We all know how the story goes. "On the afternoon of August 18, 1973, five young people in a Volkswagen van ran out of gas on a farm road in South Texas. Four of them were never seen again. The next morning the one survivor, Sally Hardesty, was picked up on a roadside. Blood-caked and screaming murder, Sally said she had broken out of a window in Hell."
Thirteen years separate the first two movies in the series, and that's a very long time in the world of horror. Tobe Hooper directed the original, one of the most shocking movies ever made. Raw, uncompromising and scary as Hell, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most celebrated horror movies of all time. Any attempts at a sequel would - inevitably and potentially unfavourably - be compared to the original. For better or worse, changes were made stylistically.
"Officially, on the records, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre never happened. But during the last 13 years, over and over again reports of bizarre, grisly chainsaw mass-murders have persisted all across the state of Texas. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has not stopped. It haunts Texas. It seems to have no end." Looking back now, it's easy to see where they were going with this. Over the years, we have had to endure three sequels to the nerve-shredding original: a solid if unspectacular remake, a dire prequel and a risible 3D make-over.
In the thirteen years that passed between the first two instalments, the face of American horror had changed. Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead arrived in 1981, bringing with it a knowing sense of goofy humour. By now, bogeymen were jumping out of every closet and every open doorway. The horror genre had gone mainstream, and the likes of Freddy (1984) and Jason (1980) were leading the charge. It wasn't enough to be scary anymore; horror icons had to be larger than life, pop stars of the horror constabulary if you will. Bigger, brighter and more showy than ever before.
Tobe Hooper had witnessed the change first hand. In between his mismatched siblings, Hooper had been responsible for The Funhouse (a demonic clown stalks four teenagers at a carnival), Lifeforce (space vampires stalk the whole of London), and most notably, Poltergeist (creepy ghosts stalk a small town suburban family). Tobe Hooper, it would seem, had already gone mainstream. He had two options with a proposed sequel. He could attempt to recreate the uncompromising power of the original movie, or he could have a little fun with it. Audiences weren't ready for the change of direction. TTCM2 bombed in spectacular fashion, hated by fans and critics alike.
Young DJ Vantia Block (Caroline Williams) is hosting a music show when two renegade hoodlums (you'll wish them dead after approximately twelve seconds) call her up and start making trouble. The situation changes rapidly as the kids head towards a passageway, where they 'make nice' with the local madmen and get sawed to pieces as the shocked DJ listens on. Local sheriff, Lieutenant 'Lefty' Enright (Dennis Hopper), approaches Block and convinces her to play the recording of the phone call on radio, hoping that the lunatics will show up and he can exact revenge on the killers of his nephew, Franklin.
Despite the change of direction horror had taken for the MTV generation, it's easy to see why Tobe Hooper's misfiring sequel hit such a raw nerve with fans. The two teenagers that kick off proceedings hammer the point home effectively. TTCM2 is woefully misjudged, keen to replace the original's drip-feed of terror with an ill-conceived tone and cringe-worthy humour.
Thankfully, Dennis Hopper turns up after just twelve minutes, but he certainly didn't become a screen-legend based on this performance alone. Thankfully, Blue Velvet was released that very same year. Hopper spends most of the movie yelling and screaming like a crazed lunatic, and he's supposed to be the good guy. He's not the only guilty party of course, but you would expect some wayward acting from the eccentric family vintage. Picture the dinner sequence from the original, now amp it up way past eleven and extend it to ninety minutes of farce. That's what TTCM2 has to offer us.
Jim Siedow (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Bill Moseley (The Devils Rejects) and Bill Johnson (Talk Radio) take the art of over-acting to a whole new level. Leatherface is unrecognisable here. Gone is the strong, silent threat of the original movie. Leatherface is reduced to comedy sidekick for the most part, a hapless goon that falls in love with the onscreen heroine. Falls in love for Christ's sake. It's reckless decisions like this that threaten to take the jagged edge off the original classic. The blades on his chainsaw don't even spin when he goes into battle - just one of the many blunders that could have been avoided, like for example, the entirety of the movie.
Caroline Williams (Leprechaun 3) plays the token scream queen/heroine, and first impressions are quite positive. She certainly looks the part, but as the film progresses, and Leatherface makes his true feelings known, 'Stretch' lurches from plucky heroine to annoying blonde girl. You won't believe the amount of opportunities she's granted to escape his evil clutches, but rather than make her daring escape, Vanita chooses to stand in the corner and scream her lungs out. There's zero tension throughout, just a steady stream of implausibility's and inconsistencies.
Visually, TTCM2 is quite appealing to this day, with its 80s day-glow vibe and fiendish flavour. The underground setting is both audacious and memorable, though it would feel more at home in a Nightmare on Elm Street dream sequence. Ignoring the sublime family lineage, the off-the-wall surrealism of TTCM2 - particularly in the final act - could be the reason why it has accumulated a small but dedicated fan base around the world. The final act comes on like a cross between The Goonies and The Evil Dead, and it's easy to see why some people might hold it so close to their hearts. TTCM2 will certainly grab your attention, and despite the inexcusable waste of potential, fans of 80s horror comedy might get a kick out of its all too obvious failings.
Arrow Films are set to release a 3-Disc Limited Edition Set in the U.K. which includes High Definition digital transfers of three Tobe Hooper films, with limited edition packaging newly illustrated by Justin Erickson. Two audio commentaries are included, with director and co-writer Tobe Hooper, moderated by David Gregory, and stars Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special-effects legend Tom Savini, moderated by Michael Felsher. “It Runs in the Family” is a documentary looking at the genesis, making of and enduring appeal of Hooper’s film. With interviews from Bill Johnson, co-writer L. M. Kit Carson, Richard Kooris, Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Tom Savini, Production Designer Cary White and more.
Discs 2 & 3 are home to Tobe Hooper's early works, with High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentations included. The Heisters (1964) and Eggshells (1969) - Tobe Hooper’s debut feature restored in HD - are available on home video for the first time in the world. If that's not enough for you, why not check out the 100-page book featuring new writing on the film by John Kenneth Muir, an overview of the Chainsaw franchise by Joel Harley, and an investigation of Tobe Hooper’s three-picture Cannon deal by Calum Waddell, illustrated with archive stills and posters. Indisputably, Arrow Films has provided the perfect companion piece for fans of both the movie and the series.
Misguided, ill-conceived and largely humourless, TTCM2 is a cinematic oddity that sticks out like a sore thumb. There's a good chance you won't forget it in a hurry, but that's not necessarily a good thing. The years since have been kind to Tobe Hooper's unorthodox sequel, and you can judge it for yourself in November with this unparalleled release. Tobe Hooper set out to make a sequel that stood out from the crowd, and he's done just that. We're just not entirely sure a parody is what he had in mind. AW