Movie Discussion: Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

  • Monthly Theme: Slashertexas_chainsaw_massacre_twos
  • The Film: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
  • Alternate title: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2
  • Country of origin: U.S.A.
  • Date of U.S. release: August 22, 1986
  • Studio: Cannon Films
  • Distributer: Cannon Film Distributors
  • Domestic Gross: $8 million
  • Budget: $4.7 million (estimated)
  • Director: Tobe Hooper
  • Producers: L.M. Kit Carson, Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan, Tobe Hooper, Henry Holmes & James Jorgensen
  • Screenwriter: L.M. Kit Carson
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematographer: Richard Kooris
  • Make-Up/FX: Tom Savini
  • Music: Tobe Hooper & Jerry Lambert
  • Part of a series? Yes. This is the second film in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, preceded by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and followed by Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994).
  • Remakes? Sort of. The franchise underwent a reboot in 2003 with Marcus Nispel’s remake, which then spawned a prequel (2006) and a sequel (2013).
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Horror icon Bill Moseley (The Blob (1988), The First Power, etc.). Horror heroine Caroline Williams (Stepfather II, Leprechaun 3, etc.).
  • Other notables?: Yes. Counterculture icon and actor Dennis Hopper.
  • Awards?: Best Actress [Williams] at the 1986 Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival.
  • Tagline: “After a decade of silence… The buzz is back!”
  • The Lowdown: Twelve years after the release of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, director Tobe Hooper finally made a sequel to the film. Written by Kit Carson (the ex-husband of scream queen Karen Black), the sequel picks up 13 years after the events depicted in the original film: Lefty (Dennis Hopper), a former Texas Ranger and uncle of original victims Sally and Franklin Hardesty, has been tracking the redneck family who slaughtered and terrorized his niece and nephew. His quest for the Sawyers intersects with a local radio DJ, Stretch (Caroline Williams), who accidentally recorded the murder of two young men by Leatherface and family. Together, Stretch and Lefty are drawn in to a final conflict with the Sawyer clan in the subterranean remains of an abandoned amusement park. Gorier, funnier and more over-the-top than the original filmTexas 2 did reasonably well at the box office, but didn’t really take off as a cult object until its release on VHS. It is now considered by some to be the highlight of the Texas Chainsaw franchise.

If you haven’t seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: Seeing as how you are a Texas resident these days – you live in the Dallas/Ft.Worth metroplex, which is the general setting of the film – this is the rare instance where you are in a position to explain the movie to me.

Kristine: Well, I definitely consider myself an outsider in Texas, and I have only lived here a couple short years. However, it did amaze me that so much of the Texas-ness of this movie resonated with me, and I felt like I caught all of the references. I experienced this movie as a sarcastic love letter to Texas, and I totally enjoyed that aspect of it. I mean, the movie starts with the UT/OU football weekend. That is still a huge thing in Texas, and always a time of drunken shenanigans in the area. To then follow up the UT/OU thing with the chili contest was just too much – hysterical. What did you think of the gonzo opening sequence where the two entitled college douchebags have a deadly run-in with Leatherface and family?

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Rush Limbaugh before he gained all that weight.

Sean: I was going to say that we need to just talk about this movie’s attitude towards Texas as a place. My feeling is that this movie is much more “about” Texas than the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The original film got a lot of visual and atmospheric mileage out of the Texas location, and of course the defunct slaughterhouse industry provides the impetus for the movie. But I experienced Texas as a pure aesthetic milieu in the first film. Whereas in Texas 2 the movie itself addresses and talks about Texas. The sequel feels much more meta and self-aware and ironic as a cinematic experience. For me, this is another movie that anticipates the ­Scream sensibility that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson get an inordinate amount of credit for “creating.” I know I sound like a broken record here, but that sense of self-awareness and self-referentiality has been a part of the genre for decades, with everything from Peeping Tom to Body Double to The Return of the Living Dead to Fright Night to Demons to this film. It has always galled me how the zeitgeist hailed the Scream films as some wildly imaginative innovation. But back to this movie, Texas 2 talks about Texas in a way that the first movie didn’t, and its own sense of irony and camp results in a movie that is distinctively different in tone. This is a much more blackly comic movie than the first film. I do think certain sequences in the original, like that extended dinner/torture sequence, have a grimy hysteria to them. This movie doubles down on all of that, as is entirely appropriate for a sequel, in my mind. Texas 2 is self-aware camp. Lefty, the Dennis Hopper character, embodies that spirit the most overtly, but also Drayton Sawyer’s chili-cooking public persona.

