The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2


While the PG-13 rating being added to assuage parents who thought the PG envelope was being pushed too far there was another rating controversy in the 1980s.  The X rating, which was originally supposed to classify movies as having subjects that were for adults only and thus should only be viewed by those over 18, was never copyrighted by the MPAA.  Regional ratings boards had to come up with their own for movies that weren't passed through the MPAA, as G, PG and R were all the property of the private censorship organization.  X slipped through somehow and, after films like Deep Throat managed to become mainstream, it was soon associated with pornographic material.

That meant in most places in the United States a mainstream theater was not going to touch something with an X rating, especially once local lawmakers got involved.  There was a huge difference between a film like Midnight Cowboy and Pink Flamingos, but by the end of the 1970s it would have been illegal to screen either at the local cineplex.  It was one of the reasons, along with changing standards, that the former was re-evaluated and given an R rating, while the latter has usually just forgone any rating at all.  Since the X rating itself was used as a bludgeon by the MPAA to push arbitrary standards of what adults could and could not see, going unrated often was a last resort on getting a movie into the theaters in the way the director intended, and even then the very fact it was originally given an X was problematic.

Two major horror film franchises ran into this.  Though most studios and directors played ball, to the point where many of the slashers in the later part of the decade are barely PG grade when it comes to violence and nudity, a few pushed back, most notably Tobe Hooper and George A. Romero.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 contains less profanity than a Quentin Tarantino film, absolutely no sex (although the possibility of an assault is insinuated in a rather uncomfortable scene) and, honestly, a lot less gore than Day of the Dead.  There are some unsettling scenes, and the choice to go full-on with such scenes upset a lot of fans of the original movie, but like in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre the really effective scenes do not include a lot of blood at all, but depend on an emotional connection with the characters.  Still, it seems like the biggest emotional reaction will always be to the words "chainsaw" and "massacre", even though there is a lot more chainsaw and massacring - by the good guys, in fact - in this one.  

We find out a little about what happened to Sally after escaping from the Sawyers - she went into a state of catatonia due to what happened to her brother and her friends - and the aftermath of the events of the first film.  When police went to investigate the clan was gone, and they took everything with them.  Considered a cold case, despite similar crimes happening in different areas of Texas, authorities preferred not to get into it any further.  Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), a former Texas Ranger and uncle to Sally and Franklin, has made it his life's goal to hunt the family down and get revenge. 

The opportunity presents itself when two rich kids (Barry Kinyon, Chris Douridas) run afoul of Chop-Top (Bill Mosely) and Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and are murdered on the highway.  At the time they are on a call from their radio phone to local disc jockey Stretch (Caroline Williams), who records the call and their deaths.  When Lefty comes looking she offers the tape as evidence.  At first he rejects it, but then decides to use her as bait and, sure enough, the duo show up at the radio station at the behest of their older brother Drayton (Jim Siedow).  Events lead Stretch to follow them, and Lefty to follow her, to an abandoned amusement park where the family has taken up residence, and where Drayton cooks up his award-winning chili and barbeque. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination.  Despite Cannon constantly changing the budget and interfering with Tobe Hooper's vision he still had not lost his passion for his craft at this point.  What he did, and what upset a lot of fans of the original, was concentrate more on the dark humor.  There is also an emphasis on Tom Savini's effects and makeup work, thus purposely making this film a bit gorier in hopes of attracting current horror audiences.  

The problem is that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was one of those movies that can happen only once.  Hooper's relative inexperience, having done a documentary and a somewhat trippy art film prior, made the original movie more of an experience than a film.  I love it, but it's exhausting, and something that I have to be prepared to sit through.  The sequel, on the other hand, is just another '80s horror flick.  Hooper by this point had learned his craft and, while his style was not as pronounced as some of the others of his generation, it was there.  There was no way he could go back to the same wide-eyed director he was in 1974.  

It's also not one of the best of the horror films of the time, nor does it rise above most sequels.  The opening fight between the frat boys and the Sawyer brothers is a highlight, as is the attack on the radio station, with Chop-Top's introduction being a highlight.  The large problem is that the plot is not developed, which wasn't a problem with the original, simplistic as it was.  The difference is that the whole revenge plot was built up to be central to the movie and Lefty, though his chainsaw fight with Leatherface is not a disappointment, largely has nothing to do.  It's no wonder Dennis Hopper was so disappointed after doing this movie. 

What The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 ends up being is a bunch of ideas and scenes strung together, some that work and some that don't, mixed with Drayton yelling at his two brothers like he did in the first, only that this time it takes up a third of the movie.  Granted, Jim Siedow is great, and I have no idea how much of his ranting was improvised, but it worked better and more effectively when the audience saw Leatherface as a crazed monster rather than feeble minded and and easily controlled by his older sibling.  By the way, the other brother, just known as the Hitchhiker in the first film - and the twin of Chop-Top - is the corpse they carry around with them, having died sometime between the two films - as, unfortunately, the series pretty much did after this entry. 

What the movie, and a few others of the time, did was force the MPAA's hand to copyright an adult rating - NC-17 - that was supposed to replace X and the stigma that came with it.  While no NC-17 films were outright pornographic, many theaters were still banned from showing films with that rating, and, like X before it, was used to enforce censorship - something that would become a moot point as many directors soon figured out they could turn around and release the real version on video. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Time: 101 minutes
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Bill Johnson, Bill Mosely, Jim Siedow
Director: Tobe Hooper

 

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