Boys, boys, boys–
These last couple weeks have been tough on my mental facilities. I reviewed that great new “ULTIMATE” edition of the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, I also revisited parts 3 and 4 in that original series, then on Thursday I reviewed the new prequel to the remake. So by that point I’d studied and written about pretty much every angle to the whole Texas Chainsaw deal. You’d think I’d be done with it by now, but there is one final chapter: the one spinoff of the original movie that achieves its own level of True Greatness. I am talking about Tobe Hooper’s 1986 sequel, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. It’s been available on DVD for a couple years in a bare bones edition (get it, that is a pun because of all the skeletons they have) but Tuesday it comes out in a much deserved special edition with new commentaries, featurettes and deleted scenes.
THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is my all time best buds forever horror movie, so it’s lucky for me that part 2 happens to be one of my all time favorite sequels. Mostly hated in its time, it has developed a little bit better of a reputation over the years and if it’s not at bona fide classic status by now I think it will be after this DVD gets around and more people give it serious consideration. Like Mr. Romero’s DEAD pictures Mr. Hooper here made a chainsaw movie to represent the time it was made, an excessive, over-the-top ’80s take on TCSM. While it’s about as unrelenting and in-your-face-crazy as slasher movies come, it’s also way more of a comedy than the original, so I can understand why some people didn’t cotton to it right away. But I think most horror fans who gave it half a chance would fall in love with its deranged brilliance.
A warning: it starts out iffy. The first thing you hear after the credits is the dated 1980s drum machine of a Timbuk3 song. And the first scene is about some obnoxious high school yuppie football fans driving down a Texas highway firing guns and calling the K-OKLA request line, announcing themselves as “Buzz” and “Rick the Prick.” Like in many bad horror movies (especially of that era) these are characters that you will probaly want to see get killed. If so you will get your wish when the two assholes get stalked by an American flag-decked pickup truck that they played chicken with earlier. Leatherface makes his entrance hidden behind “Nubbins,” the new name for the hitchhiker’s rotted corpse, which he uses as a puppet while sawing their Mercedes.
Caroline Williams plays Stretch, the DJ who happens to be on the line when this happens. Soon she will meet Dennis Hopper as Lefty Enright, the revenge-obsessed Texas Ranger and uncle of part 1’s Sally and Franklin. He’s been scouring the state for these cannibals for years and believes they’re operating out of this area. When he selfishly convinces Stretch to play recordings of the snuff phone call repeatedly on the air it draws the attention of Chop Top (Billy Moseley, later Otis in the HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND CORPSES pictures) and Leatherface (Bill Johnson this time), who Chop calls “my little brother, Bubba.” They show up at the radio station late at night and, from that point on, the movie has you at knifepoint.
We’ve all seen many people menaced in many different movies, but for my money the assault on the radio station here is one of the all time greats. At first you only see Chop Top, this weird hippie guy in a bad wig, mumbling about buying some advertising time, making Stretch uncomfortable by his uninvited presence. He looks bizarre and for some reason he keeps holding the end of a coathanger to his zippo lighter and then digging it into his scalp. You don’t know at first if he’s really trying to scare her or if he’s just socially retarded like his twin brother, the hitchhiker. It turns out he has a big surprise planned where Leatherface jumps out from the record vault with his chainsaw. But the plan doesn’t quite work out correctly because Bubba accidentally hits Chop on the head with the saw, sending sparks everywhere and inspiring the classic line “Leatherface, you bitch hog, look what you did to my Sonny Bono wig!”
At this point the metal plate in Chop Top’s head is visible and he’s using the coat hanger to pick off pieces of dead skin and munch on them like raisins. Leave it to the chainsaw family to come up with a fourth use for coathangers after 1. coathanging 2. illegal abortions and 3. unlocking your car door. If there is another self-cannibal in horror cinema I don’t know who it is, but I bet he doesn’t do it this casual.
The big turning point in part 1 is when Leatherface suddenly appears in the house, hits Jerry over the head with the sledge, drags his body into the slaughter room and slams the metal door shut. In this one maybe the turning point is when Leatherface jumps out with the saw. But shortly after that, when Chop Top is on the ground hunched over poor L.G., gleefully hammering his head in with a small hammer, is when you really know you’re in the shit. By now everybody besides Michael Bay has figured out that TCSM has hardly any gore in it. But part 2 let’s you fuckin have it. Not happy-fun-time-early-Peter-Jackson gore, more like gruesome-oh-Jesus-did-I-need-to-see-that? gore, courtesy of Tom Savini somewhere around his prime. Some people hate that it doesn’t use the same approach as the original, but I think it’s smart. You gotta mix it up to keep people on their toes.
