings dudes. Even though most didn’t like it then, it’s one of the few 80s horror movies that actually holds up very well in the present. It even grew on some of its original detractors and became a pretty massive cult classic.
The synopsis from Amazon Prime is: “A radio host (Caroline Williams) is victimized by a cannibal family as a former Texas Marshall (Dennis Hopper) hunts them.” That’s all it gives, but don’t worry, it’s much much more than that. Let’s get this thing started and officially kick off my October theme of modern monsters to celebrate Halloween!
Like the original film, there is a narrated text crawl. It’s narrated by a guy who did a bunch of work for NFL Films’ Super Bowl Highlights that air every year. That’s a thing I watch a lot of (especially the earlier Super Bowls), so I know that voice immediately. That aside, the text crawl recaps the first movie with kids who ran out of gas being murdered with only one girl surviving. It also helps bridge the gap and sets up the sequel that takes over a decade to be released. Basically, Sally, the survivor girl from the first movie told police about a farmhouse where her friends and brother were hacked up and eaten before going catatonic. The police searched for a month but could not find the farmhouse. They couldn’t find any bodies either. Yet, over the last 13 years, reports of bizarre murders involving a chainsaw are reported all over Texas meaning that something eluding the police is still out there.
After the credits, we see these two assholes driving through rural Texas shooting signs:
I do not think I have to explain what I think will happen as they listen to our main girl, “Stretch”, on the radio and generally fuck about by playing chicken with a truck on the road. However, when they run the truck off the road, they later find out that they have fucked with the wrong truck. After they hassle Stretch by calling her radio show, the truck starts messing with them. Out of the bed of the truck, Leatherface pops up wearing the skin of a dead guy and fires up his chainsaw. He cuts into the assholes’ car and cuts one of their heads off causing the car to drive off a bridge killing the other. For whatever reason, Stretch could not disconnect the line so she could hear everything and especially recognized the sound of a chainsaw in the background.
The next morning, we see Lt. “Lefty” Enright poking around the wreck. Lefty is the uncle of Sally and her brother, but no longer a Marshall meaning he can’t really do much but chase down the chainsaw massacre family for revenge. He does get his story out in the papers thanks to a friend of his. Stretch meets with Lefty because she has the tape of the phone call from the guys who got killed the night before. He shits on her offer of help and sends her away.
However, it turns out she’s much closer to the killers than she knew. At the very hotel that Lefty is at, she covers a chili cook off that is won by Drayton Sawyer, who is one of the family of murders running all over Texas slicing and dicing people with chainsaws. And if you need any additional layering to why he won the cook off, it’s because he has the best meat.
Yeah, he’s chopped people up and put it in his chili.
At a chainsaw shop, Lefty buys a trio of saws – one big, burly one, and two small ones that he can wield easily and swing around as if they were knives. He then meets Stretch in front of the radio station and asks her to play the tape she has because the killers are nearby. He’s tracked enough kill sites to know they have been clustered around the general area in a pretty tight radius over the past couple years. The lawmen are shying away from calling the deaths murders, but if she can play the evidence she has on the air, maybe that will get them to finally investigate this properly. Unfortunately for Stretch and Lefty, Drayton is told by his boys that the tape is being played.
Once Stretch is left alone at the station, she meets Chop Top (Bill Moseley – probably known to most as one of the killers in House of 1,000 Corpses which this takes a great deal of inspiration from this movie). He’s generally creepy as fuck as he babbles on about how he and his brother “Bubba” (spoiler – that’s his name for Leatherface) listen to Stretch every night. He reveals that he knows about the tape she played for Lefty. She then is attacked by Leatherface who chases her into a room that keeps her safe thanks to a metal door. She locks herself into the room and holds off Leatherface for a bit. When her station engineer returns to bring Stretch a drink, he’s bludgeoned to death by Chop Top while Leatherface resumes his pursuit of Stretch. He gets into the room by sawing his way through the wall – which is not metal.
Say what you will about Leatherface, but he’s not exactly a complete idiot.
