Welcome to Texas-OU Weekend!
First released in 1986, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 opens with two idiots driving down an isolated highway in Texas. They’re heading down to Dallas for the Red River Showdown, the annual football game between Oklahoma U. and the University of Texas at Austin. They’re drunk, of course. And, being rich kids in the mid-80s, they’ve got a car phone. They place a call to a local radio DJ named Stretch (Caroline Williams, giving a great performance) and they force her to listen as they harass the driver of a passing truck. Of course, when a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Bill Johnson) emerges from the truck and kills both of them, Stretch hears that as well.
Yes, Leatherface and the entire family are back. When last seen at the end of 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Leatherface was dancing with his chainsaw while the morning sun shined down on the Texas countryside. Now, he and the family have moved to North Texas and the eldest brother, Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow), has become a bit of a local celebrity due to his chili. (Everyone loves Drayton’s chili but that’s mostly because they don’t know who the main ingredient is.) Though one of the brothers was killed at the end of the original film, he’s been replaced by the manic Chop-Top (Bill Moseley), who has a metal plate in his head. Of course, Grandpa (Ken Evert) is still alive. He’s well over a hundred years old but he still enjoys trying to wield a hammer.
The family is being pursued by Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), a crazed Texas ranger who is also the uncle of Sally and Franklin Hardesty, who were both victimized in the first film. (Sally, we’re told, is in a mental institution. As for Franklin, a skeleton in a wheelchair does make an appearance at one point.) Lefty approaches Stretch to get a copy of the tape of the two drunk idiots being killed by Leatherface. Unfortunately, the family also discovers that Stretch has the tape and they soon come after her as well….
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is not as universally beloved as the first film but I like it. It helps, of course, to know something about Texas-OU weekend. Imagine Mardi Gras without the nudity or the beads but with a lot more beer and a lot more frat boys and you have a pretty good idea of what Texas-OU weekend is like in Dallas. The entire city goes crazy as it’s invaded by football fans from Oklahoma and Austin. Why are they playing football in Dallas as opposed to their own cities? Dallas is considered to be neutral ground and the fact that they need neutral ground to play a football game should tell you just how invested people get in that one game. Texas-OU weekend is all about excess and the same could be said about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2.
With the original film, Tobe Hooper fooled audiences into thinking that they were seeing more gore than they actually were. The first Texas Chainsaw Massacre is nearly bloodless. Hooper takes the opposite approach to the sequel, filling the screen with blood and viscera. For that reason, Part 2 is still controversial among fans of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre films but I think Hooper made the right decision. Attempting to duplicate the original’s atmosphere would have been impossible. Instead of just remaking the original film, Hooper did something different. As well, as opposed to the more subtle social satire of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the humor in Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is far broader and a bit more hit-and-miss. But again, it all links back to Texas-OU weekend. There may not be much that’s subtle about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 but the same can be said of the Red River showdown and Texas-OU Weekend. For that matter, the same can be said for much of Texas in general and Dallas in specific. Like me, Tobe Hopper was a Texan. True Texans know what makes our state great but we also know what makes our state totally batshit insane. Tobe Hooper got Texas in a way that all the filmmakers from up North never will.
That’s not to say that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is a perfect film, of course. The film’s second half, which takes place almost entirely in the underground caverns in which the Sawyers have made their home, is considerably less compelling than the first. The scene where the Sawyers attempt to get Grandpa to bludgeon Stretch with a hammer goes on forever and it’s far less effective than when they tried to get Grandpa to do the same thing to Sally in the first film. As well, it’s hard not to be disappointed with Drayton’s transformation from being ambiguously friendly in the first film to being a flat-out villain in the second. The first film showed that Jim Siedow was a far better actor than one might guess from the sequel.
But here’s what does work. Bill Moseley’s performance as Chop Top is completely manic and over-the-top and, at times, a little bit annoying. But he’s also so completely unhinged and Moseley is so uninhibited in the role that it’s impossible to look away whenever he’s onscreen. Dennis Hopper, who was just starting to make his Hollywood comeback when he appeared in this film, plays Lefty as being so obsessive that sometimes, he seems like he might be just as dangerous as the people that he’s pursuing. Hopper makes the character sympathetic, though. There’s a gleam of madness in his eyes but the viewer never doubts his love for his family. It takes a special actor to pull off the scene where Lefty discovers Franklin’s remains and Hopper was exactly that actor. And finally, there’s Caroline Williams, giving a strong and inspiring performance as Stretch and never allowing the character to become a helpless victim. Stretch may scream (because who wouldn’t in that situation) but she never stop fighting. The scene where she “charms” Leatherface is the epitome of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. It’s over the top, excessive, borderline offensive, sickly funny, and yet somehow very effective. If nothing else, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is one of the few of the 80 slasher films to acknowledge what’s really going on with those boys and their chainsaws, machetes, and knives.
Though it may not be as good as the original, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 holds up well on its own. It’s an effective mix of satire and horror, featuring a strong heroine and a great performance from Caroline Williams. Hell, I think I’m going to be Stretch for Halloween this year!