In Part 1 of this article, I wrote about what I consider the greatest horror film of all time, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. If you’re reading this, then I assume you read the first part. Groovy and gratitude. It was a little long and I wasn’t sure if anyone would dig it. I write like I talk, which is a weird form of stream of consciousness and what comes out, comes out.
Those that are familiar with my work know what to expect, but other than those twenty-three people this may be a new experience for you. Does it fit in here at Dread Central? Who knows? All I know is I had fun writing it. I got to talk about a movie I love, a real-life killer that intrigues me and some movie locations I’ve visited.
But since this was a different avenue, I knew I should keep that to myself. You see, I’ve grown up quite a bit this last year. So I’m proud that I never brought it up. And I won’t in this article either. That’s not why I’m here. This is serious business. Plus I get to talk about something I love more than anything, my woman aside, and that is…
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2.
In 1986 I was ten years old. I lived in a small town in Minnesota named Eyota. Does the town matter to this article? No, but I wanted to mention it since a few people I went to school with will get a kick out of seeing it and I’m a firm believer that sometimes you do things to make those around you smile. That smile can catch on; and before you know it, the world is a better place. What the fuck? I should kick my own ass for writing that. I should also mention that on the show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” Charlie wears a Dover-Eyota T-shirt on a couple of episodes. I geeked out when I saw that. Let’s move on.
I was a shy kid and I’ll admit a little odd. I loved horror. I gobbled up as much as I could get my hands on, food too, which is how I went from a skinny kid to a chubby fuck over one summer. But we don’t need to talk about that here other than mentioning that I have lost 75 pounds this year and I’m looking sexy as hell. I ooze machismo. Uncle Creepy has joined me on this weight loss attack and we are both sexifying California, especially on our weekly radio show Brainwaves: Horror and Paranormal Talk Radio which airs Wednesday at 8pm on the Deep Talk Radio Network. Boom, plugged the shit out of that and it wasn’t forced. Just came naturally, just like horror did for me. Boom, right back to the story.
Luckily for me I was surrounded by relatives that supported my love of horror. My mom always let me be me and my Uncle Mike would always take me to see whatever was in the theatre. He also took me to the comic book stores and my favorite thing to pick up was Fangoria magazine. I read each issue cover to cover many times before I cut out my favorite pictures and taped them to my walls. It was while reading the current issue at the time that I came to an article on a new movie that would be coming out soon. I read that sucker twenty or thirty times. Tom Savini was going to do the effects and he was the master as far as I was concerned. I just knew it was going to be the greatest movie ever.
Sometime later, while watching TV at my Nana’s house, I got my first look at the trailer. I can clearly remember playing with my Star Wars toys and realizing what was being played behind me. I turned around and was captivated from the moment it began. Seeing moving images reinforced my belief that this would be something special.
The trailer ended and I was in heaven. This was everything I had been waiting for. I played with my toys in front of the TV until it played again. I needed to see it from the beginning since I had missed the start. I waited and waited, no doubt allowing the Rancor to devour Luke and Han, since I was always drawn to the dark side. My patience paid off. It played again…and I was devastated. The trailer opened with a warning that no one under the age of seventeen would be allowed in the theatre. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried. I would not be able to see it for seven years. Remember, I was ten at the time and since it carried this warning I was sure video stores wouldn’t carry it. It would only be rented at the porn shops. My Uncle Mike was cool as fuck, but I knew he wouldn’t go to a porn shop to rent me a movie, even if it was a horror film.
So I cried and did my best to carry on. TCM2 would be in more Fangoria issues and it would open the wound. I had to come to terms with it even though it broke my little horror heart. Time passed, though the longing never diminished. On the weekends my Uncle Mike would take me to the local Cub Foods grocery store to rent movies. Back then you could rent videos everywhere. Grocery stores, gas stations… you name it. It was a wonderful time full of discovery. Most would consider puberty to be like that; for me, though, it was video stores. Renting movies based on cover art was magical. It’s something that is lost to time and will never come back. Now you know everything about a movie before it comes out. It’s rare to just discover something. I miss it so much but am thankful that I grew up in the time to fully experience and appreciate it.
It was on one of these trips to the video store where I saw it there on the shelf. I gasped, unable to believe what I was seeing. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was right there in front of me. I reached out for it, but before I could some dude much older than me snagged it. A fit of rage hit, unlike any I had ever experienced before. I grabbed Doom Asylum, the first movie I could reach and proceeded to beat the man to death. I was a wild animal; bone, guts and gore showered the racks. I’m just kidding. Doom Asylum didn’t come out until the next year. I picked the VHS up off of the shelf and grinned like a madman. I was finally going to see it. We went back home, popped that sucker in, and after all the expectations and build-up, I was not disappointed in the slightest. It was very different than the original but it had to be. Times had changed, the world had changed.
Yuppie is such a dated term. The current generation has no concept of what a yuppie is. They have Hipster down though and I’m not sure which group irks me more. Yuppies had money, dressed like it and surely acted like it. They were better than you in every way, at least that’s what they thought. I didn’t come from money. I grew up in a trailer court. What we didn’t lack was love and the ability get along with everyone. We didn’t need to look down at anyone to feel better. The yuppies of course would say, “You can’t look down from the bottom.” Not all yuppies were bad people. They were born into an environment that fostered those feelings, just like many people are today. The key is realizing, learning and changing. Some did…some do. The rest of those yuppie fucks… we wished brutal death upon them and that’s how the film opens.