The movie also makes you extra uncomfortable by giving Leatherface an interest in sex. Stretch has to use her feminine charms (well, actually her crotch) to save her life. For Bubba/Leatherface, pointing his saw at her is like getting to cop his first feel, and he goes all mushy on us. He’s soft enough that he lets her live and pretends to his brother that he killed her, but aggressive enough that he saws apart the entire studio and then wiggles his saw at crotch level before running out the door. This may not be the same type of Leatherface character we saw in the original, but he’s a classic character in his own right. Completely disgusting, but lovable as far as retarded, cannibalistic, graverobbing serial killers go. And this sets up a very different take on the captured girl scenario because instead of trying to kill her for the entire movie, Leatherface spends alot of the time trying to play with her and hide from the family that she’s there, until finally they find out and invite her to dinner to, uh, meet Grandpa.
I think it’s okay to have a little different take on Leatherface, because the whole tone and feel is different. The humor is more overt, and even gets a little cartoony in the early scenes where the one returning actor, Jim Siedow as Drayton “The Cook” Sawyer, collects his trophy at a chili cookoff. “This town loves prime meat!” he says. Not sure what that has to do with anyt– WAIT A MINUTE!
But most of the humor is so sick it only adds to the horror. You can both laugh and be disturbed by Chop Top puppeteering the dead body of his twin brother. Or poor Stretch secretly watching Leatherface cut off her good friend’s skin with an electric knife while Drayton tells him to get going on the eyeball pate. Despite the laughs and chuckles this is a bleak, unrelenting, bash your fuckin head in with a hammer horror movie. By the time Stretch has literally fallen into the Sawyer family’s body-strewn underground amusement park “Texas Battle Land,” the movie has completely given itself over to the family’s deranged mind state. If you thought Robert Burns’ skeletal-creations in the first one were elaborate, just wait until you see their new home. The production designer this time is Cary White (no relation to “Scary Carrie” as far as I know) and he created a labyrinth of moldy underground tunnels filled with what must be hundreds and hundreds of scavenged lamps, chandeliers and Christmas lights to light all kinds of bone furniture, body parts and skeletons that the family poses into humorous scenes (a visit to the beach, Slim Pickens riding the bomb in DR. STRANGELOVE). Apparently their amusement park went out of business, but they have their own attractions going on down here. I don’t want to be an armchair psychiatrist here, but in my opinion these guys are fuckin nuts.
And so is Dennis Hopper’s Lefty. What a brilliant touch to make a protagonist almost as crazy as the killers. There’s a great scene where he goes to a chainsaw store and tries to find some saws that will work for him. You watch the confused store owner watch Lefty as he hefts them around, testing their weight and feel. This guy clearly is not thinking about cutting down trees. Of all the chain saw movies, this is the only one that contains a chain saw duel. I’m not sure what Lefty is planning to do when he first goes down into the Sawyers’ hellhole. But when he kicks through a mural of Daniel Boone and an avalanche of guts pours out it takes him about two seconds to decide to start chainsawing every support beam in sight. “I’m bringing it down!”
The screenplay for this one is by L.M. Kit Carson, better known for writing PARIS, TEXAS, which is a pretty different movie from this one, in my opinion. I’m sure he deserves most of the credit for the satire and the heavily quotable dialogue. Another thing this movie has that you don’t get in a whole lot of horror movies is an incredible cast of characters. Chop Top would have to be my favorite, he’s even crazier than the hitchhiker and he has most of the best lines (“Lick my plate, you dog dick!”) One of my favorite Chop Top moments is after dinner when the family suddenly hears the trespassing Lefty somewhere in their lair storming around with a saw singing “Bringing In the Sheep.” The whole family goes silent, surprised at the sound of this intruder. And then, suddenly, Chop Top starts singing along happily.
Of course, you could also argue that Drayton, the Cook, has the best lines. His character is way more broad than in the first one but he’s hilarious and gets to carry most of the satire. His response to Lefty is not to sing along but to ask, “Is that the American way of entering a man’s home, singing like that?” He’s always complaining about property taxes and the plight of the small business man. When confronted by Lefty he doesn’t realize this is about the murder spree, he thinks he was sent by one of their competitors in the food industry, so he tries to pay him off.
And don’t forget Grandpa, “137 years old and still fast as Jesse James.” Since Tom Savini did the makeup in this one he’s much creepier looking. He seems to have no idea where or who he is most of the time, but he gets in a good hammer toss.
But of course, the rock star of the bunch is Leatherface. Watching this again I had forgotten how god damn funny he is in this one. He falls for Stretch and tries to keep her as a pet. His way of courting her is to put L.G.’s freshly skinned face over hers and dance with her. I crack up every time he tries to hide that he didn’t kill her back at the radio station – he’s not a very good liar. When the cook comes in while he’s playing he hides her by turning around and holding the face up proudly. Creating a distraction. I mean, obviously Gunnar Hansen is the definitive Leatherface, but I just get a kick out of this Bill Johnson guy’s more lovable version. His poor fitting suit and tie, the funny way he wiggles the saw back and forth above his head before an attack. You thought Prince made his guitar phallic you should see what this perv does with his saw. I blame the Cook for Leatherface’s sexual repression. He says that “Sex is, well… nobody knows. But the saw… the saw is family.”
