“THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2” (Arrow Blu-ray Review)
The usual rap on Tobe Hooper is that he made a masterpiece with his first feature and then never made another decent film. Wrong. Sure, nothing else in Hooper’s filmography can compete with the unrelenting intensity of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but then very few horror movies can. For those willing to dig (and accept the shared responsibility on POLTERGEIST, just like how Spielberg and Lucas shared authorship on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), the truth is that Hooper has made many wacko twisted genre flicks since his iconic debut (SALEM’S LOT, FUNHOUSE, LIFEFORCE). In fact, he’s even got another classic with TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in the title. Released unrated in 1986, most critics didn’t know what to make of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. After all, here was a sequel that replaced the subtlety and suspense of the original with bawdy humor and the most disgusting gore of Tom Savini’s career. It was a movie that turned intensely real killers into cartoons, gave Dennis Hopper a chance to go farther over the top than he managed in BLUE VELVET, and for some reason the poster was a parody of THE BREAKFAST CLUB. It was, at face value, a sequel that inverted everything that was successful about the original and therefore was far from a worthy successor. But the reasons viewers hated CHAINSAW 2 then are what make it such a clear cult classic now.
The original CHAINSAW was a film of its time. It used that grainy film stock to bring newsreel reality to genre movies for one of the first times and was filled with an underlying cynical commentary on the dried up Texas economy and political unease. It was a classic 70s movie. CHAINSAW 2 simply couldn’t be that. Times, the movies, and Tobe Hooper’s career had changed. It was the last project in the director’s lucrative three-picture deal with Canon Films following POLTERGEIST (LIFEFORCE and INVADERS FROM MARS were the first two) and Hooper was, at the time, one of the most successful genre filmmakers around making glossy 35mm hits.
Plus, it was the 80s (obviously). So, while most sequels try to repeat what worked last time on a larger scale, Hooper tried to make a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE for the yuppie-hating, rubber-gore loving, VHS-hoarding horror crowd. Not only did he do it, but he and hipster PARIS, TEXAS screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson somehow managed to pull it all off in 16 weeks from conception to theatrical release.
The film sees the cannibal Sawyer clan now in a period of prosperity, living in a theme park and winning chili cook-offs with their mysterious meat. Meanwhile, Denis Hopper pops up as the renegade lawman uncle of one of the victims from the first film, who is out for chainsaw-dueling revenge. Toss in spunky DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams) in over her head and you’ve got yourself a CHAINSAW picture. Plot isn’t really the movie’s strength. That’s almost incidental. Where it succeeds are in the wildly eccentric performances (particularly from Hopper and Bill Mosley’s iconic, unhinged Chop-Top), the disgustingly graphic gore (Savini really went the extra mile in the face-mask sequence) and most importantly, the lovingly ludicrous tone.
Tobe Hooper and L.M. Kit Carson took the dark comedy hidden in the recesses of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE to an extreme here. At times it plays as parody, at times as arthouse satire (like the Freud-tastic chainsaw sex scene), and at times it’s just plain silly. Regardless, it’s always a party in the way so many great 80s horror movies were, packed with more than enough gross out gags and rollercoaster scares. Divorced of the unfair expectations the sequel faced at the time of release and viewed in the context of the pathetic Hooper-less sequels and remakes that followed, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is easily the finest film to feature that title (possibly the greatest exploitation movie title of all time) since the original. It’s a classic in its own right and boy-oh-boy have Arrow delivered a Blu-ray to make fans’ mouths water.
The disc’s A/V transfer is pretty well identical to the previous CHAINSAW 2 Blu-ray, but that is far from a bad thing. The transfer is glorious, sparkling when it should, appearing dirty when it’s supposed to, and always providing nauseating details never visible before on home video. It’s a gorgeous presentation, but where Arrow went above and beyond the call of duty is in the extras department.
Everything from the previous, stacked special edition DVD is included (a Hooper commentary, a feature length documentary, an actor commentary, and deleted scenes). That would be enough, but Arrow also went ahead and transferred Hooper’s previously unreleased slapstick short film THE HEISTERS and his feature debut EGGSHELLS. Granted, both projects have a student film quality and are more enjoyable for their historical value and sign of Hooper’s growing creativity than as stand-alone ventures. Still, they are fascinating, never-before-seen flicks, backed by a commentary from the director himself.
There’s also a delightful 30-minute career-spanning interview from Hooper, an amusingly bitter 15-minute recollection from the stuntman who played Leatherface and a 30-minute analysis/defense of CHAINSAW 2 from horror guru Stephen Thrower. And if that’s not enough, why not toss in a trailer reel of every Tobe Hooper feature (the first eight flicks/trailers are brilliant. The next few? Well, the trailers are amusing for various reasons) and a 100-page booklet overflowing with essays, insights, and interviews. This is certainly Arrow’s most elaborate Blu-ray set to date and the limited edition release is also officially one of the company’s crowning jewels.