The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) | The Movie Waffler

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Blu-Ray Review - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Tobe Hooper's sequel to his horror classic, new on blu from Arrow.

Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 must rank as one of the most despised sequels of all time, the ginger step child to its peerless original. Now, with a nifty new transfer and a whole truckload of extras, is it time to reassess it as Hooper’s last great work or the beginning of his descent into bargain basement direct to DVD hack work?
After the failure of Lifeforce and his Invaders From Mars remake, the temptation to return to the well of Hooper's first success must have been huge. Cannon Films, the company that could do no right, needed a hit and if there is one thing that Chainsaw has, it's name recognition. 12 years since the original, expectations must have been high. The original director working with a post rehab Dennis Hooper as Lefty, the Uncle of one of the original victims out looking for revenge, and L.M. Kit Carson coming off the back of adapting the screenplay for Palme D’or winner Paris, Texas looked like a team up bound to generate financial success and critical plaudits. Here was a horror movie with a wildly undisciplined mercurial actor able to deliver intensity and insanity, married to a script from a critically lauded writer, meaning not only was this going to be one of the most intense and terrifying films ever made, but one also grown up and nuanced.
What we got was a gaudy black comedy, full of splatter and groan inducing dialogue, which quite literally neutered Leatherface, taking an unreasoning, implacable killer and turning him into a phallic obsessed dimwit with an erectile dysfunction problem (if Leatherface was in a John Hughes movie, he would be the Anthony Michael Hall character). It uses the family of killers from the original and turns them into a sideshow carnival, with wisecracking Cook (Siedow) taking the family business on the road with his award winning chilli and literal meat wagon “The secrets in the meat”. He also replaces The HitchHiker with Chop-Top (Moseley) a character that has all the restraint of Bobcat Goldthwait on a Crack bender. In this company Hooper almost comes out as the reserved character in this slice of cackling EC comic Grand Guignol.
For all its many faults, TCM2 is still a whole lot of fun. Hooper clearly didn’t want to repeat himself by making the same film over again with a higher budget. If the first film was an angry cri de coeur for the Vietnam generation, the sequel attacks those baby boomers who have gone from protest to gentrification. The Saw family are now the ultimate recyclers, feeding a greedy avaricious population back to themselves. It might not be cutting edge satire, but then chainsaws are such blunt tools. In amongst the noise and gore, Hooper is at least trying to say something.
TCM2 also has that special Cannon touch, taking a low budget original and making it look more expensive and at the same time cheaper than the original. With its budget cut at the last minute it was bound to be a hobbled enterprise. That said, the sets look good, particularly the Sawyers' theme park meets Goya fever dream lair, a nightmarish mix of fifties nostalgia and flesh and bone. Strangely, the film's weak point is Hopper; he seems uncertain how to pitch his performance. What should be a meeting of insane minds seems strangely neutered. It’s as if, faced with the level of insanity he is dealing with, he has reined himself in. Bill Moseley suffers no such reticence and goes balls to the wall, to say a little goes a long way is something of an understatement, a funny for five minutes character whose one note performance grates more as the film goes on.
Leatherface is the most significantly changed character in the sequel. Like a particularly aggressive Lennie from Of Mice and Men, Hooper attempts to add pathos to his hulking lunk. This would be less reprehensible in action if he then didn’t include a scene in which he attempts to rape Stretch (Williams) with a chainsaw, only failing because he hasn’t got any juice in his weapon. It’s played for laughs and the subtext is literally erupting to the surface, but it is a deeply uncomfortable scene.
Tom Savini’s gore effects are good, although they are not best served by choppy editing and harsh lighting. Some scenes look horrific, others cartoony and haphazard. The score is eighties all the way so, like the fashions, has dated somewhat, though as this is backwoods Texas it feels a little more time out of place.
There are still moments to amuse and parts that still disturb. It’s an unusual film in that each time I revisit it, my response to it changes. Maybe the fact it was banned and I first saw it on a degraded VHS copy gave it the allure of forbidden fruit, making it a firm favorite for many years. Watching the film anew on Blu-Ray is like looking at it with new eyes. Time has been kind, certainly compared to the cynical parade of remakes and inferior sequels cynically trading on its brand name appeal, this has a spark and vim that, if it misses as much as it hits, should still be placed on the list of Hooper’s better works. Nothing he has done since lives up to his earlier promise. At the moment I am ambivalent again towards this film, the next time I watch it I’ll probably think it’s a masterpiece.

Extras

You get a grainy but high quality picture and uncompressed original 2:0 audio. 
You also get a plethora of extras; to call them extensive is an understatement. 
Two audio commentaries, one with the director another with cast and crew. 
A feature length documentary that can be watched in chapters or as a whole (the one irritant being you have credits after every chapter even if you choose the “play all” feature) full of insight and minutiae regarding the film. Maybe not quite as good as the doc on Lifeforce but still a worthy watch. 
There are deleted and alternate scenes, pic quality is bad but does contain more violence that will be of interest to fans of the film. 
There is also an original trailer, a stills gallery, plus interviews with Stunt-Man Bob Elmore and horror expert Stephen Thrower, and that’s only Disc 1.
Disc 2 is definitely a completist's dream, featuring Hooper’s short film The Heisters, a slight "Bunuel meets Monty Python" skit that is far more playful than you would expect. 
The major extra on this disc is his first feature film Eggshells. It may be a hideously dated hippy freakout of a film, at once ponderous and a fascinating snapshot of the 1960s counterculture, like watching a home movie of the victims of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre before they met the Sawyers. Whether this changes your sympathies from the victims to the victimisers will depend on your tolerance for psychobabble and naked putting it to the man posturing. This also comes with a commentary from the director. 
You also get a comprehensive trailer reel of most of Hooper's works. 
Disc 3 is a DVD copy of the film and you also get a 100 page booklet which was not available at time of review. If you have any interest in Hooper’s work or the film itself then you need to get this release. Exemplary.
9/10(for the package)


Jason Abbey