This year we celebrate the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. You read that right. The first film is the best horror movie of all time for some, but if it seems odd to be celebrating the sequel, you obviously haven’t seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Did I mention it stars Dennis Hopper as a deranged lawman wielding chainsaws of his own, and that it’s directed by the same madman who helmed the original, Tobe Hooper? Stick with me. Here’s a review I wrote last year for one of my scary film columns last October…
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 begins with text crawling over the screen and read in deep, chilling voiceover. The narrator mentions a family of cannibals in an isolated farmhouse, chainsawed bones, chairs made of human skeletons. The introduction also recounts the fate of the five young people who “ran out of gas on a farm road in South Texas” in the original film. We’re told that “Four of them were never seen again.”
Fans of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will recognize this opening because it’s exactly like the opening of the first film. The crawl at the beginning of the original lead viewers to believe the events in the movie were true – a perfect set-up for the visceral verite of the first Massacre and one of many elements that made that first film a shortlister for greatest horror film of all time. The last time I watched the original was at party when I was about 35 years old. I left the room about halfway through – it was just too real, and it was really fucking scary even drinking with friends with the lights on before midnight.
In this sequel the intro is more of a feint than a jab and the film that follows is not a brutal knockout of anarchic genius so much as a sucker punch – but it’s a smart sucker punch, and a funny one.
Massacre 2 takes place thirteen years after the original – roughly the exact same time between the movies’ 1974 and 1986 releases. The introduction informs us that after Sally Hardesty escapes from Leatherface at the end of the original she relates her tale about the grisly happenings in the old farmhouse. Authorities never find the house or the murderous Sawyer family. Chainsaw murders continue to occur all over North Texas, but authorities are quick to cover-up cases they can’t solve or explain.
After a drunken, college weekend chicken race two boys are found dead in a wrecked car. Dennis Hopper makes his first appearance as Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright, arriving at the crime scene and discovering chainsaw damage on a detached car door. Lefty is the uncle of Sally Herdesty and her brother Franklin from the first film. Lefty’s obsession with finding the chainsaw murderers makes him a crackpot in the eyes of his peers. He can’t sleep. He chain smokes and he drinks too much.
Hopper is perfectly cast. The actor/director’s personal reputation for excess and screwy behavior make him instantly believable as the sullen-but-intense Lefty, and it’s the first time I’ve heard Hopper doing a Texas accent since James Dean socked him in Giant. While a movie with the word “chainsaw” in the title might make you think otherwise, 1986 was the greatest year in the actor’s career, seeing the release of Massacre 2 as well as River’s Edge, Blue Velvet and the basketball drama Hoosiers which earned Hopper an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Hopper’s brooding intensity brings weight to his character, but Lefty’s mournfulness is shot-through with crazed focus and let-’er-rip righteousness that finds Hopper – not surprisingly – dominating his time on screen. When Lefty arms himself with chainsaws holstered like six-guns, and descends into the Sawyer family’s home beneath an abandoned carnival, there is no one but Hopper you’d ever want in this role.
Of course the presence of a madman film legend like Hopper is a huge clue that this film is not at all like the low-budget, lo-fi original. Tobe Hooper, director of both films and co-writer of the first, planned to do a satirical film about a whole town of cannibals. That movie was going to be called Beyond The Valley of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. By the time screenwriter L.M. “Kit” Carson finished the final screenplay, the idea had been revised several times, but the satirical angle was always in place.
The second movie feels almost nothing like the original, but that’s no accident. The fist Massacre is Hooper’s masterwork, and Carson’s credits include his diaphanous adaptation of Sam Shepard’s “Paris, Texas” which was made into a film by German auteur Wim Wenders. These guys aren’t dummies, and the Breakfast Club posing of the Sawyer family portrait on the film’s poster, the gallons of gross-out gore and even the anti-capitalist sentiments sprinkled throughout the film add-up to a sequel that stakes its own claims to greatness.
Here’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2…