From my review of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
(Director Tobe Hooper and writer Kim Henkel) both believe that the dog-eat-dog ethics of capitalism leads to the ascent of the most vicious (and corrupt) among us over the most peaceful. That any evil practices of the powerful in attaining and keeping power would trickle down to the very bottom of the food chain, to make monsters of habit out of the disenfranchised who can't hide behind a mask of "polite society". Both artists would make their own sequel to underscore what they thought was the worst thing was about their created monsters. Hooper's TCM2 highlighted the drug-assisted, nihilistic, crass commercialism; the greed, the cannibalism, the vampirism, the war profiteering, the misplaced moralism, the outdated family tradition and the growing yuppie cultism in America. He focused on the plight of the middle class vs capitalism. While Henkel's TCM4 reinforced the manipulation, deception, sadism, sexual depravity, necrophilia, voyeurism and illegal surveillance, propaganda, puppet-string control and corrupted moral stateism. Henkel is obsessed with speculating the shadowy doings of the richest and most elite who exist "above the law".
In 1986, 12 years after director Tobe Hooper had breakout success with "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre", his star began to fall. After his first film, he made Salem's Lot, The Funhouse, Poltergeist and two unsuccessful films for the independent movie moguls at Cannon Films (Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars). In desperation, he agreed to direct a sequel to his drive-in movie classic. Better late than never, right?
Hooper took the job begrudgingly. The first TCM didn't need a sequel and Hooper's interests in filmmaking had taken him far from his art-slasher origins. But Hooper was under contract to Cannon Films, run by the infamous producer duo Golan & Globus. Cannon were known for making quick, simple, strange, big budget "trash" films in the action and fantasy genres. They would go on to influence how Hollywood produces popcorn films to this day. They didn't care about quality. They wanted to make money and make films that no one else was making. It was a perfect home for Hooper, but his Cannon films were too weird and too expensive to be successful. With this hanging over him, Hooper was easy to coax into making the sequel he swore he would never make. With Cannon and a nasty cocaine habit fueling him, Tobe Hooper undertook the daunting task of making a sequel to a classic. He set out to make another piece of commercial art.
Did he succeed?
The film starts off with a ridiculous title sequence blaring really cheesy, ironic "scary" music and then transitions to a bad 80s electronic pop song. Hooper is out to make this film as different as possible from the original. We are given a quick spoof of the first movie as two annoying yuppie men are killed on a Texas Road by Leatherface. Its done in an artificial, cartoon way which lacks any realism and is full of the absent comedy, action and gore that gave the original its minimalist power. Its a bold move and an entertaining scenario. Having pissed off the fans of the original, Hooper welcomes us into a new world in a new decade with a familiar story but a updated message.
L.M. Kit Carson (Paris, Texas) replaces Kim Henkel as writer and main collaborator for Hooper and his script is equally brilliant. The plot follows two people: a man trying to solve the murders from Part 1 and a woman trying to solve the murders at the beginning of Part 2. How their two adventures weave together shapes the structure of the movie and creates tandem poles in style and in story. Dennis Hopper plays "Lefty", the uncle of TCM Part 1's heroine. He is a vengeance crazed, old-school Texas lawman with a death wish. Caroline Williams plays "Stretch", a fun-loving young radio DJ who wants to move up into investigative journalism. So there's proper motivation from both characters to find the elusive cannibal clan who we payed to see return.