Kristine: I agree, this movie is more self-consciously about black humor and camp. I couldn’t get over how Bill Moseley’s Chop-Top made Ed Neal’s Hitchhiker look like a low-key and subtle performance, something I never would have thought possible. Also, the change of setting from the anonymous little farm house to a fucking abandoned amusement park??? That should tell you right there we are dealing with a different kind of movie. And, agreed, Dennis Hopper’s insane performance as Lefty embodied all of that. I don’t want to overreach, but it seemed like this movie being so over-the-top was maybe a reflection of how over-the-top Texas (especially Dallas) was in the ‘80s – just batshit insanity and anything goes. Do you think this movie’s depiction of Texas and Texans is negative, or just darkly comic? And we must discuss the yuppies who get murdered in the opening sequence.

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In case you didn’t realize, the chainsaw represents his penis.

Sean: Well yeah, the yuppies at the beginning I think are integral to the movie setting up its own universe, right? I mean, they are basically straight out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel or a John Hughes Brat Pack film. They are Blane and Steff from Pretty in Pink on speed. Their appearance at the beginning and the way in which they are dispatched signals to us that the “spirit of Texas” is going to run wild and loose and crazy in the movie and take revenge on everything and everyone. I definitely think this is a loving satire of Texas. It uses an exaggerated idea of Texas as a place in order to both poke fun at and celebrate Texas as a unique universe in and of itself. I do think it’s fun, as you suggested a minute ago, to imagine that the movie is in dialogue with the 1980s zeitgeist version of Texas, from the nighttime soap Dallas to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas to Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.  But I did think it was interesting that it used all these “realistic” Texas details like the OU/UT weekend. Am I right though in assuming that the Dallas area is viewed by the rest of Texas as “uppity”? I got that idea from the movie Bernie, by the way.

Kristine: You are 100% right that Texans have that perception of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, that we’re all a bunch of city slickers and snobs up here. People think that now, and they DEF thought that in the 1980s. I think before the ‘80s, even if you were from a rich Texas family you were still considered a good ole boy and you probably still did manual labor for a living. In the 1980s a whole new iteration of the wealthy Texan came into being, exemplified by characters like George W. Bush, the first Texans who were yuppie assholes. I think the first scene from the movie absolutely reflects the tension between the new breed of college asshole rich kids like George W. and old school working class Texans. I am actually disappointed the theme wasn’t more deeply explored in the movie.

Sean: Yes, the joy-riding college guys are acting out this hollow idea of what it means to be an “outlaw.” Firing guns, drinking beer, raising hell. But it’s just an empty and entitled performance, with them yelling “pigfucker” at local trucks and harassing an awesome and adorable local DJ. Did you like Stretch?

Kristine: I did. I mean, she’s a total stereotype of a good ole Texas gal, but a fun one. Did you notice how one of the joy-riding douches is wearing these weirdly racist ching-chong-chow glasses? Did that freak you out? It did me.

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Less Than Queer-o.

Sean: I thought they were like, fake hypnotist’s spirals.

Kristine: One of the funniest parts of the movie was L.G. and his ever-present chaw. I thought him spitting tobacco juice even when his face was sliced off and he was minutes away from death was hilarious. Just in case you think that is a tired stereotype, I will have you know that my cultured, educated, Texas-born-and-bred boyfriend dipped until very recently. I think all Texas men do at some point in their lives. It is a thing.

