Friday, March 6, 2009

Film Review: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986, Tobe Hooper)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Tom Savini's makeup (DAWN OF THE DEAD, FRIDAY THE 13th), Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams (STEPFATHER II), Bill Moseley (ARMY OF DARKNESS, CARNIVALE, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS), Jim Siedow ("Old Man" and the only returning cast member from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 1), Lou Perryman (POLTERGEIST, THE BLUES BROTHERS), and a cameo from novelist Kinky Friedman. Produced by Golan and Globus' Cannon Films, the team that brought us everything from THE APPLE to THE DELTA FORCE to RAPPIN' to OVER THE TOP to 52 PICK-UP to BARFLY to COBRA to DEATH WISH 3 to NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA to RUNAWAY TRAIN to BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO to a hundred others.
Tag-lines: "After a decade of silence... The buzzz is back!"
Best one-liner(s): "You have one choice, boy: sex or the saw. Sex is, well, nobody knows. But the saw, the saw is family. "

"'Nam Land!' It's what the public wants!" TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is a masterpiece, a complete reinvention of the series' low-key art film roots, and horror-comedy-drama of the highest order- an epic Gran Guignol.

And indeed it even begins with a ghastly puppet show of sorts, the striking image of Leatherface atop a car, fluttering in the night wind to Oingo Boingo's "No One Lives Forever," operating a human corpse as a marionette; our post-modern grim reaper bearing a chainsaw instead of a scythe.

The TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE movies couldn't take place anywhere but Texas. And when Clu Gulager-esque, improvising machine Jim Siedow (the 'Old Man' and the only returning cast member from part 1) screams "I love this town! This town loves prime meat!" to a crowd, and the crowd responds with wildly enthusiastic cheers, you believe it, for better or worse, because it's Texas.

Texas is the perfect, over-the-top stage for such a present-day American Gran Guignol. It's the only place you could set it. Other filmmakers have taken note of the locale, the style, or the flavor: this film, for all of the critical (and even fan) animosity, has helped shape the direction of modern horror, obviously persisting as a key influence on the likes of Robert Rodriguez (FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, PLANET TERROR), Peter Jackson (BAD TASTE, BRAINDEAD), Rob Zombie (HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS), and Quentin Tarantino (NATURAL BORN KILLERS, DEATH PROOF).

This film has it all: a fantastic, carefully chosen soundtrack featuring The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, Timbuk 3, Lords of the New Church, Stewart Copland and Concrete Blonde, among others.

It has a totally insane Dennis Hopper, out for revenge, kicking Leatherface in the nuts and dueling him Dark Ages-style

while wielding two-chainsaws, wearing a ten-gallon hat, and screaming things like "It's the devil's playground!" and "May the Lord have mercy on our souls!"

It has the lovely Caroline Williams (STEPFATHER II) totally prefiguring the Juliette Lewis-type in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN as our likable DJ heroine.

It's got the wildly improvising Bill Moseley as a 'Nam vet and the possible inspiration for the title character in BEETLEJUICE.

All of this, and it still has a tremendous amount of class:

the downright Lynchian crying of the old man at the chainsaw shop;

the pull-in, pull-out tracking shot of Grandpa's dinner arrival that recalls a similar shot down a hotel hallway in F.W. Murnau's THE LAST LAUGH;

the pathetically poignant 'Leatherface Waltz' sequence, which brings to mind Jean Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST;

the slapstick of Grandpa's failed hammering attempts which channels Buster Keaton's ONE WEEK; and the incredible pathos you feel for all of the characters (save for the 100% psychotic Chop-Top and the two D-bag victims at the start).

There's even a peculiar impotent-chainsaw dry-humping episode that's a disturbingly bizarre and completely surreal in its exploration of unfocused childish psychosexual tension.

It culminates in frustration (the sort that doggedly pulling the starter cord on an impossible chainsaw would inspire) and aimless destruction- an analysis worthy of Catherine Breillat, or at the very least, Sigmund Freud.

It's a first-rate film that didn't supply the scares (the poster parodies THE BREAKFAST CLUB for God's sakes!) or the laughs (there's too much depth for it to feel satisfying as purely a comedy) that its target audience might have liked, but it becomes something much more: one can view it as a tale of revenge with a nihilistic ending, a chaotic, visceral ourobouros connecting to the first film; or simply as top-notch entertainment that continually surprises with its boldness and artistry. Bravo, Mr. Hooper. At perhaps the partial expense of your career, you created something NEW instead of trying to retread unrepeatable ground. Five stars.

-Sean Gill

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