It's been 13 years since the classic 1974 original, so Toby Hooper and crew decided to make a sequel but with a slightly different direction. I don't like it when certain horror movie franchises changes the serious tone of the first movie but then turn it into a horror-comedy venture for the sequels. The only good example of this is Evil dead 2 and 3.
So when I first watched this, it was just a weird experience. The tone was just all over the place. It had a good enough story that kept me interested but then the movie veered into something else and that's where I got confused. I'm okay with black comedy in horror, however, the humor just wasn't subtle enough and I wished they kept it more serious. Though since this movie was released in the mid-eighties when slasher movies became a bit campier, there was no point it was going to be dark and disturbing as the original. But later in life, I didn't think it was all that bad though it's still not good either. But overall, it's a pretty entertaining for what it is.
The Story: while working at her local radio station, Vanita "Stretch" Block is being harassed by two idiotic teenage boys, constantly calling her with obscene messages on her hotline. They do this all the while driving down a highway going on a joyride. But all of a sudden, Stretch hears blood-curdling screams of the boys being slaughtered and soon enough the phone calls stop....The next day, Stretch begins to investigate the mysterious deaths and informs Sheriff Boude "Lefty" Enright about the encrypting recording but he later scoffs at her claims but thinking it's a connection to his nephew Franklin's death and the traumatization of his niece Sally, he urges Stretch to play the recording for her next show. Later that night, Stretch plays the recording and unbeknownst to her, the Sawyer family is at her door, craving for new flesh...
The cast was actually quite good and the acting was at least decent. But it's only at the end when everybody gets a little too over the top for their own good.
Caroline Williams is a really solid actress and gave a pretty good performance. Through the strange vibe and bat-shit craziness, Caroline Williams remains serious in her role. Some may say there's nothing special about the character of Stretch, but there is actually. A lot. She is the basis of Men, Women, and Chainsaws, An analysis book by Carol J. Clover (a book I actually own). It explains how different Stretch is from other final girls, using her wits and strategies in a unique way. In the book it explains that both the killer and the final girl are sexually repressed people, sort of separating themselves from society, Which serves their connection with each other. The difference with Stretch is, is that she's not particularly sexually repressed, rather just a single woman focusing on her career.
Once she is attacked by Leatherface and sees his attraction towards her, she suddenly begins to play up her feminine wiles as if she was a dominatrix of some sort. When I first viewed this, I thought it was kind of weird but now that I read articles and analytical reviews based on this scene it makes sense now. What Stretch is trying to do is use her sexuality in order to survive which haven't been done before in 80's horror film. And through the rest of the movie, she becomes Leatherface's love interest/victim. Instead of Sally who just screams throughout most of the first movie, in the Post-Ripley era, Stretch becomes a much more layered character using her wits and strengths to survive the movie.
And at the end, she is, of course, holding the chainsaw (which is a metaphor for penis) as a trophy.
Dennis Hopper is probably the strongest actor of the film. Him being balls to the wall over the top works as well, matching the movie's tone. He is truly an actor who has a commanding presence, whether the film is good or not.
As for the character of Lefty, yes he's cool and badass but that doesn't mean he has his stupid moments too. And might be slightly crazy as the antagonists are. Okay, for instance, when Stretch is being chased by a truck to the abandoned carnival, turns out the person driving the truck is Lefty. So yeah, why didn't he yell out "hey it's me!" any sooner? Why did he have to chase down Stretch until she fell into the trap? I mean really? Or how about this, he takes his sweet little time trying to destroy the villain's hideout while Stretch is getting possibly tortured and almost killed by the family. I mean seriously is this guy supposed to be the hero of the movie?
But let's move on to the cool moments which is the climatic fight scene between him and the Leatherface clan. He actually go so far as to sacrifice himself along with the in order to save Stretch, so he gains cool points for that.
The Sawyer family this time around is a bit on the cartoony side. The Cook Drayton Sawyer is over-the-top, along without having an indoor voice, Chop-Top (the replacement for the hitchhiker) is even more over-the-top, running around like a bunny rabbit on pep pills, and Leatherface comes off like a naïve teenage boy just learning about sex and relationships. So yeah, they're not as scary as they were in the first movie.
The problem with Drayton is that he comes off like a Saturday morning kids villain. He's rather too goofy and slapstick to be taken seriously. What was scary about him is that he came off as a nice, normal guy, you would never realized he might be one of the psychos. It was always unexpected. In this version, he's loud, boisterous, and kind of irritating. This was Jim Sideow's last role and does his best that's all I can say but for once I wanted his character to shut up.
Chop-Top is even worse, coming off like a hyper child hooked on sugar. Some would say he's the hitchhiker from the first film but he's actually the TWIN brother of the hitchhiker, he just so happens to be stationed to Vietnam at the time of the first film.
I don't know if Chop-Top is treated as comic relief but it's very evident. You see, I thought the hitchhiker was a very creepy guy and for him to be replaced by this sort of character, it was disappointing. However, Bill Moseley does bring a sort of quirkiness to the role that makes the character somewhat entertaining.
Lastly, we have the ultimate meat basher Leatherface who is now played by an actor named Bill Johnson. Now....Leatherface isn't the big hulking ferocious killer her we always known him to be. Now, he is more than a child-like shell of himself.
Most of his story arc involves him and Stretch. It's kind of a twisted version of Beauty and The Beast, if you look at that way. This interpretation of Leatherface has a sense of nativity to him, being repressed by his family and that's sort of how he falls into Stretch's charms. So there's not much to say about Leatherface other than just being a henchman to his loud, overzealous family, and not the frightening force of nature in the first movie.
There's not only a slight swift in tone, but with the budget as well. I really don't mind this because slasher movies at the time mostly had bigger budgets, however, it's missing that raw visceral edge of the 1974 original. And the simplistic score is now replaced with blaring rock music. Most of the suspense is half-gone really.
I would like to add the close-up shots of the grandpa's face did sort of creep me out....
and can I say this? The music score is really terrible, it's sounds like a cat play with a synthesizer. Just saying.
But I would say that the gore effects are outrageous, thanks to the mastery of Tom Savini. I guess that' why everybody loves this movie because it's the divine definition of a splatter film. You have skinning, self-mutilation, impalements, and even chainsaw vagina like wounds. It's totally insane.
Now for some trivia:
Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel originally had an idea for a sequel that would feature a town of cannibals, in the vein of 2,000 maniacs called "Beyond The Valley Of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" but never came into fruition. Though if it did, it would be a bloody campy mess.
Horror film critic Joe Bob Briggs was cast in the film and his name is listed in the closing credits but his scenes were edited out in the final version.
In the original screenplay, Stretch was going to be Lefty's daughter and also the cousin of Sally and Franklin of the original.
Out of all the sequels and remakes, this is the only film which follows the same timeline of the original film.
Although the movie was successful in it's theatrical run, it didn't make back the film's budget. Fans, at first, was totally against the film for not staying true to the original and it's rather offbeat feel. But now it has become a cult classic with many favoring this movie than the sequels and remakes after it.
But for me, I'm sort of in-between but I would say it's at least better than the later sequels. However, it's just a fun, silly, campy, over-the-top, bloody horror movie. It's definitely something you could watch late at night. And for a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel, it's surely underrated.
My last word: Although this isn't everybody's kind of movie, it's a fun, popcorn flick none-the-less.