Fox // 1986 // 101 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // September 28th, 2012
The saw is family.
I won't bury the lede. You guys deserve better than that. I like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 -- sequel to Tobe Hooper's 1974 horror classic -- more than its predecessor. I say this knowing it will damage my credibility among legions of readers and horror fans. I also know that if I'm dishonest about my preference, I have no credibility. I choose the former.
Thirteen years after the events of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, former Texas ranger Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper, Waterworld) is still investigating the disappearance of his niece and nephew, Sally and Franklin (both characters in the first movie). He crosses paths with Texas DJ "Stretch" Brock (Caroline Williams, Days of Thunder), who is broadcasting one night when two obnoxious college students call in and appear to be murdered on air by someone wielding a chainsaw. Yes, it seems Leatherface and his family are up to their old tricks -- and by "tricks" I mean "brutally killing people, cutting them up, and eventually turning them into award-winning chili. To cover their tracks, Leatherface and his brother Chop Top (Bill Mosely, House of 1000 Corpses) show up at the radio station and terrorize Stretch, leading to an underground confrontation between The Sawyer family, Stretch and Lefty, still hellbent on vengeance.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is unlike any other movie ever made. Hooper's original is a sweaty, claustrophobic masterpiece; terrifying specifically because of its documentary-like immediacy. It doesn't feel so much like a movie as it does some horrible thing that someone accidentally caught on camera, a quality that gives it a sense of danger. The sequel, also directed by Hooper -- and written by L.M. Kit Carson, the guy who wrote Paris, Texas, just to give you an indication how crazy this movie really is -- goes off in a very different direction. It's more black comedy than horror. As a product of the 1980s, the movie really cranks up the gore (for all the claims about how violent the first movie is, there is very little onscreen bloodshed). In fact, the sequel so violent it had to be released as "Unrated," or be slapped with the X stigma. Seen today, it's not really any more gory than most contemporary horror films with an R rating. It's just that the tone of the movie makes the violence that much more uncomfortable. The sickness feels uncomfortable, and the reaction to that is what makes it seem so much worse than it is.
Between the level of gore and the cartoonishly comedic tone, it's easy to understand why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was so hated upon its release in 1986. But it's precisely those differences that make it brilliant. The first film is a classic. Was anyone really going to improve on that? The best Hooper and company could have hoped for was "almost as good," and that wasn't going to work. So they went nuts and created a nightmarish mix of horror and comedy, satirizing '80s horror conventions and Reagan-era politics. Holding them up against one another is like comparing Night of the Living Dead with Dawn of the Dead. The movies are different because they have different goals, but each are successful on their own terms.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 really is like a nightmare, even when it's being funny. As the movie descends into the Sawyers' underground lair -- an impressively designed set that quite literally feels like going to Hell -- and the wheels really come off, it never stops being twisted and comedic. That's part of why it's such an uncomfortable experience, and why it's been such an under-appreciated movie (it's only now starting to get the reputation it deserves). The comedy exists in the same moments as the horror. Most movies -- even horror-comedy hybrids like The Return of the Living Dead -- switch between one and the other. Not Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. This is a movie in which a character is skinned on camera, while another one sits in the background saying really sick and funny stuff. You don't get to choose between laughing and being repulsed, which is the movie's special genius.
Anyone who already owns the fantastic 2006 "Gruesome Edition" DVD may want to think twice before putting down money for this Blu-ray, because it's really just that disc with an uneven HD upgrade. Presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio in full 1080p, but it's hardly the kind of movie anyone is going to use as reference material. The problem here is twofold. First, Fox has not done a first-rate remastering job, so there are issues of black crushing and grain instability that plague the transfer. Second, and more pressing, this was a relatively cheap and ugly movie to begin with. It looks grungy and grainy, with many shots soft or obscured by noise, because that's how it's supposed to look, and to Fox's credit there hasn't been much digital cleanup or DNR applied. So while it might not appear pristine to casual fans, it looks better than it ever has. The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is a bit stronger, only because the movie can often be such a sonic assault. Between the roar of multiple chainsaws and Caroline William's incessant screaming (which she does for entire second half of the film), the sound design is going to annoy a lot of people. While it would have been nice to get a full surround mix, the Blu-ray treats the audio exactly as it should be treated.
All of the bonus features are ported over from the "Gruesome Edition" DVD, and they are some pretty great extras. There's a pair of commentaries, the first featuring director Hooper and "interviewer" David Gregory, while the second features cast members Caroline Williams, Bill Mosely, and FX guru Tom Savini, who supplied the film's makeup and gore. Both tracks are worthwhile, the first being a little drier and detailed about production info, while the second is chattier and more fun. There's also collection of deleted scenes of pretty rough quality, but they're really interesting and provide a fascinating glimpse into just how tricky it was to establish tone of the movie. Some of the sequences cut involve a lot more violence (there's a parking garage slaughter, and a movie theater murder scene featuring a cameo by Joe Bob Briggs), so gorehounds might be disappointed these were got tossed out. But including them would have slanted the finished film too much in one direction. Still, it's great they can now be seen.
The best extra is the epic, nearly 90-minute retrospective documentary featuring comments from nearly all of the movie's main participants, save for Hooper and Jim Siedow (who played Drayton, the family patriarch...that is unless you count the nearly-mummified Grandpa) who passed away in 2003 at the age of 83. The documentary is almost as enjoyable as the movie itself, and goes a long way towards trying to explain and contextualize why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is such a crazy and unique experience. The on HD bonus feature is the movie's original theatrical trailer. Everything else is standard def.
As long as you don't go into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 expecting a remake of the first movie, you'll find the sequel has a lot to offer horror fans tired of the same slasher formula. In taking an entirely different direction, the film achieves what should have been otherwise impossible: an absolute worthy follow-up.
Crazy. Good. Crazy good.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scenes
* HD Trailer