Hooper directs Hopper! Apparently Tobe Hooper originally had an idea for a sequel involving an entire town of cannibals, to be called Beyond The Valley Of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Nah, not trashy enough.
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was split into two unequal halves - the first hour (bleak, brutal, brilliant, almost unwatchable) and the remaining thirty minutes (wacky fun with Clan Cannibal). This sequel follows the same pattern, but with a somewhat different tone for the first half.
The first half of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a comedy. I don't just mean that it's amusing. The opening scenes have plot elements that would be too stupid for belief if the film wasn't so obviously shooting for laughs. A radio station can't cut off unwanted callers but must instead wait for them to hang up first. Not impossible I suppose, but a pretty dumb set-up. When the two joyriding yahoos are driving fender to fender with Leatherface's pick-up, why don't they hit the brakes? Why don't the police want anyone (even other policemen!) to investigate these chainsaw killings?
The visual style is light-heartedly gross, too. A carved-up head has comedy spurts of blood. Leatherface makes his first appearance boogeying to the funky music. Things gradually get more disgusting, with a really horrible killing and Choptop's eye-popping introductory scene. You'll have one thought in your mind and one thought only. "WHAT THE FUCK IS HE DOING WITH THAT COATHANGER????" Nevertheless the tone remains consistently that of a gore comedy. Thirty seconds after you've been cringing and squealing at "incoming mail!", you'll wet yourself laughing at Leatherface's scene with Stretch. These guys are pathetic! Massively dangerous, yes, but with the combined intellectual power of an eggplant.
And it's official - Long Pig will win you cookery prizes!
But fun though all this is (and I haven't even mentioned the radio soundtrack in the opening sequence) best of all is the acting. You've got the lovably endearing Caroline Williams as Stretch. You've got that fun cop who tries to push around Dennis Hopper. You've got Bill Moseley going so manically over the top as Choptop that by comparison Michael Keaton looked restrained in Beetlejuice.
But best of all is Dennis Hopper. Here we've got a genuine, no-kidding, Oscar-nominated psycho dude giving it everything he's got. A lot of actors would have simply turned up for the pay cheque (e.g. Rutger Hauer in the 1992 Buffy movie). Look at that title. How many movie stars would bother to do more than sleepwalk through something called Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2? But no, Hopper goes all the way. The man's a nutter! Arguably scarier than the cannibals (he nearly gets two innocents sliced 'n' diced for the sake of his mania) he's deliciously deranged and a whole lotta fun.
Then comes the second half and the cannibal lair. Gradually things get gross enough to make the comedy seem incidental rather than the point of the movie. The cannibals' antics become grotesque rather than hilarious. It's pretty much an expanded remake of the original's third act and pretty similar in tone, but the two films take such different paths until then that the effect on the viewer is completely different.
And of course there's always Dennis Hopper. He gets a chainsaw duel, something I've seen in other films but for the first time here it's done well. Such sequences must be so horrifically dangerous to film that too often they end up looking lame. Here's it's bloody scary.
The cannibalism angle is more developed than in the original, with Pops starting up his own food-supply business although Grandad's still the same old spastic vampire he was last time. The characters even get some emotional moments, and there's more plot than the original's "don't go in the barn, whoops, Leatherface killed ya." Admittedly it's not *much* plot, but I appreciated the effort. Hey, how much plot do horror sequels normally bother with?
I'm no great fan of the ending, which is way too sequel-hunting for my tastes. I prefer a bit more resolution (i.e. any at all). It must also be admitted that the movie isn't frightening - incredibly gory and hard to watch at times, yes, but you can't tell me they were shooting for anything with Leatherface but laughs. To have the shit scared out of you, watch the first hour of the original. However it's a rollicking rollercoaster of fun, gore, laughs and horrified squeals that's a more complete film than its predecessor and should be compulsory viewing for any teenage pissant who thinks horror begins and ends with Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Earns bonus points for not delivering its opening monologue in the usual James Earl Jones-esque portentous crawl. Instead it's bright and zippy while simultaneously delivering the goods when it comes to the hideous splatter. A lot like the film, really.