“It’s a dog eat dog world and from where I sit there just ain’t enough damn dogs!”
The boringly dismissive reputation of Tobe Hooper is that he debuted with a stonecold a masterpiece and then never made another decent film. This is what the French call “Le Bullshit.” Sure, there’s no other title in Hooper’s filmography that competes with the unrelenting intensity of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that’s also true of most horror movies in general. For those willing to dig (and accept the shared authorship on Poltergeist, much like how Spielberg and Lucas shared authorship on Raiders Of The Lost Arc), the truth is that Hooper has made a variety of delightfully wacko twisted genre flicks since his iconic debut (Salem’s Lot, Funhouse, Lifeforce, etc.). In fact, he’s even got a second genre classic with the words “Texas,” “Chainsaw,” and “Massacre” in the title. When it was released in 1986, most critics didn’t know what to make of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. After all, here was a sequel that replaced the suggestive violence and nerve-rattling suspense of the original with bad taste humor and some of Tom Savini’s most disgusting gore. It was a movie that turned iconically terrifying characters into cartoons, let Dennis Hopper chew more scenery than in Blue Velvet, and parodied The Breakfast Club with it’s poster. At face value, the sequel that inverted everything that was special about the original and therefore was far from a worthy successor. But here’s the thing: decades later, all the reasons why people hated Chainsaw 2 at the time have made it cult classic. In fact, Shout Factory just gave the film possibly their most lavish Blu-ray release to date.
The original Massacre was a film of its time and arguably the greatest of the no-budget 16mm splatter features that filled drive-ins and grindehouses in the 70s. Hooper used that grainy film stock to bring newsreel reality to genre movies, filling his fright feature with an underlying social commentary on the dried up Texas economy and political unease. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a definitive movie of 70s and the sequel simply couldn’t touch that. Times, the genre, and Tobe Hooper’s career had changed too radically. Chainsaw 2 was the last project in the director’s lucrative 3-picture deal with Canon Films following Poltergeist (Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars preceded it with massive budgets and low box office). At the time, Hooper was making genre movies on a mass scale. Plus, it was the 80s (naturally). Hooper couldn’t just repeat himself, so instead he made a Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the yuppie-hating, gore0loving, VHS-hoarding, 80s horror crowd. Not only did the director succeed, but he and hipster Paris, Texas screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson somehow managed make it happen in a tight 16 weeks from conception to theatrical release.
The story catches up with cannibal Sawyer clan in a period of prosperity, living in a theme park, and making award winning chilli from mysterious meat. Dennis Hopper shows up as a the renegade lawman uncle of one of the corpses from the first film. He’s a man out for chainsaw duelling revenge. Toss in a spunky DJ (Caroline Williams) in over her head along with some friends for the slaughter, and you’ve got yourself a Chainsaw picture. Granted, plot isn’t really the movie’s strength. The story is just kind of there. Where the sequel succeeds is through the wildly eccentric characters and performances (particularly from Hopper and Bill Moseley’s instantly iconic Chop-Top), the disgustingly graphic gore (Savini went the extra mile in a queasy face-mask sequence), and most importantly the lovingly ludicrous dark humor. Tobe Hooper and L.M. Kit Carson took the sick comedy buried in Chainsaw 1 to a logical extreme. At times TCM 2 plays as parody, at other times it’s almost arthouse satire (like the ridiculous Freudian chainsaw sex scene), and other times it’s like a Warner Brothers cartoon. Regardless, the sequel is always a party, packed with more than enough gross out gags and rollercoaster scares to honor the name. Hooper reinvented his franchise for a fresh decade and delivered a movie just as textbook reverential 80s horror as his original film encapsulated the strength of 70s horror. Divorced from the unfair expectations the sequel faced in 1986 and viewed in the context of the pathetic Hooper-less sequels and remakes that followed, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is easily the finest film to feature that title (the greatest exploitation movie title of them all) since the original. It’s a classic in it’s own right and now Shout Factory have delivered the definitive Blu-ray the film deserves.
Shout Factory struck a new 2K trainsfer for this release and the result is by far the best the film has ever looked (the original MGM Blu was never that great). Granted the movie has a deliberately muddy and grimy aesthetic, but within those limitations the disc looks fantastic. There’s new depth to the cavernous sets in the finale, the blinding Texas light bursts off the screen in the early daytime shots, the acid trip colors in Hooper’s palette glow off the screen, and of course the disgusting gore effects are presented with new gag-inducing detail for sickos (like myself) to appreciate. The lossless master soundtrack carries plenty of power as well, with all of the screams and slices filling the room and the darkly comedic dialogue coming out crisp from the center. The film has never looked or sounded so good.
Yet, it’s the special feature section that really makes this disc a must own. Two commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and an excellent feature length documentary are ported over from the old release. Then things get wild. There’s a new commentary from the DOP, production designer, script supervisor, and property master that gets into the nitty gritty of the insanely rushed production schedule. Then there are 30 minutes of extended interviews with the late LM Kit Carson (who hilariously got praise from David Mamet, Penn & Teller, and a possibly stalker-ish Kathy Bates for his script) and Lou Perryman cut out of the old making of doc, and no less than 43 minutes of behind the scene footage from Tom Savini’s archives. Next up, comes an insanely detailed 42 minute documentary about the effects crew that covers each and every gore gag (including some that were cut from the movie) in remarkable detail (though hilariously, don’t expect much from Savini…you’ll see why). The actors who played the yuppie chainsaw victims in the opening scenes pop up to describe their brief, but memorable involvement in the film for 20 minutes. Canon Films’ house editor Alain Jakubowicz sits down for a hilariously candid chat about working with Tobe Hooper (who apparently had a Dr. Pepper can in his hand for the entire production and post process). Stuntman Bill Johnson recalls his painful ordeal running around with the largest commercially available chainsaw in 1986 with some amusingly honest detail. Then there’s one of those Horror’s Hallowed Grounds segments where Sean Clark visits all of the locations and has a casual geekout. Toss in some still galleries and trailers and you’ve got the most exhaustive exploration of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 possible.
Does This Deserve a Spot on Your Dork Shelf?
This has got to be the most impressively packed Scream Factory release to date and anyone who loves the film needs to abandon all previous releases and pick this thing up immediately. It just might be Shout Factory’s finest hour and the fact that this much care and effort went into a movie called Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 proves just what saints those Shout folks truly are.