Sean: I am disappointed that the boyfriend didn’t watch this movie with you.

Kristine: Me, too. I think he would have cracked up. Can I say I found Stretch’s absolute terror and revulsion when Leatherface places L.G.’s face on hers (and then the encounter between her and L.G. when she was wearing his face) was so gross but also my favorite parts of the movie.

Sean: Yes the pathos of L.G. was awesome. Can I just say I would watch a tv show about L.G. and Stretch working at the radio station with great pleasure? The disgusting grand guignol image of Stretch wearing that skin-face and hat was truly upsetting and hilarious. I just want to say right now, this is one of my favorite horror movies ever. Lefty going into the chainsaw store and being a freak while that nice old man is watching him?

Kristine: Ha ha ha, the chainsaw scene was great, especially when the the old storekeeper comes around to watch him go nuts on that log, and is like, “All right” I am just chuckling thinking about the visual of Dennis Hopper wearing those two chainsaws on his belt like they were pistols….comedy gold. Do you know how Hopper felt about this role later in his career? I mean, was he embarrassed or proud?

Sean: No idea. I mean, I’m sure he was in on the joke the whole time and loved it. But I want to know if there are Leftys, L.G.s and Stretches just running around the Dallas area or if they’re total and complete caricatures.

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Leatherface is sort of like a pushy perfume counter girl, when you think about it.

Kristine: Yes, there are. Definitely. I am shocked at how many Texans are so…Texan-y. And they love it. Another thing I wished the movie had explored more was the tension between the old school lawmen like Lefty (who was, remember, a former Texas Ranger) and the new-fangled Dallas cop he encounters. Actually I guess this is the same theme I wanted explored earlier – new Texas versus old Texas. The movie gives us all these great little scenes, but never really gets into it. That disappointed me.

Sean: Yeah, I think the movie is much more interested in hillbilly pigfucker Texas vs. urban Texas. And in turning the whole pigfucker idea into a big Grand Guignol for us to gawk at.

Kristine: Well, I wanted it to be that, but then it isn’t, because Stretch and L.G., the victims, don’t fall into either camp.

Sean: I mean, I don’t think its any accident that Stretch is a rock ‘n roller, a DJ (career gal) and kind of a hipster.

Kristine: And she’s ambitious, she wants to do more than be a DJ.

Sean: And L.G. strikes me as a local hipster also.

Kristine: Yes, totally.

Sean: So, I do think Stretch is the “new Texas” coming into hideous and grotesque conflict with the backwoods “urban legend” Texas nightmare. Remember, it is her recording of the deaths of those two poseur college kids that gets her embroiled in all this in the first place. She’s, in essence, their emissary in the film, and is more like them than she is like the Sawyer family. So as the Sawyers terrorize Stretch, it is really just a continuation of them murdering the college assholes who screamed “pigfuckers!” at them in the opening sequence. Also, Lefty is a total Texas-style RIMA [Rational Inquiring Masculine Authority]-gone-mad, right? [Editor’s Note: For the backstory on RIMA, see our discussion of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy.]

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V for Vagina

Kristine: Absolutely. And Lefty initially rejects the aid of new Texas when Stretch comes to him with the recordings, but then realizing he needs her. He exploits her and puts her at risk in order to take his revenge. So in some ways, L.G. and Stretch – the Texan hipsters – are caught in this bizarre culture war between the Texas-pride good ole boy network (represented by Lefty) and the mythic Texas hillbilly pigfuckers (represented by the Sawyer clan). Lefty needs the urban hipsters in order to get the job done. And your point about Lefty being the RIMA-gone-mad is illustrated when he gets the family’s lair – we think he is going to slaughter the baddies and save Stretch but instead he basically loses it and goes on a crazed mission to “bring it all down” and starts destroying the place, which could have easily killed him and Stretch in the process. He is so overwhelmed in the presence of so much evil he just loses it and can’t think straight. Masculinity, and the classic Texas good ole boy network, fails big time.