Eventually, the psychotic brothers are lured out of hiding by our heroes and then followed to their new home, which exists under the remains of an amusement park. This is a very important stylistic departure from the original film, where the killers butchery was hidden in an unassuming farmhouse representing traditional Heartland values. The new amusement park represents the aging entertainment business that Hooper and Carson are working in. Lefty's horrified descent into the carnival mirrors our own into the heart of exploitation. He finds grotesque statues and landmarks to historical heroes. At one point, Lefty finds real blood dripping from the mouth of a Davy Crockett painting and remarks, "Its the Devil's playground". Crockett may as well represent John Wayne. Earlier a young detective mocks Lefty's old fashioned ways with the line, "Remember the Alamo, cowboy". Carson & Hooper are getting at the violence that we romanticize, monetize and desensitize ourselves to. How its ingrained in the culture of places like Texas and that lore is especially ingrained through media, sold to unknowing young generations. This type of satirization is found throughout Hooper's work. He loves to hold a mirror up to the audience and make them think about the amorality in media and second-guess its heroes, calling them to question the psychology behind the motives of the real villains. Hooper is allowing you to think consciously about what you're being sold, as he did in the original "Massacre", by giving you the same subconscious content between the expected carnival tricks. As a magician, he explains the tricks and wonders, "Why are you so easily fooled?".
When Lefty finally confronts Leatherface and his brothers, he is mistaken for a health inspector who has discovered their cannibal secret for delicious meat. Leatherface's older brother is so insane and demoralized by capital that he tries to buy off Lefty with a few petty bills.
Stretch's story gets more screen-time, but she's less of a character. She's the new prize victim for Leatherface and through her, Carson & Hooper explore an idea that was only revealed in the final moments of TCM1: that Leatherface is the biggest victim; the damsel in distress that needs saving. The childlike and sexually retarded Leatherface falls in love with Stretch and can't bring himself to kill her whenever his macho, capitalist, sadistic brethren order him to. Leatherface is an innocent pawn and has the most humanity out of anyone in the film. As in the first movie, he is shown to be a caring and obedient person with no learned understanding that people are more than meat, until he meets Stretch.
In an incredible sequence, he lowers his chainsaw because he cannot kill her. In that moment the blade of the saw falls between her legs and, for the first time in his life, he discovers sexual feelings by recognizing the phallic symbolism. He becomes free of his bloodlust (anger/hate) when he finds happy lust (peace/love). He's overjoyed and runs off like a smitten child, sawing apart the scenery, overcome with passion. Its a bizarre poetic piece of metaphorical filmmaking.
Many fans feel TCM2's transformation of Leatherface isn't necessary, but I would argue that its more realistic than his staying the same unthinking slasher killer we've seen and it sets the new tone and direction of the entire story, becoming its most important feature. He's played as a horny teenager with puppy love and it is funny because it is believable. In Part 1, Leatherface's has a similar feeling of fascination for Sally, but he simply wants to wear her face. He doesn't yet know that his violence comes from sexual feelings. But after literally being scarred while losing her, he has changed. He would not love Stretch the same as he loved Sally. He's grown and he understands more. TCM2 goes out of its way to prove that Leatherface is perhaps not stupid but vastly ignorant and misdirected. Leatherface is torn by his innocent heart and his demented brain. If he was presented as the same crazed monster from TCM1, his love for Stretch would be scary instead of sad and more perverted than tragic. Been there, done that. As a symbolic character, he's evolved from an infantile to a juvenile part of the audience's psyche. But he remains a punchline and a satire. Its important that he never fully turns good, never grows too moral and never learns to fully reason. He doesn't get a big hero moment where he rejects his family or helps the main hero. He dies in battle with Lefty, because he is still a victim of his upbringing and must pay for the crimes he committed. A 180 turn would've been ridiculous. But he sacrifices his wicked nature enough to protect Stretch and allow her escape. He pays for his crimes and the audience learns to understand and forgive him, not to fear him. Its important to know that Stretch was meant to be Lefty's illegitimate daughter in the script, so Lefty's chainsaw battle with Leatherface is a satire of a father refusing to give away his daughter to an unfit suitor. Both protectors kill each other, leaving Stretch to fend for herself. Stretch survives and picks up her own chainsaw to fight back against the same oppressive "Big Brother" that crushed Leatherface's psyche. She survives the story in an empowered and less crazed state than the heroine of TCM1 and rejects Leatherface's fate by mocking the original film's famous final frame. This all underlines Hooper's personal maturity since his first "Chainsaw" story.
