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I went to Texas once. Amongst many expected holiday sights, I also observed a Funeral Home Museum, a car decorated in plastic fruit and Black Flag’s Gregg Ginn playing a therein. However one thing I didn’t see was a mentally challenged cannibal wearing lipstick. I’m pretty sure that I’d remember that.
I mention this trip to the Lone Star State because as the weather grows warmer here in Blighty, I sometimes wear the cowboy hat I bought in Texas. In addition, I’ve also been meaning to write about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 for some time. So my summer-based reaches for that wide-brimmed fella have promoted me that now is finally the time to revisit The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, or ‘Part 2 as I may glibly refer to it.
As an introduction for readers, let me first give a basic overview for both films plots.
‘Part 1 is based around some hitchiking teens Then end up in rural Texas in a seemingly-abandoned house, filled with furniture made from bones.
One-by-one they are slaughtered by a man wearing a mask made from assorted human-skin, Leatherface. Ultimately it is revealed that Leatherface still lives with his brothers and Grandfather, all of whom are the Sawyer family. The Sawyers have become introverted since their abattoir was closed and now exist as cannibals.
The film ends with a single surviving teenager, Sally Anne, escaping from the Sawyer family but clearly mentally broken by the everything that she has experienced.
‘Part 2 follows two separate strands. One is that the Sawyers are now a mobile unit, travelling around the state of Texas and winning awards for their Chili-Con-(human)-Carne from their food truck.
Meanwhile, the uncle of the first films survivor, Sally Ann, is a a Texan Sheriff called Lieutenant Lefty Enright. Lefty is none too happy about what happened to his kin and is out for blood. Whilst on his mission of vengeance Lefty teams up with a Radio DJ called Stretch who Leatherface happens to have a crush on.
Eventually things escalate into an epic showdown inside a crumbling amusement park where all parties battle to the death.
With that recap done, let me state that in my estimation, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is a brilliant sequel for one simple reason; It makes almost no attempt to be like the first film.
In fact the simplest difference between both of these films are their titles.
Hold on, hold on. I know, I know. Obviously the sequel has ‘Part 2’ as a big difference, and that is not what I mean. There is also one further, subtler alteration too.
Even without the addendum of ‘Part 2’, the first movie is not called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Not ‘Chainsaw’ but ‘Chain Saw’. For the first time,and for every subsequent movie in the franchise, the ‘Chainsaw’ became a single word.
Obviously this is a very small change, and is admittedly hardly noticeable. Yet right from the get-go it does indicate that changes are afoot. The keen observer will know straight away that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 will not be a simple retread of the first film.
The tile is not the only change clear without even watching the film. Take a look at the 1986 poster for ‘Part 2 and note its resemblance to a previous hit from 1985, The Breakfast Club.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an undeniably tense movie. The horrific scenarios occur across creepy sets to give an unsettling feel throughout. Sure, there is certainly some black humour present, but it is buried under the murk of the content. Any comedy present in ‘Part 1 comes over akin to a nervous laugh at a funeral.
‘Part 2 however is wearing its comedy badge on its sleeve. Through parodying another movies poster, the return of the Sawyer family is promoted as being a more celebratory, knowing affair that sequels audience are invited to enjoy rather than to endure.
In fact the original movies tag line of ‘Who will survive and what will be left of them?’ could not seem much further from the sequel tag line, ‘After a decade of silence… The buzzz is back!’. Gone is the eerie question, instead now present is the exclamatory promise of good times for fans of Leatherface & Co.
So far just the title and posters have set different expectations between the sequel and its forefather. But is is the actual movie that unfolds on screen where these contrasts become completely apparent.
This blog is not intended to be an essay, so I will avoid going into too much detail from here. These brief sections alone show that opposing nature of the two movies.
GORE- It is easy to remember The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as blood splatered, gore-fest. But it ain’t. The violence that is present is sickening, be it a hiker cutting his own thumb in glee or Leatherface culling his victims with a sledgehammer. But in sheer viscera stakes, there really is not much present.
In fact that really says something for Tobe Hooper’s talent to be so unsettling and striking with his minimal scare. However by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, faces are cut off and worn, spluttering skulls are slit into two and one character sits on a grenade.
SOUNDTRACK- ‘Part 1 actually has almost no soundtrack. It has a strong soundscape via its sound design, but that is pretty much all. ‘Part 2 though is a rocking 80’s jam featuring The Cramps, Concrete Blonde, Stewart Copeland and Roky Erickson! As with the earlier mentioned taglines, this soundscape has changed from a creeping feeling to a party atmosphere.
LEATHERFACE- The most recognisable character from the franchise is Leatherface. In the first film Leatherface is a silent, mentally handicapped monster. Coming across more beast than man, virtually none of his real face is visible. Even more freakish than ‘just’ being an animalistic cannibal, Leatherface also combines transvestism with his Ed-Gein inspired wardrobe through wearing lipstick.
The result is downright disturbing since there is nothing recognisably human about him except for a false exterior he consciously piles on top of whatever is the real, hidden him.
Yet by ‘Part 2, Mr. L.F. is no longer an unknowable monster. He is now more like a sexually frustrated teen. He gets aroused by Slim whilst aiming his saw between her legs. Furthermore, the new make-up design in the sequel also allows for Mr. Sawyer’s eyes to visibly emote, and his tongue to lick his lips. Leatherface is far more humanised by the second Chainsaw flick, sadly reduced from boogey man to wacky sidekick.
AESTHETICS- The original is largely filmed in daylight and set in a highly rural area. The nothingness that surrounds the victims makes them seem lost in a sea of chaos, far away from the rest of the world. By the follow-up though, most of the scenes take place inside buildings, at night and lit by neon. Visually the movies look totally different, going from almost documentary quality visuals to a saturated pop-art style.
I could go on regarding the casting, the pacing and the humour on display by the second movie, but I think I have already made my point.
Both films are a world apart in both form and content. Watching the films in order is almost like studying combat photography from World War II and then following it up with a Sgt. Rock comic.
This complete alteration of the franchise may seem a slap in the face if it weren’t by the same Co-Writer and Director, Tobe Hooper.
Hooper set out to satirise his own creation in a decade of many, many Slasher-Sequels all without lessening the impact of the original film.It is almost a exclamation point to the franchising of horror characters in the time of never-ending Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers films. Hooper pushes his own creation in such a different direction, the idea of continuing it, at least creatively, becomes a challenge of ‘top this’.
The very fact that Hooper managed to do something different yet striking deserves a little acknowledgement and respect.Consequently this blog goes out to you, Tobe. Feel free to come back and give us another sequel in a different direction any damn time you like, Sir.
Next time, you do. Who do? You do. Who do? Voodoo.
Thanks for reading,