Sean: Yes, agreed. It’s up to Stretch – the new generation of Texan, the urban hipster – to save herself. She is exploited and manipulated by both Lefty and the Sawyers. So what did you think of the Sawyer family’s invasion of the radio station and that batshit sequence with Stretch and Leatherface? “Are you mad at me!? How mad at me are you?!”

Kristine: That scene. I was dying, Sean. I was dying. I mean, Stretch is incredibly smart and I loved that she did whatever she had to do in order to survive, whether it was wearing her friend’s fucking FACE as a mask or seducing Leatherface… but God was it hard to watch. What did you think about Leatherface wanting a gwurliefwiend? What about him jacking off with the chainsaw before running out of the radio station? I was D-Y-I-N-G. I do have to say that Choptop incessantly screaming “Get the bitch! Get her good!” was nauseating and stopped being campy fun for me after a while. It actually got me a little down.

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That Dukes of Hazzard episode where Daisy was assaulted by a power tools salesmen never actually aired.

Sean: Ok, I have some points to make. In my opinion one of the reasons this movie is genius and amazing is that it takes everything that was subtext in the first movie and addresses it openly as text. Subtext in the first film: the Hitchhiker as Vietnam veteran, shell-shocked and unhinged. Open text in Chainsaw 2: Choptop returned from Vietnam with a plate in his head (which he scratches, revoltingly, with a piece of wire hanger the entire film). Subtext in the first film: Leatherface’s chainsaw as phallic instrument, which is obviously openly acknowledged in batshit campy excess in Chainsaw 2. In the decade between the two movies, Hooper and his collaborators obviously processed and considered everything about the first film, and I see Chainsaw 2 really as a parody and camp exploitation of the first movie, which itself was a grimy little piece of exploitation. So this movie is exploitation squared. I don’t think any horror franchise had ever openly critiqued and addressed its own tropes in quite this way until Chainsaw 2. The sequels to Halloween and Friday the 13th were only interested in recreating and extending the tropes of the original films. But Chainsaw 2 comments upon and reflects upon it’s own progenitor, with hilarious and gruesome results. I really love that. I think it’s a really smart and knowing movie. That chainsaw/thrusting sequence between Stretch/Leatherface in the radio station is, in my mind, a fantastic comedic set-piece and one of the greatest sequences of any horror movie, ever. And I just want to shout out Caroline Williams’ fearless, hilariously campy performance in that scene. I haven’t enjoyed a camp horror performance that much in forever. The only other performance I can think of that reaches those heights of self-aware operatic wit is Rutina Wesley’s work on True Blood during the story arc where Tara was abducted and held hostage by Franklin Mott. Genius, genius, genius.

Kristine: I can’t agree more with all of this. Also later, when they rolled Granddad out, besides the obvious humor that he is still alive in any sense, I did feel a sense of dread because the scene in the first film of Sally getting hit in the head with the hammer over that bucket was so horrible and painful to watch. And it was still bad with Stretch. I liked how the movie kept some of those same scenes, when everything else was so blown out of proportion compared to the first movie.

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Robo-Perv

Sean: Yeah, for me, the part of the movie that works least is the Grampa hammer shit because that is where Chainsaw 2 feels the least innovative, the most like it is just repeating itself.  It feels like we are arduously slogging through some kind of fucked up manifest destiny or something. Everything else in the movie feels, to me, really fresh and inventive except for that sequence, which feels like a callback to a scene I was in no particular rush to relive. But it is well made up for with the final image of Stretch swinging the chainsaw around on top of a mountain.

