Arto’s review published on Letterboxd:
Halloween Horror Marathon (#9)
For whatever reason, Tobe Hooper decided to revisit the classic that established him as a master of horror, but instead of immersing audiences in revisiting the grainy super disturbing world of the original, Hooper chose to 180 the fuck out of his legacy by taking a route similar to what Sam Raimi did with Evil Dead 2. Moving away from the famously frightening settings and atmosphere at the forefront, both directors instead chose to inflict on the audience gore and dark over the top humor above all else. What we get is yet another dive into the kind of cheesy 80's camp that benefited my taste for horror best with a revisit and altered state of mind. While somewhat of a divide, there are many people out there who have appreciated TCM2 to the point of it achieving cult status for what it attempted to do to the genre along with creating somewhat more depth for the Sawyer family's character development akin to equally big names like Freddy Krueger, Pinhead, Michael Myers, etc.
I didn't think highly of TCM2 the first time around. Like most, I love how dirty and disturbing the original was, with the ability of its grainy cinematography to feel so grounded amidst what becomes a progressively unfathomable descent into Hell. That mixed with the low-budget set designs and costumes encapsulated the essence of what dominated that period of the more dark-hearted side of the drive-in/grindhouse era amidst the 70's-80's. This comes right back to my 180 comment on how polar opposite the sequel is and how there's what I feel a critical imbalance between the two. Wacky humor aside, the production is heightened extensively in the design of the Sawyers' lair and the more detailed Leatherface mask, which is a minor gripe I have. There was something much more creepy about the masks in the original that I can't put my finger on. However, what was most unnecessary in TCM2 was Hooper's choice to make Leatherface softened and less frightening. The goofiest part of the movie that would continually take me out of it was this move he constantly does where he raises the chainsaw up in the air and stomps his feet real fast before charging at his victims. I assume this was meant to make him seem animalistic, but instead it's unforgivably lame and comes across more like something you'd see in a video game boss fight.
Gunnar Hansen's performance in the original did something so immensely disturbing without words, and TCM2 proves how impacting and necessary Leatherface's unique body language and screams were to the terror and menace he brought to the overall experience. I felt like I truly was watching a deranged killer doing some truly horrible shit. In the original, Leatherface is revealed to be subservient to his family. He is here as well, but he seems way too bumbling and less effective in comparison. He was frightening beginning to end in the original, but here he acts way too inferior, like a dog that's smacked on the snout from time to time for doing something wrong. He goes from threatening to reluctant villain way too often, so much that it makes my sadistic horror-loving side go flaccid.
Outside of his grunt exterior, TCM2's Leatherface doesn't hold a candle to everything that made Hansen's performance much more impacting. Hooper makes a weak attempt at trying to humanize him, or more specifically makes him into a sort of psycho masked killer version of King Kong by having a soft spot in his heart for the female lead while still being a vicious threat to everyone else. It didn't work for me the first time around and it still doesn't. It surprisingly doesn't help that there actually is a particular segment disturbing enough to fit into the original, but it doesn't work for me because it contrasts too much to the established nonsensical feel the rest of the film has to be affected by it the way I feel I should have.
I know I'm laying a beating on this film, but I do like it for what it is. It's just unfortunate that for a horror-comedy, it's far more on the comedy side than it is horror, and considering the movie it's the sequel of, that brings it down in certain ways while working at other times, and perhaps that's best demonstrated in a few scenes in its first half.
I have to admit the plus of what is basically my main peeve (Leatherface in love) is how intensely awesome a particular scene is when he's, how do I put this...using his chainsaw as a phallic symbol. Actually that whole nighttime radio studio segment about thirty minutes in is in my opinion the best part of the film. As awesome as it is to see the Sawyers' spookily surreal hideaway, along with the climactic chainsaw vs chainsaw duel that features Dennis Hopper as a character who is arguably just as crazy as the Sawyers, the greatness of the radio station segment is at the top for me due to, amongst various bits, the scene stealing Bill Moseley as Chop Top. Chop Top is a creepy hippie-looking weirdo who heats up the tip of a coat hanger with a lighter so he can scratch all the dead scalp meat around the metal plate on his head, something he seems to like doing way too much. It's a bizarre scene that stands out on its own to the point that I forgot I was watching a TCM movie, and I mean that in a good way. There's other great moments in radio studio segment as well, including the whole phallic chainsaw bit along with what has to be one of the most successful movie jump scares I've ever seen. It altogether feels to me to be what sums up in a single chunk of the film exactly what Hooper's intentions were this time around.
TCM2 is the kind of horror movie you have to go into with the right mood. Do not watch this with the kind of mindset that made you love the original so much. That doesn't necessarily mean that fans of the original will dislike this. It all comes down to if this particular kind of movie is entertaining to you regardless of what it's affiliated with. If you're up for watching a horror movie that engages your nonsensical side then maybe you will find yourself the target audience of all this goofy mayhem.
Halloween Horror Marathon List