So you got this hilarious and bizarre cannibal family with such great chemistry, but somehow the good guys are still good enough characters that you root for them. Lefty, the nutbag Texas ranger with holsters for his chainsaws. L.G., the loogie spittin’ good ol’ boy sidekick who gets a long, sad death, but gets to say “Ah, shit” just before he finally passes. And Stretch, the toughest and most pro-active of the final girls. She’s not Linda Hamilton, she does all kinds of screaming and struggling. But she’s not somebody who just happens to get trapped by the family, she traps THEM and follows them home to find out where they live. At the end she just tears into Chop Top, biting his wrist, jumping on his back, biting his ear, beating him down to the ground! I’d like to see Jessica Biel bite a guy’s ear. I DARE Jessica Biel to bite a guy’s ear. With or without belly button exposed.
And I love the way Hooper and Carson tie this sequel to the excesses of the Reagan years. The Sawyers are the backwoods (actually, subterranean) AMERICAN PSYCHO. Their piece of the American dream is not a bigger house with skeletons, but a whole underground lair with skeletons. There is an amazing shot pulling back from the dinner table to show just how much more the family has amassed since the first time we saw them sit down for dinner. Hooper explains on his commentary track that “they got more affluent with their barbecue business” during the ’80s. Chop Top, like Rambo in part 2, is still obsessed with going back and winning the Vietnam War. Well, I guess he doesn’t care so much about winning. But Drayton concerns himself with business and family. He talks about old fashioned values while using the bodies of the innocent as decorations. And their meat to sell to football fans.
This is a sequel, and yet it’s a great movie. Maybe that’s why I go so crazy when writing about the remake and the prequel. This is a “franchise” that started with two very different films that I believe are both genuine works of art and classics of American cinema. So to turn it into a dumb make-teens-jump-and-scream commerical endeavor offends me. If you’re gonna follow up on it you better make sure you know what you’re doing. You can’t ALIEN VS. PREDATOR this shit. Is that the American way to remake a movie? Wait, don’t answer that.
This GRUESOME EDITION is another double-dutcher for me. I never figured anybody gave a shit besides me so I wasn’t expecting a special edition like this to ever come along. But it was worth re-buying.
The classiest extra is “IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY,” a six-part featurette deal interviewing some of the main people involved. Unfortunately Tobe Hooper’s not on here for some reason, and not surprisingly Dennis Hopper is missing, and Jim Siedow had already died when they made it. But they have L.M. Kit Carson (writer), Richard Kooris (director of photography), Cary White (production designer), Tom Savini (Tom Savini), Bill Moseley (Chop Top), Caroline Williams (Stretch), Lou Perryman (L.G. – also assistant cameraman on part 1) and Bill Johnson (Leatherface).
I think the interview with Carson is the most interesting. He gives alot of information about different drafts of the script and his experiences rewriting on the set and how the whole thing evolved. Despite some problems with Cannon Films and the removal of some of the stuff he wanted in the movie he seems happy and proud of the final product. I also liked Kooris and White’s stories about the set and how they lit it with actual lamps and chandeliers so they could do a long tracking shot chase without having to hide their lights.
Johnson is also an interesting interview because, like Gunnar Hansen, he’s a surprisingly gentle guy. His voice is elegant and the others describe him as “soulful.” It’s not mentioned in the interview, but on the actor’s commentary track Williams says that he had a stuntman do some of the murder scenes because he was so opposed to violence.
IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY also has some on-the-set and in-the-makeup-department video footage courtesy of Savini. I wish they had included some longer sections as a separate extra (Savini says on the commentary that he has video of the entire L.G. de-facing scene with Hooper telling Leatherface what to do) but oh well. This featurette (and all the extras) were made by the same people who made the FLESH WOUNDS documentary on the TCSM Ultimate Edition. So they are much better than your average throw-on-some-talking-heads type behind-the-scenes featurettes.
There are two commentary tracks. One is Tobe Hooper (interviewed by David Gregory, director of THE SHOCKING TRUTH). This one is not jam-packed with insights, but since info on this movie is much more scarce than on the original I was glad to hear what he had to say. He explains alot of things the less-obsessed might not know because they don’t really come across in the movie, like that Chop Top is hitchhiker’s twin brother, and that Nubbins (the corpse they carry around and use as a puppet for most of the movie) is supposed to be hitchhiker. He talks about some of the plot threads that were cut out (Lefty is Stretch’s illegitimate father!?), how he didn’t want to direct the sequel but couldn’t get anybody else to do it, etc. I do wish he would have said a little more. For example, there’s a scene outside the Cut-Rite Chain Saw Shop with a marching band going by in the background. You’d think Hooper would explain why he had a marching band going by but he sits silent through the whole scene. (There aren’t any Rudy Ray Moore type gaps, though.)
