Monday, 6 January 2014

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper, 1986) is a lot like those "mystery surprise bags" they used to sell at convenience stores. A few great bits, then a whole bunch of junk no one could possibly have any use for.

That makes it a classic in my books. I love great film, and I love terrible film, and it's so rare that I get to enjoy them together.

Yeah, that's Dennis Hopper. (Photo stolen from
Sassy late-night DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams) is dealing with an on-air crank call when the callers are murdered with what sounds like... a chainsaw. (!!!) She teams up with ten-gallon kook Lefty (Dennis Hopper), a relative of the hapless youths dispatched in the original film, to get to the roots of the atrocity (the DEEP roots, hardy har). First fending off Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and Chop Top's (Bill Moseley) preemptive attack at Radio Free Texas, Stretch and Lefty pursue the Brothers Sawyer-mazov back to the Batcave their underground lair.

Our intrepid-ish heroes are quickly separated, and in what might be beautiful and elegant meta-symbolism but probably isn't, the plot then falls apart in almost exactly the same way the Sawyer's subterranean empire soon literally crumbles to dust. I'd be loathe to spoil the ending of this (Criterion-overlooked) masterpiece, but it's bonkers and inexplicable and awesome.

"What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?" (Picture stolen from
So much of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is so transcendentally stupid. Why would a radio station forbids DJ to hang up on a caller? Why would Leatherface develop a crush on Stretch after having torn through a plethora of nubile teenagerettes in the original? Why do Stretch's lines to Leatherface read like a soap opera breakup? ("I'M TRYING TO BE OPEN WITH YOU!") Why does Lefty spend the second half of the film running around an empty amusement park, screaming "DAMN IT ALL TO HELL" and chainsawing support beams willy-nilly? Why is Lefty in this movie at all?

On the other hand, when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 gets it right -- boy howdy, they get it right. I defy any woman who's walked alone down a dark alley or shared a bus stop with a creepy stranger to name a more unsettling scene than Chop Top's introduction. He's waiting on the radio station's couch when Stretch finishes a late-night set solo, and he's just polite enough, just sincere enough, that she second-guesses herself and doesn't haul ass out of there: "You're my fave," Chop Top simpers, requesting an autograph. Stretch strains to her breaking point, striving to stay polite for this frightening stranger. It's so much scarier than Leatherface waving a power saw. It feels as though it goes on forever. It's genius. It's terrifying. What's it doing in this movie?

Paging Dr. Freud. (Photo stolen from
FINAL GIRL: Stretch is among my best-loved final girls, although she'd a bit of an odd duck. For one thing, she's not really a final girl so much as a final woman (the character is gainfully and steadily employed in a grown-up's profession; the actress was 29 when the movie premiered). For another, most final girls try to keep their wits as their trials progress, usually only abandoning them  at the climax of the movie. Stretch, on the other hand, takes terrorized leave of her senses almost immediately upon encountering the Sawyers. After that, I guess, there's nowhere to go but up -- and up she does go, with a vengeance.

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