Thursday, 6 October 2011

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: The Gruesome Edition Review

The Saw Is Family: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

In 1974, director Tobe Hooper browned the underwear of a generation of cinema goers with the visceral Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The story of a group of teenagers being hacked up into pieces by cannibalistic maniacs was gritty and stark in its realism, earning deserved accolades and reverence. In 1986, Hooper went back to the well with a sequel.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a very different beast than its predecessor. Hooper felt people were too busy being terrified to notice the dark humour he had put in the original, so he went a new route and made the sequel an over-the-top, dark humoured gorefest.

Not pictured: Whatever I mentioned in the previous paragraph

Telling the tale of the continued attacks of the cannibal clan from the first film, a DJ named Stretch gets embroiled in a revenge plot by a vigilante named Lefty (played gleefully by Dennis Hopper, with an insane amount of insanity. Yes, I did say that), who has been hunting the family after they killed members of his family. Stretch is kidnapped by the psychos when she plays a recording of one of their massacres on air, and is taken to their lair, beneath an abandoned fun park.

Lefty infiltrates the lair, not to save Stretch, but for his vengeance. What ensues is a prolonged, and very bizarre, mindfuck of a dinner, followed by Leatherface love and a brilliant daylight ending.

 Plus a motherfuckin chainsaw duel!!!

Whereas the original is sparse on blood (though the film was almost banned, they actually intended to make a PG film), Tom Savini, of Dawn of the Dead fame, provides bucketloads of glorious gore, so over the top that your tongue is almost ramming through your cheek. Set pieces are captivating, with an attack on a short bridge that seems to be stuck in a timewarp that makes it never ending, some sexual teasing in a radio station, and the most convincing hideout of any villain I have ever seen. There are no loose ends in the cast. Everyone fits into what can only be described as a truly bizarre flick. Dennis Hopper stands out for hamming it up, but by the nature of his straight laced character and having such fantastic scene stealers as Bill Moseley and Jim Seidow, everything balances out.

 Shine on, you crazy diamond.

The film is a real oddity. It has a large pinch of humour that Return of the Living Dead made mandatory for all horror films in the 80s, but whereas a lot of films aimed to be comic and expanded affairs, TCM2 instead focuses on just a few smaller sections. Indeed, the entire second half is spent in the lair of the clan, a setpiece that would normally be left for the closing scenes of the final act. The lair is confusing and peculiar in an organic way. It doesn’t feel like someone designed the set, it feels like these people collected these pieces and tried to make it function.

Bill Mosely’s Choptop, a character new to this film, who has a metal plate in his head he continuously scratches with a burnt coat hanger and carries around the limp remains of his brother, is genuinely creepy. At first, I thought I just didn’t like the character, but it turned out I was just uncomfortable. His introductory scene in the radio station is as unnerving as it anticipatory, with one of the few genuine scares of the film housed here.

Leatherface is played by a different actor this time, and Gunnar Hansen is missed in the role. Bill Johnson gives the role a good whack, but just doesn’t succeed. The film has a demented subplot of Leathface’s love for Lefty, not necessarily done well, but a creepy cherry on top of a creepy cake.

Unless I'm mistaken about female anatomy, 
she is about to have a great time.

This film is never going to make any horror classic lists, but by god, you will want to know about it. This is the kind of film you share with friends at a party or pass on to people in a ‘you wanna see something weird?’ kind of way. It’s a simple film, but it knows what it wants to do, and it does it well. Recommended for any collection.

On The DVD

Lots of you reading this will know the film, here’s the interesting new information for you.

For years, there was only the bare bones release of the film (which will forever remind me of oranges. No real relevance there, just wanted to share that with you).When The Shocking Truth documentary came out, the small section in it about TCM2 hinted at a lot of water under the bridge that would make for an amazing release, finally giving context to a film forever lost in the haze of its predecessor.
The occupier of bargain bins worldwide.

Cut to 2006, and TCM2 is released as THE GRUESOME EDITION. Commentaries, documentaries, deleted scenes. We get it all (well, unless you’re in Region 2 land, where the Gruesome Edition is just a reboxed bare bones version). However, there is bittersweet news here.

Indeed we get 2 commentaries, one good, one bad. First up is Tobe Hooper and The Shocking Truth’s director. Though Hooper is always relaxing to hear from, the commentary is pretty dull, with them mainly establishing the correlation between this and the first film. Next up is Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Tom Savini and the DVD producer. This is a lively and smile inducing track. There are no real nuggets of information here, but everyone seems delighted to be there and give enough new info to keep things entertaining. Best of all, Bill Moseley, who I have occasionally been given the impression no longer digs horror as much as he once did, shows an almost fanboy side with excitement for a role in a cult classic. Pleasing stuff.

Next up is the Cutting Room Floor, which is ten minutes(ish) of deleted scenes, taken from a VHS source (which I assume is the only source available). Difficult to see and to hear, there is a lot of interesting stuff here, including a gory massacre completely cut from the feature. However, though interesting, it’s not very good. A good example of scenes that were rightly cut. For those interested in making a fan edit, these scenes will never be able to be smoothly reinserted!

This is pretty much a DVD rip of the best deleted scene...

Finally, It Runs In The Family, a near-feature length documentary about the film. The Shocking Truth was a candid and informative documentary about the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. This documentary is winding and poor. Hooper isn’t involved in it for some reason and, though we are treated to some good info and lots of great Tom Savini behind-the-scenes footage, the documentary feels like a fluff piece. Nowhere do they go into detail about the studio interference or the film that could have been, which had been hinted at. For such a long running time, there really isn’t much here.

Overall, the DVD is only so-so. Enough time has passed that we could be treated to the inside scoop being the film, but this release let this down. A real shame as the film gets better with age. 

Better than a bare bones release and it is something to have if you’re a TCM fan, but there is a lot of meat still left to cut.