The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

Movie Information

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Thursday, Aug. 19 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of the Carolina Asheville. The show will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Score:

Genre: Subversive Horror
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson, Lou Perry
Rated: NR

Nothing says subversive like a good horror film, and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) is as subversive as they come—and also one of those rare instances where a sequel is actually better than the original. This is an angry film that’s nothing less than a blistering attack on the decade in which it was made. It’s open season on yuppies, family values and Reaganism—not necessarily in that order, and housed in a movie that wisely never forgets it’s a horror picture. It’s a horror picture built on satire, but its horror is intense, its suspense is palpable and its gore and grue very red indeed—so much so that it went out unrated. And the cherry on top of it all is a nutso performance from Dennis Hopper that rivals his Frank Booth in the same year’s Blue Velvet.

Hooper’s film can be taken as simply a horror picture if the idea that it’s more than that bothers some viewers (and it will, I’m sure). It certainly is a horror movie—one that even a lot of horror fans thought went too far at the time of its release. But taking this view really sells the movie short. Truth is that Hooper’s original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was not exactly apolitical. Its depiction of the “Chainsaw clan” is similar to the one found here—a group of people forming a tightly-knit family group, mired in the past and unable to cope with the world at large to a point of depraved insanity. Chainsaw 2 merely ups the content—though “merely” perhaps understates the case.

Here we have the “perfect” family unit, espousing the capitalist American dream at every turn—and seemingly unaware of any disconnect between their murderous, cannibalistic ways and the world at large. They live in the subterranean ruins of a theme park gone to seed, which the Bill Moseley character—a seriously deranged Vietnam veteran—wants to revive as “NamLand” (“It’s what the public wants!”). Jim Siedow’s character speaks almost entirely in bromides and bumper-sticker slogans—and considers himself the embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit, regardless of the fact that his product is chili made from human beings (“The secret is the meat”). And like so many politicians, the characters “live on fear,” something the film makes abundantly clear throughout. That the film satirizes its own era seems hard to miss.

But as horror—with a heavy helping of black comedy—it works, too. It has a solid atmosphere—despite its apparent small budget—and the production design is weirdly beautiful (and disturbing). The acting is first rate throughout—at least for the kind of movie it is; this doesn’t call for subtlety. Special mention should be made of Caroline Williams in the lead role. Not only is she excellent and believable, but this has to be one of gamest performances in any horror film. Hooper clearly put her through the ringer making the film and she took it all. Whether the film really goes too far is, I guess, a matter of taste. It certainly doesn’t shy away from anything. But compared to today’s torture porn, it seems almost mild—or maybe it’s just that it doesn’t present sadism for its own sake.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

4 thoughts on “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

  1. Oingo87

    This was my 2nd Thursday Horror Film that I attended. I’m so glad you guys are doing this, it’s great to be able to sit with an audience and see how everyone reacts to the movie.

    I must say I was disappointed with Texas Chainsaw 2. I did laugh out loud at parts, and there were moments that I really enjoyed, but ultimately wasn’t satisfied. It seemed really long to me, were we maybe watching the director’s cut? I did enjoy Dennis Hopper’s performance though!

    I’m glad to have seen the movie though, and I am looking forward to next Thursday’s showing, whatever it may be. Thanks again!

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’m so glad you guys are doing this, it’s great to be able to sit with an audience and see how everyone reacts to the movie.

    Don’t kid yourself — that’s a large part of the appeal for me, too.

    It seemed really long to me, were we maybe watching the director’s cut?

    No, this is the same cut that was released in 1986. There was an 89 minute R-rated cut. And there’s supposedly a 110 minute version, though I’m not convinced it ever existed. I’ve never found the 101 minute version slow, but opinion are apt to vary.

    I am looking forward to next Thursday’s showing, whatever it may be. Thanks again!

    You’re welcome. Next Thursday is classic era horror with a double feature if Island of Lost Souls and White Zombie (the first zombie movie, the source of Rob Zombie’s group’s name, and nothing like a George A. Romero zombie).

  3. I bought the “111 minute” collector’s edition on VHS a few years back, and it’s only 111 minutes if you include the running time of the featurette that follows the film…which I don’t.

  4. Jeffrey DeCristofaro

    As a HUGE Tobe Hooper fan, I actually still rank his classic THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) as the best horror film ever made, but I really did LOVE this sequel, done as part of a triple-package deal with The Cannon Group that also included the remake of INVADERS FROM MARS and another particular favorite film of mine, LIFEFORCE. He said that this film was the best of the three Cannon horror flicks he did (actually, I liked LIFEFORCE better, but then again, none of these films were bad at all!), and aside from the first TCM, SALEM’S LOT, and POLTERGEIST, was one of the best he ever made. What surprises me is that TCM2 is perhaps the greatest sequel to a “slasher” flick ever made, and it happens to be more, yet horribly misunderstood. How long will it be before so-called “slasher sequels” start following its example as bravura filmmaking?

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