Kristine: I loved the last scene also, but I kind of hated the whole mountain thing. I found the house in the first film much more scary than the amusement park. I also wasn’t that impressed with mumsie. I did think it was interesting how the movies portray female sexuality so differently – Stretch uses hers against the baddies to gain the upper hand and exert some power, whereas in the first film it is used against the ladies (their shirts are ripped off, etc.). I was pleasantly surprised that Stretch stayed fully clothed throughout, even if she was wearing the shortest of shortie shorts the whole time.

Sean: Yeah, I mean Stretch makes like Ginny from Friday the 13th Part 2 in head-shrinking the killer and using his psychology to control/tame him. I thought Leatherface him/herself was way funnier and more absurdly ridiculous in this movie, all prematurely ejaculating with the chainsaw. And Stretch being a woman – not a teenage girl – was something I liked. She understands sex in a way that teen slasher girl victims do not, which accounts for her ability, as you stated earlier, to use the killer’s sexual fetishization of her against them rather than being at its mercy. That look of shock and disgust on Stretch’s face as Leatherface strokes the chainsaw and orgasms is PRICELESS, and serves as a fabulous and extremely funny critique of the kinds of twisted male sexualities these kinds of slashers revel in. Stretch’s face, in that moment, betrays everything absurd and juvenile and revolting about the kinds of regressive, barbaric male sexualities that slasher films (from Maniac onwards) traffic in.

Kristine: Yes, yes, yes. I totally thought of Ginny and Jason from Friday the 13th Part 2 when Leatherface peers out at Stretch with one hopeful, lonely, puppy dog eye from behind his mask just like Jason peered out at Ginny when he thought she was his mother. And, agreed, Stretch is 100% Texas woman, ya’ll. And she cowgirls up.

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From Betty White’s Instagram account.

Sean: Just fyi, they played this movie at the Loft‘s Scream-O-Rama and my boyfriend’s sister got physically sick during the L.G./skinface scene and had to put her head between her legs and do deep breathing to keep from passing out.

Kristine: It was really gross. And it went on far longer then I thought it would. I guess that speaks to Tom Savini‘s effects talents, huh?

Sean: I guess. But it is also another reminded of what a tough cookie you’ve become since we started watching these movies together.

Kristine: It was gross but I had no physical reaction, like feeling queasy or faint or having to hide behind the couch.

Sean: So I think I mentioned that Carol Clover writes a ton about Stretch in Men, Women and Chainsaws. Do you think the genderfuck elements in this movie are more pronounced that other slashers we’ve watched? That Stretch is more of a “phallic” woman?

Kristine: No, not really. I mean, sure, I think that the ending is all about Stretch wresting control of the “phallus” from the killers, because the chainsaw has been overtly marked as a phallic instrument throughout the movie. But I actually thought Leatherface was more gender-queer in the first movie. He was much more womanly and played more of a wife/mother role in the family. I thought in this movie he was much more masculinized, more of a raging adolescent male sexual id. Don’t you?

Sean: Yeah, he was more like an oral/anal stage horny manchild in this one, all running around playing with his penis in front of the family. In that respect, I thought he was more of a sexual threat to Stretch in this movie. I didn’t sense any “rape” energy in the first film, whereas in this movie Leatherface presses his chainsaw into Stretch’s crotch and it is horrible. The threat of sexual violence – if not outright rape, than sexual mutilation – to the female protagonist is much more intense here. Even the way Leatherface slices the head off the yuppie in the beginning feels more rapey and eroticized than the odd, brutal murders he commits in the first film (hammer to head, like a farmer dispatching livestock). In fact, the first movie was much more about dehumanization – the horror inspired by the Sawyer family was in how easily and ruthlessly they dehumanized their victims, treating them not like people but like livestock. And that behavior in turn dehumanized the Sawyers, something complicated by the bizarre family dynamics that play out in the dinner scene where they bludgeon Sally with the hammer. They are both all-too-human and utterly inhuman. This movie is a bit more glib about the violence that is perpetrated. I recognize that, but I still prefer this movie to the original.

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Candid shot from Oprah’s 50th birthday party.

