The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 ★★★★

Ohhh yeah! This is exactly my kind of ghoul house running, chainsaw duelling, metal plate scratching insanity! For the follow up to his own masterpiece, 1974's Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Tobe Hooper decided to take things in a very different direction and it paid off in spades. It would've been impossible to top the relentless grungy fear of the first film but in TCM2, he brings the comedy in a totally unhinged way that makes it an equally intense experience.

Looking back, the 80s was a golden era for horror comedy, stuff that was simultaneously funny, gory and properly gross out. Braindead, Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead... TCM 2 rides in on that same bloody wave. I knew from the first scene, with the two yuppies (one wearing mad holographic glasses) getting railroaded by a corpse-fronting Leatherface that this was gonna be a wild ride, but I still wasn't prepared for how fuckin mental it gets! Basically, from the point where 'Lefty' Enright enters the Sawyer family homestead, howling like a mad dog and swinging his chainsaw at everything in sight, the whole film slides into this nightmarish fever dream where anything can happen and the bright lights of the real world seem a long ways away.

Most of the last part of the film takes place in a vast labyinth of a set (a former print works) that is made more unreal by the thousands of multi-coloured lights placed everywhere, grotesque dioramas and a metric shit ton of bones. The set design and props are a real work of art, as is the lighting, which angles through the darkness, picking out grotesqueness like the ultimate haunted house aesthetic. Hooper and DP Richard Kooris do a fantastic job of shooting it too, with some lovely staging and camera work; smooth tracking shots, pull backs, aeriel swoops. One shot in particular really stood out, in the scene that recreates the dinner party of the first film - the camera starts low at the table, then pulls back, up and out and one fluid motion to reveal the sheer scale of the place. They really make this massive space work. The scene where Stretch (Caroline Williams, elevating screaming to an artform) is running down the light-lined tunnel away from Leatherhead for fully quarter of a mile is nothing short of iconic.

Despite the danger Stretch is in most of the time, the overall tone is comic, but twisted. As amusingly absurd as it is, it's also pretty disturbing that the last moments of a flayed man are spent talking to a woman wearing his own face. That's gotta be a first. As has chainsaw pelvic thrusting. Talking of that, I guess some people have objected to Bill Johnson's humanizing of Leatherface, giving him a heart, in contrast to Gunnar Hansen's mad butcher, terrifyingly unknowable and impossible to reason with. I can see that, but it kinda works here, where the overall tone is cartoonish and larger than life. As for the other main draw, I can't imagine anyone better than Dennis Hopper at peak lunacy to play Lefty Enright. The clerk's reaction to him when he's buying his chainsaw stash sums it up perfectly *backing away nervously* Yeah, the Mandy generation might have Cage, but the 80s had the Lord of the Harvest!

Soundtrack kicks ass too. There's not much about this film that doesn't really and it even finds time for a bit of social satire, mindless consumerism and the legacy of America's violent history in Hooper's sights with the annual chili cook off ("No secret. It's the meat") and Chop-Top's copious Nam references. Mostly though, it's just a riot from start to finish and I could easily see me nudging it up a half star on the next watch. The buzzz is back? Damn straight!

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