Sooner or later, I'm guessing I'll get around to writing about every single one of Tobe Hooper's movies on the site. This is because a) I love him and b) it makes me happy to talk about his work. It's not always great, but it's almost always interesting and too often ignored by horror fans who wrote him off back in 1982 after deciding he didn't direct Poltergeist. While The Funhouse remains my favorite Tobe Hooper movie, his 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is a very close second and is the movie that, more than anything else he ever directed, best expresses who Tobe Hooper is as a filmmaker and what makes him so special.
After the Poltergeist controversy of the early '80s, Hooper had a bit of a stink on him as far as Hollywood was concerned. Lucky for us, Meneham Golan and Yoram Globus of Cannon Films didn't give a shit about that -- they wanted a big-name director that they could sign to a multi-picture deal to raise the profile of their company and hopefully deliver some hits. This is how Tobe Hooper ended up making three movies at Cannon -- later dubbed his Cocaine Trilogy (by me) -- in the mid-'80s and we finally got a follow up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Hooper's deal was that he would be given a multi-picture deal (which also included Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars) and could make anything he wanted so long as one of the three was a sequel to his original horror classic, though where Golan and Globus might have gone wrong -- box office-wise, at least -- is that they never specified how Hooper should make the sequel. There's no way they could have predicted what he came up with.
all-time great final girls), who is broadcasting one night when two obnoxious college students call in and appear to be murdered on air by someone wielding a chainsaw. Yes, Leatherface and his family are up to their old tricks—and by "tricks" I mean brutally killing people, cutting them up, and eventually turning them into award-winning chili. To cover their tracks, Leatherface and his brother Chop-Top (Bill Moseley in the role that made him a genre star) show up at the radio station and terrorize Stretch, leading to an underground confrontation between the Sawyer family, Stretch, and Lefty, who is still hellbent on vengeance.
Between the level of gore and the cartoonishly comedic tone, it's easy to understand why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was so disliked upon its release in 1986. While there have been horror sequels that depart from their predecessors dating all the way back to when James Whale turned The Bride of Frankenstein into a dark comedy, there is possibly no bigger shift between two horror movies in the same franchise than between the first movie and Texas Chainsaw 2. But it's precisely the differences from the original Texas Chain Saw that make it brilliant. The first film is a classic. Was anyone really going to improve on that? The best Hooper and company could have hoped for was "almost as good," and that wasn't going to work. So they went nuts and created a nightmarish mix of horror and comedy, satirizing ’80s horror conventions and Reagan-era politics. Holding them up against one another is like comparing Night of the Living Dead with Dawn of the Dead. The movies are different because they have different goals, but each is successful on its own terms.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is unlike any other horror sequel ever made. Hooper's original is a sweaty, claustrophobic masterpiece that’s terrifying specifically because of its documentary-like immediacy. It doesn't feel so much like a movie as it does some horrible thing that someone accidentally caught on camera, a quality that gives it a sense of danger. The sequel, also directed by Hooper and written by L.M. Kit Carson (screenwriter of Paris, Texas), goes off in a very different direction. It's more black comedy than horror. As a product of the ’80s, the movie really cranks up the gore. For all the claims about how violent the first movie is, there is very little on-screen bloodshed; not true of the sequel, which has effects by Tom Savini and is so violent that it had to be released as “unrated" or be slapped with the stigma of an X rating. We see the top of a skull sheared off with a chainsaw. We see a man skinned alive, his face peeled off an applied to another character. At one point, a hole is made in a wall and a literal stream of blood and viscera comes spewing out of the opening. The gore flows freely in Part 2. Seen today, though, it's not any more gory than most contemporary horror films given an R rating. It's just that the tone of the movie makes the violence much more uncomfortable because it's taking place within the context of a scene that's simultaneously comic and horrifying, garishly photographed and shrill. Having already destroyed our nerves in the original Chain Saw, Hooper opts to attack all of our other senses in Part 2.
As the movie descends into the Sawyer’s underground lair—an impressively designed set that quite literally feels like going to Hell, and yet another example of Tobe Hooper's obsession with the trope of "the bad place"— the wheels really come off but the film never stops being twisted and comedic. That's part of why it's such an uncomfortable experience, and also why it spent many years as an under-appreciated movie, only now starting to get the reputation it deserves. The comedy exists in the same moments as the horror. Most movies, even horror comedy hybrids like The Return of the Living Dead, switch between one and the other: here's a joke, here's a scare, here's a joke, here's a scare. Not TCM2. You don't get to choose between laughing and being repulsed. Both are happening simultaneously. That’s the movie's special genius.