A relative flop upon its initial release in the States, the growing popularity and sizeable fanbase cultivated through the years for Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) has this week led to an Arrow Video rerelease. Time has indeed been kind to this sequel, which proves to be darkly entertaining in its own right. Taking place thirteen years after the diabolical events of the first film, the action is shifted from remote farmlands to a populated urban setting, where radio DJ Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock (Caroline Williams) hears what she believes to be the murder of a couple of prank callers.
Stretch’s suspicion sees her team up with Lieutenant ‘Lefty’ Enright (Dennis Hopper), a former Texas Ranger hell-bent on seeking revenge for the killing of his niece and nephew (characters from the 1974 film). The duo soon have their work cut out for them, having to contend with the hulking, chainsaw-welding adversary, along with his equally disturbing family members in an old theme park which doubles as a cavernous underground lair/slaughterhouse. The third of Hooper’s films for eighties powerhouse production company Cannon begins with a portentous voiceover reminiscent to the one used in the opening of the original. Save for the grotesque cannibal collective, any similarities with the inaugural offering ends there.
Hooper and his co-writer (Paris, Texas scribe L.M. Kit Carson) turn to dial up to eleven here, replacing the stripped-down, verité terror of Leatherface’s first outing with a schlocky, resolutely over-the-top atmosphere. The almost farcical levels of gore and viscera are all done with a knowing wink, and hiring Hopper is another gesture towards the tone the makers are aiming for. Made in the same year as the actor’s more recognised return to form in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), this creation is every bit as unhinged as Frank Booth.
Watching Lefty storm into the abandoned theme park, two mini chainsaws holstered, and manically waving around a third, enormous-looking one, is a deliciously deranged moment in a film which revels in the excess. In an age where many horror franchises attempt to adhere as close to the original film’s formula as possible, Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a fun reminder of a time when makers were able to rewrite their own rules and go for broke. This was never going to top what had gone before, and by acknowledging that, the filmmakers have crafted a wonderfully demented alternative in its place.