Oh wait. Actually he is. They came to the station to kill Stretch but instead, the sight of a wet Stretch (thanks to a bunch of water sprayed onto her from a bucket of ice he chainsawed the fuck out of) causes him to rub his chainsaw against her twat and when she tells him he’s “really good”, the entire plan the boys came here to carry out is basically fucked. Leatherface lies to Chop Top about killing Stretch and they make off with her friend’s, L.G., body.
Instead of counting her lucky stars that she gave Leatherface a chainsaw boner and leaving it at that, she decides to chase after Chop Top and Leatherface’s truck as they return to their home. She doesn’t wait for Lefty to show up. She doesn’t call the police. She doesn’t even notice that L.G.’s car was parked next to her jeep. I was kinda into Stretch’s deep voice and short shorts and can-do spirit, but I dunno… I don’t like dumb chicks and she’s not doing much to convince me she’s not at least a little stupid.
When she is walking across the field, she gets chased by another car. It turns out to be Lefty who, not so immediately, stops trying to seemingly run her down to tell her that he had to use her to get them to come out of hiding so he can get them. That doesn’t seem like that heroic of a thing to do, Lefty. Fuck, L.G. is dead you cunt.
Lefty enters the hideout which is just an abandoned amusement park full of Texas stuff. He finds a wall that, when busted open, spits out a whole buncha people guts. This causes him to decide to try to chainsaw all the support beams to bring the whole thing down around him. He doesn’t fully succeed in collapsing the roof. That begs the question what he thought would happen if he did succeed? Did he think he was going to survive a total collapse of the building? I’m starting to think our heroes of this movie aren’t all that smart.
Speaking of dumb… Stretch, still in the pit of this fucking hellscape, watches as Leatherface skins L.G.’s still kinda warm corpse that is 100% Lefty’s fucking fault. She handles it fairly well all things considered. I mean if I was there watching Leatherface peel the fucking flesh from my friend’s body and hang it up to dry, I’d probably puke all over the place. Like all over the place. Every inch of the goddamn pit I was in would be covered by my puke. And probably my piss. My piss would be everywhere.
My piss and my puke. Everywhere.
She’s hidden pretty well and even keeps herself pretty quiet too. At least quiet enough to not draw the attention of Leatherface. All she has to do is sit as fucking still as possible and she’ll get out… Fuck. She knocks over a bunch of hooks and gets found by Leatherface. He doesn’t rat her out to either Chop Top or Drayton. He even plays with her by putting L.G.’s face skin and hat on her and dancing her around like a fucking stuffed animal or puppet.
Lefty’s sawing of the support beams causes Leatherface to check out what’s going on and he ties Stretch to a post and as she is trying to figure out how to get out, L.G. gets up because they didn’t actually kill him. He’s doing pretty well for continual bashings to the head and a lot of missing skin. He cuts Stretch free and he collapses onto the ground and dies. She at least gives him his face back and mourns him for a bit before trying to find an escape.
So Lefty is cutting the shit out of the place and Stretch is just seeing the utter insanity of Drayton, Leatherface, and Chop Top as they pretty much just yell at each other and jump around like complete morons. It’s total madness.
When Stretch tries to sneak by and down a drain pipe, she’s seen and Drayton sends Leatherface out after her. Elsewhere, Lefty finds a skeleton in a wheelchair holding a flashlight. Recognizing that it is Franklin (his invalid nephew killed in the first movie), he becomes even more enraged and starts cutting even more of the place to shit. Confusing his chainsaw action for Leatherface’s Stretch is forced to run through a goddman nightmare of a tunnel decorated by bodies of people they’ve killed. She runs right into Leatherface, who chases her right back the other direction. Just before Leatheface would have come face to face with Lefty, his sawing creates a cave in that blocks her way out.
Stretch is taken and tied to a chair at a dinner table much like Sally was in the first movie. They bring in “Grandpa”, a decaying corpse of a man. He’s alive but they say he’s 137 years old. He was also seen in the first movie where he was supposed to kill Sally by bludgeoning her with a slaughterhouse hammer, but was too weak to finish her. The exact same scene is done here with Stretch, but he’s too week to hold onto the hammer or able to actually hit her. It’s kind of like how Evil Dead II is pretty much a retelling of the first film. Just a new way of presenting pretty much the same memorable moment from the first film.
