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Terrific DVD treatment of a maligned but nonetheless fondly remembered comedy/slasher movie from the mid-1980s...
on January 28, 2015
Fairly entertaining follow-up to Hooper's magnificently scary "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" really doesn't have much of the drilling power that the original film housed, but again this was an attempt to make a very different film (back in the days when producers didn't merely try to rehash what had already been accomplished in the original). On some level, the picture actually works (I think, even considering how outlandish that the Sawyer house looks in its mercilessly bloody expansion over the years (this is a joke I think) into an underground lair, that the set design for this one is one of the better fantasy film constructs in 80's horror moviemaking), but on other levels, the picture is having a major identity crisis. Hooper (who turns up briefly in a Hitchcockian moment near the beginning hurtling a soda can at some frat house kids as he passes by the camera) actually wanted to merely produce this one but budget concerns got him to change his mind--probably wise, since Hooper understood what he and Mick Garris refer to as the "red humor" of the story (something that, understandably, was missed in the original by most audiences). While this is the most Hannibal Lecter-like of the series, it is also the most ridiculous and most fantastic, with a fairly embarrassed looking Dennis Hopper running around with two chainsaws screaming "bring it down(!)"--the film does have some bloody moments, but it's not as violent as I was expecting it to be, and there is really a humorous edge running throughout the whole thing (and of course the infamous "grandpa" dinner scene is repeated in this one--ironically, it's not as funny or as horrific as it was in the original). While I have mixed feelings about the attempt to try and humanize the Leatherface character, the movie does have a particular visual energy running through it that makes the most of Richard Kooris's cinematography and the cinematically enriching set design. I have no problem with these low-budget Cannon Films productions, but writer Kit Carson can only do so much with what was conceived as a visual joke of a film, and as a result the picture offers nothing truly substantial. However, it is fun on the level of a Saturday morning cartoon-type programmer, and if you are worried about being genuinely scared by this one, have no hesitations about proceeding here because this is a lot more lighthearted in tone (despite its grisly subject matter, and some scenes of brutality in the first thirty minutes or so). The performances, especially those of Jim Siedow and Bill Johnson, are uniformly good for such a lower-aiming enterprise.
What is interesting here for historians (but, to my reading, not terribly revealing or as engrossing as it should have been) is the Red Shirt pictures/Michael R. Felsher-produced "It Runs in the Family" documentary (which runs for 92 minutes in total, according to IMDB) and reveals pretty well every aspect of the making of this lower key but nonetheless enjoyable picture. Screenwriter Carson discusses the development process that he had with Hooper and to me this is the most interesting section of the documentary. However, it is nice to hear from the sequel's cast all these years later too. The alleged "Gruesome Edition" contains several deleted scenes in case you are interested in seeing what was trimmed (probably due to the film's major censorship issues, which were evidently more severe in the overseas markets, ironically enough).
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" is by no means an essential detour if you are interested in horror film history and, despite the fact that it was released in 1986, it really does not have much of a nostalgic quality for me (in the way that "The Amityville Horror" or "Carrie" have). The film is actually suffering from a genre blend that does not quite mesh as well as it should have, but the movie has many fans and it apparently works on the level of audience appreciation quite well. So, overall, I would deem it a straight C picture--NOT the atrocity that Leonard Maltin's guide deems it to be, but in no way a pertinent addition to a horror movie collection either. Still, at least in a visual sense, there is something worth investigating here if you like these kinds of movies.