in Shocktober

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

The first time I saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 I was disappointed. Its predecessor ranks among my top five favorite horror films of all time. It was a disturbing and inventive piece of independent filmmaking. TCM 2 is an off-the-wall dark comedy. Not really what you would expect in a followup. Especially when you have the same creative team returning. Now that I’ve watched it again I’ve softened up a little to this pulpy mess. No, it’s not as scary or as memorable as the first, but it has a deranged humor to it that’s strangely compelling. The performances are energetic, the sequences are over-the-top, and the blood is pumping.

Like the original, TCM 2 opens with a narrator reading onscreen text about the heinous murders of a clan of Texas cannibals. The only difference is that it’s now accompanied by some of the worst 80s synth music you’ve ever heard. Tragically, this cheeseball soundtrack is constant throughout the film. Moving on we meet two wild punks raising hell down the Dallas highway. These two punks spend all their time shooting road signs and abusing a local radio station by phone. Their night is CUT short when Leatherface emerges from another vehicle and chops up the punks like headcheese. All of this carnage is captured by phone from the local DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams), but what to do? That’s where former Texas Ranger Lieutenant “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) comes in to put an end to Leatherface’s murderous family.

There’s a whole slew of colorful characters in TCM 2, I don’t know where to start. Chop Top (Bill Mosely) is probably the strangest. Off in Vietnam during the events of the first film, Chop Top is a flower power dressed sociopath with a plate in this head. He’s just as disgusting as he is entertaining. Here’s a picture of me with Bill “Chop Top” Mosely from a year ago. Dennis Hopper is more or less insane as Lefty, wielding multiple chainsaws and seeking revenge for the death of his nephew Franklin (who was killed in the first film). The only returning cast member is the family patriarch Drayton (Jim Siedow) who now makes a living selling his “barbecue” by truck and winning chili cook-offs. Naturally, he’s my favorite with his toothy grin and backwoods chuckle.

I’ll give director Tobe Hooper and company credit, the cast is full of interesting characters. Additionally, the violent set pieces on the highway, the radio station, and the family’s cave-like habitat are all like going through a Halloween spook house. The problem is it could have been so much better had it followed the mold of the original. It’s the problem with essentially all sequels, bigger is not alway better. Gone is the feeling of isolation out in the Texas backwoods, the ever-building suspense, and the brooding pace. Tonally, TCM 2 takes 180 degree turn that’s polarizing for fans expecting another chilling horror classic. It feels nothing like the first one and loses all the elements that made that film good. Yes it has different elements that are fun in their own way but not as memorable. This film could have been so much more. Then again, it’s still the second best out of a long-lasting series that’s felt more and more like a real massacre over the years.

Dennis Hopper used himself as inspiration for the character.