Summer of Horror: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 The saw is family

 

There are eight Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies now. EIGHT. Seven of them are crap. It’s a little like the Jurassic Park franchise now – the original was so perfect, so groundbreaking, that continued sequels are guaranteed even though we know all are destined to fall short.

Three direct sequels followed the 1974 original (although these sequels barely have a coherent throughline). Then came the 2003 “remake”, a prequel to that remake, a long-gap sequel to ONLY the original, and finally another prequel unrelated to existing continuity. Yeah, it’s confusing. And they pretty much all make the same mistake. The less we know about Leatherface and the family, the more effective it is. Those characters weren’t even given names in the original. What made it so scary was the idea that any of the dirtiest, most isolated pockets of our country could be home to insane, sub-human monsters so divorced from modern society they don’t even know they’re weird. Random happenstance puts you in their territory, and next thing you know you’re hanging on a meat hook.

The sequels, prequels and remakes all show you too much of the family. Whether they’re giggling, screaming lunatics or silent, methodical serial killers, they’re just too “Hollywood” to be scary.

This first sequel, and the only one by Tobe Hooper, plays pretty much like a parody of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Maybe he was aware that the magic trick of his original couldn’t be replicated, so he decided to just take the piss out of it from the beginning. Either way, it does not feel like a work by the same director. Instead of grimy, filthy 70’s trash we get synthy 80’s neon excess. And for some reason, instead of a dilapidated country home, Leatherface and his people inhabit a vast, labyrinthine subterranean lair. It has the same effect as when the Ninja Turtles moved from the traditional sewer to an inexplicably lush abandoned train station: wrong.

The plot, such as it is, concerns the Leatherface clan terrorizing a local radio station that randomly became entangled in one of their pointless murders, while a psychotic sheriff embarks on a revenge mission against the family for slaying one of his own in the original. Dennis Hopper cranks it all the way to 11 in his role as the sheriff, hamming it up as he does whenever he knows he’s in a bad movie (he called this the worst film he’s acted in, until Super Mario Bros a few years later). He gets to have a chainsaw duel with Leatherface, and it sounds a lot more awesome than it is.

Tom Savini was called in to do the effects this time, and while he’s a legend at what he does, and his work matches the new tone of this sequel, it absolutely does not have the same impact as the minimal, realistic gore of the original. It’s splattery, cartoony and over the top. It’s far more outrageously gory than the first, but also less disturbing. As I said, it’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Parody. Except it’s not quite funny enough to work the same way as, say, Evil Dead 2 does coming after Evil Dead 1. The gulf between the two is too wide.

Splatter hounds I’m sure consider this a genre classic, and perhaps it’s yet another victim of not being seen by me until too late in life, but I’d have to rank it far below similar efforts from the period – your Evil Dead 2’s, Reanimators, and so forth.

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