The third film in Tobe Hooper’s con­tract with Cannon Films was the one that the boss­es real­ly want­ed: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.  The orig­i­nal Texas Chainsaw Massacre had gone from cin­e­mat­ic out­law to respect­ed clas­sic by that time and, as any­one who lived through the ‘80s knows, sequels had becoTexCM2-VHSme an inevitabil­i­ty in the American film busi­ness.  However, Hooper was not con­tent to give audi­ences more of the same.  What he cre­at­ed was as much a dark com­e­dy as it was a hor­ror film, a ruth­less satire that took on the atti­tudes of the ‘80s as well as the lega­cy of the first film.

The sur­pris­ing­ly com­plex plot set-up starts with a pre-cred­its bit of nar­ra­tion that lets us know the can­ni­bal­is­tic clan from the first film was nev­er caught.  It turns out that the Cook (Jim Siedow) has opened up a suc­cess­ful cater­ing busi­ness built around “prime meat” dish­es — and the raw mate­ri­als for this ven­ture are sup­plied by Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and Vietnam vet fam­i­ly mem­ber Chop Top (Bill Moseley) doing killing sprees on the back roads.

One of those killings is acci­den­tal­ly record­ed dur­ing a call-in to a radio sta­tion by dee­jay Stretch (Caroline Williams).  She’s pressed into ser­vice by Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), a Texas Ranger and uncle to two of the vic­tims from the first film.  He uses Stretch to draw out the killers, lead­ing to anoth­er night of ter­ror that starts at the radio sta­tion and reach­es an epic finale undeTexCM2-01r the bow­els of aban­doned the­me park Texas Battle Land.

The result­ing film isn’t what any­one was real­ly expect­ing back in the mid-‘80s.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 suf­fered from a hec­tic pro­duc­tion sched­ule that result­ed in a lot of on-set rewrit­ing fol­lowed by addi­tion­al restruc­tur­ing in the edit­ing room.  This is vis­i­ble onscreen in some moments of uneven pac­ing but what real­ly threw mid-‘80s audi­ences was the film’s tone.   Working with uncon­ven­tion­al screen­writer L.M. Kit Carson, best known for writ­ing the dra­ma Paris, Texas, Hooper has cre­at­ed a film where the satire is as vicious as the Tom Savini-craft­ed splat­ter effects.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 baf­fled crit­ics and hor­ror fans alike by allow­ing the two extremes, ter­ror and satire, to exist side-by-side — often in the same scene.   Carson’s script takes pot­shots at the yup­pie phe­nom­e­non, the wreck­age that the Vietnam War did to the American psy­che and even clas­sic moments from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the third act has exten­sive quotes from the first film’s finale, albeitTexCM2-02 reworked with odd­ball satir­i­cal flour­ish­es).  Simultaneously, Savini and his crew lace the sto­ry­line with creepy char­ac­ter make­ups and some show-stop­ping gore effects that include head-cleav­ing, facial removal, chain­saw impale­ment and more.

Despite the ini­tial con­fu­sion cre­at­ed by this satire/splatter com­bo, the result has aged quite well and is like­ly to feel au courant to mod­ern view­ers more com­fort­able with bru­tal satire.  Carson’s script is packed with quotable lines, par­tic­u­lar­ly the ones for Chop Top, and it skew­ers the gonzo ethos of the ‘80s with ruth­less effec­tive­ness.  Hooper’s work behind the cam­era is inspired, espe­cial­ly in the open­ing “game of chick­en with a chain­saw” sequence and an intense/hilarious rework­ing of the can­ni­bal fam­i­ly din­ner scene from the first film.

TexCM2-03The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 also boasts a set of col­or­ful per­for­mances that live up to the film’s wild style.  Williams proves her­self to be one of the great scream queens of the era, bring­ing a warmth and wit to her char­ac­ter while also deliv­er­ing on all the scream­ing and run­ning the role demands.  Lou Perryman also gives a unique per­for­mance that… well, let’s just say he retains his human­i­ty even when buried under make­up.

Hopper is suit­ably intense and sly­ly humor­ous as the obsessed anti-hero cop but the real scene-steal­ers are the can­ni­bals.  Moseley became an eter­nal fan favorite here as Chop-Top, cre­at­ing a per­sona that is part Robin Williams, part Beetlejuice and part Tex Avery car­toon char­ac­ter.  TexCM2-04Siedow is just as fun­ny, deliv­er­ing yup­pie-sat­i­riz­ing busi­ness­man dia­logue with verve, and Johnson gives an effec­tive non-ver­bal per­for­mance as Leatherface, whose psy­chotic urges are com­pli­cat­ed by pup­py love.

In short, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is the rare sequel that stakes out its own turf, deliv­er­ing both the hor­ror and the humor with take-no-pris­on­ers inten­si­ty.  Its quirky brew of ele­ments remains potent and worth redis­cov­er­ing for the mod­ern hor­ror crowd.