“Strange things happen to a man on the road / Strange things happen to man whose alone. Back home you gotta solid life / That life don’t mean a thing out here…..” — Stewart Copeland, “Strange Things Happen”.
As I said in my review of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I actually viewed this film before the first. My neighbor had three nephews that lived an hour or so away. Each summer when I was a kid, she’d have one over each week, and sometimes if she was particularly brave she’d have all three at the same time. They introduced me to this film and some how we conned my mom into renting it for us (thanks Mom!).
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is very much of it’s time and that is what makes it great. The humor of the first is something that takes a few viewings to actually see because it’s so intense. This one, the humor is very much apparent from the outset; even the poster is a parody of The Breakfast Club. Following the template of the first film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 opens up with a narrated text crawl updating us on events with the story. The family was never caught after the first film and authorities are still on the look out. Sally Hardesty-Enright survived the first film but got a hyphenated last name for reasons that are unexplained. We can assume it’s not from marriage as her blood uncle’s family name is Enright. As far as time paradoxes I can over look this one a lot easier than I could in the recent reboot.
The film opens up in grand fashion by having a couple yuppies anger the Sawyer clan and pay the price dearly by being sawed to death at over 90 mphs hour by Leatherface whose holding the corpse of his dead brother and using the biggest chainsaw I’ve ever seen. This is definitely the 80’s theory of “bigger is better”; and I’m not inclined to disagree in this instance (also, it’s a Cannon Film). Unfortunately for the Sawyer, the yuppie kids happened to have a giant car phone they were using to harass the local rock DJ of K-OKLA, Stretch (the long legged Caroline Williams). Stretch records the whole thing and it’s what sets the plot in motion as she and Lefty Enright (a gonzo Dennis Hopper) team up to find the truth about the murders that have plagued the state and bring the Sawyers to justice.
For their part, the Sawyers, have gone the way of the Jefferson’s since the first film by “moving on up”. No longer running a BBQ pit out of a gas station, Drayton (the late great Jim Siedow, reprising the role) has taken his prize winning recipe for human flesh and turned it into an award winning catering service, The Last Round-Up Rolling Grill. That little piece of fingernail in the chilli? No worries, it’s just a hard shell pepper corn. His secret recipe? There is no secret; he just has a great eye for prime meat. It runs in the family!
Drayton and Bubba (aka Leatherface and played this time by Bill Johnson) are joined in this outing by Chop-Top (Bill Moseley in his career defining performance). Chop-Top’s returned home after being drafted in Nam during the first film, and spends his time using a wire hanger to pick pieces of his scalp away the metal plate in his head to cook and snack on. It’s gross but funny, and this is the type of morbid humor that goes in this film, and in the wonderful world of the 80s. Chop-Top also suffers from PTSD and when stressed bursts out “NAM FLASHBACKS! NAM FLASHBACKS!”.
About thirty minutes in the film we reach the attack on K-OKLA. Lefty had a special request for Stretch to play; the recorded killing of the two yuppies. This attracts the ire of the Sawyers (‘YOU BOYS HAVE DONE IT AGAIN! YOU’LL BE THE DEATH OF ME! YOU FUDGEPACKERS!”, Drayton yells down at his younger brothers from his car phone). Chop-Top and Leatherface are dispatched to dispatch Stretch.
Chop-Top,the weird hippy, shows up dressed up as Sonny Bono, twitching and rambling while eating his flesh. Bill Mosley ends up stealing the show during this scene as he fires off several great one-liners that are used as soundbites on radio programs, songs, and quotes popular culture to this day: “Music is my life”, “I get too embarrassed to phone in requests, it’s too disembodied”, “I know what you’re thinking: this is weird! I’m hoping I can handle it!”, and Bill Goldberg’s favorite, “DOG WILL HUNT!”.
Unlike the first film were we had no relatively no blood, this film is drenched in it — which isn’t surprising as Tom Savini took over for the FX. Chop-Top bludgeons K-OKLA staff member LG halfway to death with a hammer in a very uncomfortable scene that seems to go on forever. Their dastardly plans go astray however as Leatherface ends up falling in love with Stretch. After gently making love to her with his chainsaw and faking her death, the dastardly duo leave K-OKLA. Lefty and Stretch give chance to their secret hideout. The Sawyers are now living in an abandoned amusement park, which Chop-Top wants to name “Nam Land”.
