Thursday, September 13, 2012

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

The first time me and my baby saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, in a drive-in, she said, "Ya know, it's too good to be a bad movie, but it's too bad to be a good one." I dunno. It's grown on me quite a bit since it was first released in 1986. To give you an idea what a different world it was back then, I first saw it in another drive-in (pre-sweetheart) on a double bill with Day of the Dead. No fucking shit. No way you'd see a bill like that today, when even the drive-ins are chains. (Me and my baby saw it during a closing show when our local drive-in got bought out by some idiots who show nothing but multiplex movies now).
It was about this point in its run that the Muppet Show got really weird...
Anyway, Texas Chainsaw 2 seems like a bit of a mess the first time you see it. Filmed under high pressure circumstances with the Golan Globus clock running down and a script being frantically typed out by L.M. Kit Carson and slid under a hotel room door, the movie sort of falls apart in the third act, which is dispiriting because Texas Chainsaw Massacre is basically a perfect film. The second film loses me though, nearly every time. At the point that Dennis Hopper is running around the abandoned theme park and screaming like an idiot and the film is recreating the dinner set piece from the first movie, I usually tune out.

The exact opposite of safe sex.
Okay, but let's go back a bit. The opening sequence, in which two yuppie punks in a car get chainsawed by Leatherface in a monster truck driving backwards over a bridge is just as awesome as the description makes it sound, even if the effects by make-up Elvis, Tom Savini, got chainsawed out by the MPAA (which make no fucking sense, Tobe, because the movie went out unrated). It's a really brilliant set piece that shows off Tobe Hooper's development as a director. In fact, the entire first act, in which Texas radio DJ Stretch (played with real spunk by Caroline Williams), investigates a series of chainsaw massacres that have been plaguing Texas for years with the help of Sheriff Lefty (Dennis Hopper, drunk as fuck, apparently), and runs afoul of the cannibal family from the first flick, is great. Even if the movie never bothers to explain that Platehead is supposed to be the brother of the dead hitchhiker from the first film, Bill Moseley still does a great, if not legendary, job in the role. Not to mention Leatherface pretending to fuck Williams with a chainsaw, one of the best sequences in the series.

I think one of the problems with the film is that they actually had a sizable budget this time around, which might have taken away some of the hunger that fueled the first movie. The theme park set is great and the design is gorgeous, but you get the feeling that they shot a lot of things and cut out half of them. Hooper has talked about doing a director's cut to put back in some of the gore effects that he needlessly cut (given the movie was released unrated anyway), but it doesn't entirely cohere anyway.

Also, Lefty's a pretty thin character. He's the Uncle of the kids in the first movie and wants revenge, so he buys a big chainsaw and goes to get revenge. That's about it, really. Revenge is one of those themes that looms large in drama all the way back to Greek theater, but here it's just another element in the insanity. Once everyone gets to the abandoned theme park the film goes a bit crazy.

But, as my friend Aaron at the Zed Word blog pointed out to me this time I saw it, it's also really wonderfully demented nonetheless. Jim Siedow returns as the Chef who can't take no pleasure in killing. Moseley is great as Vietnam vet Platehead, whose metal head plate is financing this whole operation. Then you have Dennis Hopper running around and chainsawing the joint while screaming "I'm bringing it down!" And the effects by Elvis Savini are pretty frigging amazing. The film seems to just let these insane people act nuts, which would be good enough, but Hooper works in some of his favorite visual motifs, such as lots of weird lights everywhere and chases to nowhere. And there's even a sort of weird quest theme as well as a coming of age love story.

Which brings me to a sudden realization: if Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a near perfect horror film, maybe Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 should be seen as a near perfect midnight cult film.

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