The actor commentary is a little more fun, it has Bill Moseley and Caroline Williams with Tom Savini. They all seem very proud of the movie, though Savini doesn’t seem to remember it very well and they keep having to explain things to him. Moseley is full of trivia and points out alot of little details. They clearly love the movie but I don’t think they’re overly self-congratulatory like some commentaries. They laugh about a few things like the small bridge that seems a hundred miles long when Leatherface terrorizes the yuppies on it at the beginning.
In the old days when I had to watch this movie on VHS, I thought the last shot of the movie was the most brilliant touch. Stretch has defeated the family and climbed to the top of the amusement park’s Matterhorn, and she waves the saw around in a savage victory dance. The camera pulls out and along the bottom of the frame, at the very last second, you see a semi drive by. So all this crazy fuckin mayhem has been going on right next to the highway, with people driving back and forth the whole time having no idea what was going on underground!
But when the movie finally came out on DVD it was letterboxed, and the truck was cropped off. Which made me wonder if we were ever even supposed to see that truck. The old DVD includes a full-frame transfer, but you still don’t see the truck. So maybe it was a mistake in the VHS transfer. Well, this DVD doesn’t shed any light on that but Moseley brings up the brilliance of the truck and is sad that you can’t see it anymore. So it proves I’m not crazy. It’s society that’s crazy.
The most enlightening extra is the five deleted scenes. Some of you might’ve seen these on an old VHS special edition that I think Anchor Bay put out. They were supposed to be after the movie but, on my copy at least, they weren’t. Well, here they are now, they are transferred from a poor quality VHS tape but I assume that’s all that’s left. They’re roughly edited and missing sound effects. But these are the legendary scenes you always read about like the massacre of rioting football players in an underground parking garage and the Joe Bob Briggs cameo (he praises Leatherface’s performance as he gets sawed). The parking garage scene would’ve made some people happy by giving the movie a much more respectable body count, but I’m glad these scenes were cut. They’re fun but much sillier than most of the movie, more in line with the chili cook-off scene. I don’t think we need to see a dead hand doing the hook ’em horns and then flipping the bird. There have been legends that these scenes made the movie more satirical, but I say they make it more of a parody. I’m glad they’re here to see, in a deleted scenes gallery, where they belong.
I can’t tell if the transfer is any different, but it’s anamorphic if that means anything to you. I also couldn’t tell if the cut itself was different. It might be, because the listed running time is one minute longer and it goes with the original unrated label (the old edition claimed to be rated-R).
My only serious complaint about this DVD is the lame packaging. It doesn’t have to be magnetic like the TCSM ULTIMATE EDITION but the cover ought to reflect the actual movie. Instead of using the old BREAKFAST CLUB movie poster parody, one of the Leatherface-cutting-through-a-wall movie posters or even the Dennis-Hopper-with-chainsaws still that was on the previous edition, they are trying to make ‘SAW 2 look like SAW 2. They have a bloody saw in front of a nu-horror-dirty white background. (Inside the slipcase they add a couple severed limbs to the picture.) I don’t know, maybe the let’s-trick-people-with-poor-eyesight-into-renting-the-wrong-movie approach to movie packaging works, but it’s too bad for the people who want to buy the DVD because they love the actual movie contained inside.
And as long as we’re nitpicking, isn’t THE GRUESOME EDITION kind of a weak handle? They have all these special editions lately with cutesy names that come from the movie (“Bueller Bueller Edition,” “Double Secret Probation Edition,” “Dread Pirate Edition,” “Everything’s Duckie Edition,” “Whatever Edition,” “Sexist, Egotistical, Lying Hypocritical Bigot Edition,” etc.) Well I’m usually against that but I would make an exception for TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2: LICK MY PLATE YOU DOG DICK EDITION. Or at least BITCH HOG EDITION.
Otherwise though this is a good one. If you love this movie and you have a few extra bucks beyond the basic necessities of modern living, I say it’s worth buying again. And if you’ve never seen it you really ought to rent it. As Moseley says in IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY, they were making “the sequel to the greatest horror movie ever made,” and I think they actually lived up to their responsibility.
And with that, I end my two weeks of non-stop chainsaws, skinned faces, cannibal dinners, body parts on meat hooks, giggling self-mutilation and tied-up, screaming kidnap victims. For the rest of the month I think I’m just gonna watch GILMORE GIRLS or some shit like that.
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/30347