TCM2 echoes the social messages of Part 1: capitalism, greed, lust, sexualization, manipulation, mutilation, self-destruction, demoralization, cannibalism, disfranchisement, the effects of war and the systematic murder of the Hippie's Love dream. But whereas TCM1 studied the negative psychological effects the 1960s had on the 1970s, TCM2 places the blame on Yuppies, the 1980s' class of social climbers, for letting it continue. Hooper and Carson are sickened by the hollow smiles, pastel colored coverings, unthinking escapism, drowning pop anthems and overall moral numbness that came with Reaganism. Like the initial response to TCM1, many viewers missed the meaning of TCM2's violence, because while its a brighter, funnier movie, the big jokes are so delivered with dead-pan and the references are so disparate that only those in "the know" understood it as more than just entertainment (like Dennis Hopper, the radical artist who made Easy Rider). Horror fans were hung up that TCM2 wasn't very scary or funny enough.
To be fair, the detractors of TCM2 are right about the message being muddled and almost lost by its weaker content. At times, Tobe Hooper gets lost in the visual wonders and bizarro acting of his direction, that he fails to make it funnier when it should be and more disturbing when it should be. Ironically, the film itself is very numb and numbing. You become so distracted by the onslaught of extreme violence, kooky music, heightened colors and unrealistic behavior that you might not know its on purpose. Its easy to think its just being a shallow, loud bit of nonsense. If the original TCM is a metaphor for a bad acid trip, its sequel is a line of bad cocaine. Scatter brained and schizophrenic, TCM2 never holds on one tone or tangent long enough for it to properly sink in. Like the 1980s, its moving too fast for its own good.
More obviously than TCM1, this is a satire. But we are confused whether Part 2 is supposed to be more scary or more funny. Some scenes are both and some are neither. Its a film of excesses about excesses. And it goes too over the top more often than not. But thats what its about. Its an experimental movie. Hooper comes from the Fellini school of filmmaking and TCM2 is his "Satyricon" It could benefit from some breathers, but that would miss the point. The story of both Hooper's "Chainsaw" films are essentially "Alice in Wonderland". He and his characters enter these mad worlds that are so over their head that everyone who survives comes out a little insane.
Director Tobe Hooper didn't have final cut on TCM2 and it shows. Cannon Films focused on the 3 big gore scenes and really didn't give a crap about the rest of the film, treating it as meaningless padding, directly opposing Hooper's intentions. The gore scenes are fake-looking MacGuffins meant to be laughed at and simply give structure to the story while the subplots of Lefty and Stretch are meant to be dramatic; thought-provoking and disturbing. It loses its pathos and tragedy in translation. TCM2 proves a bad musical score and bad editing can wreck a film. The music ruins a lot of scary & somber moments. And the pacing drags, ruining the comedy and action of the 3rd act. So we're left with a mixed bag; part genius and part inane. A typical Cannon movie. There exists a workprint version that reveals a darker, more brooding and openly mocking side to TCM2.
Had Tobe Hooper made it for another company, this could've been another masterpiece. But who can hate half a masterpiece? Simply resent it for what it could've been and forgive it for being as good as it is. This is a true sequel, a companion piece to the original that treads the same waters but never does the same things. In its story and in its themes, its one of the great sequels. Its only lacking the strong tone and technical majesty of the original, which is not the fault of the director's work, but maybe his choice in collaborators. Hooper should have made this sequel earlier and with the help of Kim Henkel, who would go on to make his own misunderstood and underrated "Chainsaw Massacre" spin-off. While Hooper despised dishonest capitalists, Henkel didn't trust capitalism at all. The two fathers of this creation had radically different politics, but fought the same ills, only identifying different symptoms. Hooper gave us his own take on their shared apocalyptic vision, but had they worked together again for this project, TCM2 may have had the chaos, darkness and the honed madness in its script's power so no producer would dare to censor and tweak it. Watching TCM2, there are parts of a lost masterpiece waiting to be reassembled.