Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Spooktacular # 7: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

I have to admit to some amount of curiosity as to how this movie originally got made. Coming a good twelve years after the original film, director Tobe Hooper finally got around to making a follow-up to his second movie, which itself is one of the most enduringly popular horror movies ever made. While the original was famous as being incredibly scary and realistic, Hooper evidently had a somewhat different vision for the sequel, and instead made it what was, one year before Evil Dead 2, what may well be the first sequel that functions as a full-blown parody of the original.

Everything about this movie is just brilliantly ridiculous. We’re given two main characters; Stitch, a female radio host on a station so inept that they can’t figure out the technology needed to hang up on a caller, and Lefty, a former cop (Dennis Hopper) trying to hunt down the killers responsible for the death of his son in the first film, and who at no point in the entire film seems even the least bit more sane than the cannibalistic family. After a call is recorded on Stitch’s show that seems to include the callers’ murders by chainsaw, Lefty makes a brilliant battle strategy, that seems to have been no more thought out than to have Stitch lure them out by playing the tape of them committing murder constantly on her show, and then after they deal with her, follow them back to their home where he can kill them. Curiously enough, he didn’t actually fill Stitch in on all these details, like the part where instead of coming to the rescue when they arrive at the station, he was actually just going to wait until she was long dead before making his play. It’s a bit of a dick move, I know, but that’s what you get when you trust Dennis Hopper.

The family, as in the first film, is brilliant. There’s Grandpa, who is 135 years old but whose liquid diet keeps him healthy. There’s Cook, the only returning character from the first film, and whose chili is renowned throughout the southwest. Representing the younger generation we also get Chop Top, a hippie with a metal plate on his head who has flashbacks and scratches at the itchy skin on his head with a heated wire hanger, and of course, Leatherface, who in this film finally discovers girls. Their home is also a wonderful bit of overstatement, as they have left the small home they had in the first film in favor of a vast subterranean lair with an unending series of tunnels, pits, and corpses.

Chop Top, Stitch, and Cook, in happier times.

Saying the film is ridiculous is kind of missing the point, as it transcends ridiculousness to the point where it almost turns into high art. Take the scene where Dennis Hopper decides to stockpile weapons for the confrontation. Rather than buying guns and ammunition like a normal vendetta driven madman might, he goes instead to buy three chainsaws, two of which are smaller so that he can double fist them. The shopkeeper is alarmed at first, since Hopper is waving them all over the place like he’s trying to murder imaginary people around him, but still encourages him to test them out on some logs out front before he buys them, and then giggles in delight as Hopper takes the big saw and tries to hack away at the log like it had just been caught sleeping with Hopper’s wife. There is no reason for any of this whatsoever, other than to be awesome.

The rest of the film, while not quite as awesome as that, is still riddled with great moments like that. The climax, in particular, is brilliant, with a number of chainsaw battles and the sad lament that “the small businessman takes it in the ass every time!” It’s as good a follow-up to such a great original as one can feasibly expect to see, and makes a rather inspired double bill. Just make sure to stop after the second one, it all kind of goes downhill from there.

Rating: *** ½

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