The set decorators spent a lot of time on the interior of this place and it shows; there are Christmas lights strung up all along the walls and ceiling. There is no place on the set that is not covered in light bulbs, lampshades, or chandeliers. This all factors into the Sawyers having ADHD and needing the constant stimuli. There are also secret passages and walls that hide human guts inside them. Jim Siedow and Bill Moseley spend the last portion of the movie together arguing and philosophizing about Nam Land and business. Drayton and Chop Top mix together like Pepsi and Pop Rocks, exploding off the set and each other with gleeful zeal. The two character actors were perfect for the roles in this film and knock it out of the park. During their sparring we also learn that the family’s current business operation is funded through benefits Chop-Top receives after his wound in Nam.
Texas Ranger Lefty Enright ends up going off the rails at this point too, using chainsaws to fight fire with fire. He saws into everything in sight with reckless abandon (the film is so gory that even walls bleed at times) while he quotes Bible verses and sings gospel tunes. Drayton and the family are seeing the debris falling and Drayton laments property taxes while Chop Top uses his dead brother’s corpse as a marionette to pitch ideas for Nam Land. Lefty finds what’s left of Franklin in there as well, a nice little nod to the first film. Of course, there is another dinner scene after Stretch is captured by the family and brought to dinner by her new beau Leatherface. Leatherfaces brothers aren’t so keen on his blooming romance and decide to bring him back into the fold. Grandpa Sawyer gets another shot to dispatch a final girl. “137 years old and still as fast as Jesse James”, Drayton tells them. We also get a bit of exposition as to what led the family to seek human meat as their source of money as automation in the cattle industry put them out of business. Grandpa’s blows are interrupted by Lefty’s gospel singing; Drayton takes offense and yells “Is that the American way of entering a man’s home? Singing like that?”.
Lefty introduces himself as “The Lord of the Harvest”. Drayton immediately believes himself to be under attack from a rival businessman owning a health food store, and tries to pay Lefty off. It doesn’t work and Drayton laments “the small business man always gets it in the ass!”. The family is dispatched via suicide and chainsaw except for Chop-Top who gives a harrowing chase all the way through Nam Land, until they reach the top where Stretch finds Grandma Sawyer holding a chainsaw. She manages to knock Chop-Top down into the subterranean levels supposedly to his death. She stands triumphant on top of Nam Land, holding the saw above her and screaming as we phase out to the end credits.
If you watch this on TV edit, the framing allows you to see traffic going by on the highway behind her; the DVD framing doesn’t allow this. It’s a small detail but shows just how much craziness is happening right under people’s noses. The film closes out with the rather fitting Stewart Copeland’s “Strange Things Happen” playing over the credits. The film ends as it began: forceful, bizarre, and operatic.
Some criticisms of the film is that it’s too humorous compared to the original, or that there is no middle act. Fair criticisms, and if I’d grown up with the original and then viewed this, I might be a bit aggravated with it. Leatherface isn’t the autistic brute from the first and more of a cartoon, so I totally understand the detractors. The addition of Bill Moseley as Chop Top is what makes the film; he’s the star here. At the time, Moseley was a struggling actor trying to audition for SNL and made an audition skit called The Texas Chain Saw Manicure. Moseley played the part of the Mancurist, and patterned his character after Edwin Neal’s Hitcher character from the first film. Tobe Hooper was a fan of the skit and kept him in mind for a sequel. Flash forward a few years, Moseley gets a call from writer Kit Caron telling him they’ve written a sequel and want him on board. Moseley obviously wanted this role as much as he needed it and it shows every time the character is on screen and it brings out the best in everyone around him.
And yeah, there isn’t really a middle act, but that’s going with the theme of the movie that crazy people exist and you never really know what might happen. Having a plot structure would ruin the random nature of the film. This is the film Tobe Hooper wanted to make and time has vindicated it. It’s one of the best horror sequels ever, and a cult classic. The film had a huge influence on Rob Zombie and his homages to the series House of 1000 Corpses and The Devils Rejects, both of whom star Bill Moseley as the evil Otis Firefly.
In early 2000, Tobe Hoopers son William tried to make a quasi sequel to the film about Chop-Top being interviewed in prison called All American Massacre. Some scenes were filmed but nothing ever came to fruition. Judging from the trailer, this may have been a good thing, though lamentful for fans of the series.
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