In this one, though, Drayton does deliver a blow to Stretch that knocks her out. Before they can finish her off, Lefty busts in and confronts Drayton and Chop Top. When he sees that Stretch is still alive, he saws Drayton in the asshole (right up the asshole) and frees her to escape. He has a sword fight with Leatherface, but with chainsaws because that’s how they do business in Texas. Chop Top chases Stretch through the cavernous tunnels. Lefty runs Leatherface through with his chainsaw while Drayton pulls out a grenade from a corpse that Chop Top has been carrying around almost the entire movie. The grenade goes off after a particularly slapsticky moment occurs involving grandpa throwing the hammer, missing Lefty, hitting Leatherface, which causes him to chainsaw through Drayton’s head and makes him drop the grenade. Outside, Chop Top continues to chase Stretch, but she finds a chainsaw with the family’s grandmother. While she tries to start it, Chop Top slices at her with a straight razor. She finally gets it started and causes Chop Top to fall to his presumed death. The film ends with her screaming and dancing around with the chainsaw much like Leatherface did at the end of the first film.
I think this is an utterly fascinating movie for a few reasons. First, Bill Moseley is absolutely amazing as Chop Top. Next to Leatherface, he might be the most memorable character in the entire series. Moseley isn’t much more than a character actor, but he’s one of the best. He might just be the greatest horror character actor in the last few decades. No joke. A good character actor can far and away out perform a lead character or even a concept of a movie. He certainly outshines the whole of House of 1,000 Corpses and actually makes you want the really bad guys to maybe get out alive in The Devil’s Rejects. For this movie, I hadn’t seen it in a very long time, but I remember Chop Top way more than I remember Stretch’s character or exactly what Lefty was like. Considering how absolutely incapacitated Leatherface was by a pair of daisy dukes on Stretch, he turned out to pretty much be the main threat of the movie too. It’s no wonder that he had to be the final kill before the movie ended.
Now, maybe because I essentially grew up on this movie because it was around a lot when I was a kid (on TV or at video stores, etc), I don’t truly understand exactly why fans were so dismissive of it when it originally released. Maybe they wanted Leatherface to be treated more seriously than Jason Voorhees (whose movies were already veering off into some fairly comedic territory). Chucky and the Leprechaun hadn’t come along yet and Freddy hadn’t gone comedic yet either. Maybe there was a different expectation based on how utterly serious and frightening the original was. But I don’t really see it. Sure, there’s some silliness here with Hopper’s Lefty being so over the top that he almost seems like a cartoon character or Leatherface using his chainsaw to dry hump Stretch’s puss through her shorts, but I’d say there’s still a fairly decent amount of tension in this movie that doesn’t necessarily fill you with a great deal of comfort while you watch. Even though it borrows it from the first, the climax with Stretch strapped to her chair as the horror of the family dinner played out in front of her is still kinda gut-wrenching and makes you want to claw out someone’s eyes. Maybe not as much as the first movie’s scene did, but it is still there.
Obviously, Tobe Hooper had things to say about the 80s and he definitely gave Drayton a chance to say some things about how the small business man is always fucked in the end, and literally in the ass by a chainsaw I might add. It’s pretty apparent he was also staking some sort of commentary on the nature of horror movies and how both horror stories and gore are almost more funny than scary. Maybe people were simply disarmed by the comedy element. Maybe they wanted Leatherface to be a serious threat. However, I think one thing that isn’t explored by many experts who look at this movie is that clearly Leatherface is home schooled and therefore completely unable to comprehend sex or handle his violent tendencies properly.
That’s it! The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a scathing critique of home schooling your children! God fucking dammit I’m smart!
Next week, I continue my march through October with the slasher villains of the 80s. But what’s this? It’s a Friday the 13th next week. What better opportunity for me to dust off my copy of my favorite Friday the 13th movie? Come back next week and read about the sixth, and most superior Friday – Part VI!