The third of Tobe Hooper’s three outings for Cannon Films is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. This sequel to the 1974 horror classic feels like an expansion of the anarchic 30 or so minutes of the original as jammed through a 1980s ringer. The American Dream is still a terrifying myth and the insanity of the family is still a pressing concern.
Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was written by L.M. Kit Carson and it plays like a slab of ugly punk rock, with more graphic violence and screeching than the original. Everything is extravagant, from the whacky performances to the family clan at the core of the action to the brazen sexual innuendo to Tom Savini’s wild gore effects.
It’s been 13 years since the events of the first film and two dipshits are on their way to Dallas. They call radio DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams) from their car phone and start harassing her, only to be set upon by a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Bill Johnson) in a pickup truck. Stretch hears the entire attack over the phone.
Former Texas Ranger Lefty (Dennis Hopper) pulls into town to investigate. He’s the uncle of Marilyn Burns’ character from the first movie and he’s tracking Leatherface. He connects with Stretch and convinces her to play the audio of the attack on the radio, which leads Leatherface and his family to the station to attack. From there, all hell breaks loose.
Leatherface’s family includes Chop Top (Bill Moseley), who was in Vietnam during the events of the first picture and has a plate in his head. There’s also Drayton (Jim Siedow), who has moved on from his subtler duties and is now winning chili contests thanks to a nefarious secret ingredient. Grandpa is still around, but it’s Leatherface who really goes through the evolutionary paces.
If the villain was confined to the maternal role in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper lets him loose in the sequel to explore his mushrooming impulses. Stretch is the perfect target and he expresses his blooming esteem with his chainsaw, brandishing it like a patent phallic symbol. Luckily, the heroine is aware of Leatherface’s prickly desires and plays along.
These insistent and unnerving slices of humanity collide to make The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 a darkly comic experience, especially when taken in light of the first movie’s bristling tension. Hooper pulls back the curtain. He shows the audience the family around the dinner table, exposes them in all their difficult and damaged glory.
For all the good Hooper does for Leatherface and his family, the other characters suffer. Stretch is interesting enough, but her relationship with LG (Lou Perryman) is barely evolved. Hopper is a fixture of bumpy camp. He spends the first half of the movie rolling around in a muddled and blasé state, then blows into an all-out tear when the time comes to fire the chainsaws.
And there’s not much of a plot to speak of. Most of the movie takes place in two locations: the radio station and the family’s curious subterranean residence. Leatherface gets to do the radio station in with a blur of post-coital fury, while the underground lair is akin to a carnival funhouse with walls full of blood and human remains.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was not well-received at the time of its release. It lacks the stress of its predecessor and it’s far from a classic, but there’s a great deal of humour and lawless horror to be found for discerning viewers. And best of all, Hooper’s expansion of the Leatherface mythos is distasteful and unusual in all the right ways.