Kristine: Huh, interesting. I found Leatherface to be far scarier in the first movie. But while I agree that the chainsaw in this movie poses a sexual threat to Stretch, that is itself undercut and lampooned by how impotent and regressive Leatherface actually is. He doesn’t really want to fuck Stretch, he wants to dance with the pretty lady. He possesses an infantile sexuality. You know, the more we discuss this, the more I am thinking that Dennis Hopper’s Lefty is pretty unnecessary to the movie, even though his performance is enjoyable.

Sean: Yeah, he is just there to be Texas Man.

Kristine: I wish more had been done with him.

Sean: And he also provides a connection to the plot of the first movie, because he is the uncle of Sally and Franklin.

Kristine: Sure, but…  whatevs.

Sean: I guess, but I kind of feel like his pointlessness is part of the point. That he is ineffectual and just kind of a spazz.

Kristine: I know, because the RIMA is ultimately a joke and powerless in the face of evil.

Sean: That’s part of the joke, I think.

Kristine: No, I get it. I just feel like this movie is fun but they could have done more and still made the same points, just made them better.

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From the L.L. Bean/Black & Decker “American Gurlz” pin-up calender

Sean: Can we discuss the chili cook-off sequences, which felt to me like something straight out of a John Waters movie?

Kristine: Totally.

Sean: Is chili a big deal in Texas?

Kristine: Oh god yes. That chili competition was hilarious satire, except…. almost too true to be satire. And in real life, I am suspicious of chili meat, for the record. Which is something that this movie very smartly exploits.

Sean: Hahaha.

Kristine: Do you know how often I get in trouble in Texas because I like my chili with beans? Texas chili doesn’t have beans or, as they say, “Real chili doesn’t have beans.” Texans are unwilling to accept regional differences. It’s the right way (the Texas way) and everything else is just those crazy Yankees acting a fool. And fyi, Texans do call people Yankees and I am not kidding.

Sean: But this is where the movie is doing its most blatant social satire right? Because the urban/suburban crowd is all smiling and feasting on this human-meat-chili made by a “real” Texan, and also chili is this marker of regional pride, as you say. I guess my reasons for loving this movie are Leatherface’s big chainsaw dick + John Waters sensibility + adult woman DJ protagonist + redneck camp = amazing. I got the feeling that you were having fun watching it. Is that right?

Kristine: Oh, absolutely. Especially all the Texas satire at the beginning. Super fun.

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Orville Reddenrapist

Sean: I mean, you liked this more than the first movie, right?

Kristine: Yes, this was a lot more enjoyable for me to watch, but I don’t know if I think it is a better film.

Sean: Huh. But you like, hated the first movie, I thought? I thought you were like, ‘What garbage.’

Kristine: Not really, I just didn’t really get why it is such a classic. I think if I re-watched it now I would have a different reaction. Also, even though I didn’t like the first movie, it did scare me. Shit, I still get scared every now and then thinking about Leatherface pulling back that big industrial door. That shot is brilliant and scary. There was nothing like that in Chainsaw 2. There is nothing really scary in the whole movie, in fact. It is just gruesome and gross.

Sean: This movie walks the line very well of melding gruesomeness with camp humor.

Kristine: There you are. I take it you think Chainsaw 2 is better?

Sean: Yeah. I mean, I think they’re really different and I appreciate them both. I really love and admire the first movie. But I don’t relish it like I do this movie. Chainsaw 2 might actually be the more morally bankrupt movie, but I still think it is an inordinate amount of fun. All of the over-the-top aspects, from the chainsaw-as-penis sequence to the abandoned amusement park to Dennis Hopper going to town on that hunk of wood with his chainsaws. I just adore it.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating:  Sleazesterpiece!

The Freak’s Rating: Masterpiece!

Don't do the Safety Dance in the back of moving vehicle...
Don’t do the Safety Dance in the back of moving vehicle…