Technically the film opens with a crawl just like the original. The original film’s crawl gave away the ending, though that never bothered me. Stephen King is fond of saying that it’s about the journey, not the destination, and I agree with him for the most part. However, if I was heading to Disneyland and the ride was full of laughs, good food and conversation but upon arrival was urinated and defecated on by a costumed stranger, I may not reflect on that drive as being positive. The original film backs his claim though. You know from the beginning Sally will survive and the bad guys will get away, but that doesn’t matter. A fantastic movie makes you forget what you know and takes your hand and drags you along. The TCM2 crawl gives a quick recap of the original before letting the audience know that bodies have continued to show up all over Texas. We know the Sawyer family hasn’t gone into hiding. They are out there doing what they do. The difference is they are mobile. You avoided them by steering clear of their home in the first one. You had to stumble upon it. This time, though, you weren’t safe from them stumbling upon you.
While the first film opened with some quick flashes, building the tension up and setting the tone, this one sets the mood immediately in a much different way. You see a road before you like many across the country. Suddenly a gunshot is heard, a mailbox is shot and we meet the dreaded yuppies. One hangs out the window wearing a pair of ridiculously awful 80’s glasses, laughing in an annoyingly awful way, while shooting signs. His yuppie pal driving is equally as awful as he is. Many watching now would consider these two as an exaggerated caricature of the 80’s. Those of us who lived through that time know that the portrayal is close to what they were. Entitled assholes, dressed in obnoxious colored sweaters. While the first movie made you feel for the characters and want to see them survive (other than Franklin because… well… he’s Franklin), this one does the opposite. You want to see these dickheads die.
The beauty of the original was that you felt like you were there experiencing it. TCM2 is vastly different.
You immediately knew you were watching a movie. It allows you to relax and just relish in what you are seeing. It’s okay to smile, it’s okay to cheer. This one doesn’t rely heavily on ambient noise to help set the scene, you get actual music and songs. Again it was a product of the times. In the 70’s films were events. The only way to see them was at a theatre. That’s why midnight screenings and double features were so prevalent and played to packed houses all across the country. When home video started, you could see movies whenever you wanted, provided it wasn’t rented already, and let me tell you that was always a crushing moment. These days people freak out when the Netflix signal buffers for a second. Back then you’d have to wait until the next day to check the video store again and it was always about timing. If they returned the tape early in the day, it would be gone by the afternoon.
I remember standing at the checkout counter waiting for a movie to get returned. If you were lucky you’d see it there waiting to be put out and snag it right from the counter. Movies became re-watchable. You could pause, rewind and dissect them. The best of the classic horror films (Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, etc.) stood the test of time. Many that relied on tension and the experience that goes along with it lost some steam after repeated viewings. The way around this was to make films that added a little more fun, gore and, yes, nudity. TCM 2 definitely had the fun and the gore, though there was no nudity. As a ten-year-old, the nudity didn’t really matter to me; that would come later… as I would… many times. What I’m getting at is movies for the home market had to be re-watchable in order for you to justify a purchase or multiple rentals. Tobe Hooper and writer L.M. Kit Carson knew this. They also knew that they couldn’t make the same style of movie as before. It wouldn’t have the impact and they had already made a perfect version. They chose to make this one a black comedy horror film. I know in interviews Tobe Hooper said that the original was a black comedy, but I’ve never noticed that. It’s pure horror to me. So back to the yuppies.
They listen to a radio show and decide to call in. Stretch, the host, played by a wonderful Caroline Williams, takes the call; and yep, the yuppies are assholes. Let’s talk about Caroline for a moment. She’s fantastic in this, as she was in every role she played, and somehow over the years she went from being good looking to absolutely stunning. I don’t know what fountain of youth she bathed in, but she definitely should share her secrets. She carries most of the movie and does it justice. LG, played by the perfectly cast Lou Perryman, is her engineer. Lou worked in the camera department on the first film so it’s great to see him step in front of the camera. He perfectly offsets her beauty with his inherent manliness. Not that spitting should be considered manly, but let’s face it… when you’re 12, you go through a time when it’s just the coolest thing. I remember hocking loogies everywhere. We immediately like these two. Their chemistry on screen is great, as is their banter. The yuppies decide to play chicken with a truck driving down the country road and cause the truck to swerve into the ditch. Of course they think this is the funniest thing ever. The call is disconnected and Stretch continues her show.
LG is crass, gruff and vulgar (sound like anyone you know?) and obviously has a crush on Stretch. Though she brushes him off, you can see in her eyes and mannerisms that she likes him. These two really mesh together well. I would have watched another movie with their characters in a heartbeat. He built her a fry house; I would have loved to see a chicken strip cabin. I would eat the fuck out of one of those.
The yuppies call back later, and Stretch and LG are unable to disconnect the call. Suddenly the truck from earlier is in front of them. They stop and there’s a moment where you can see their shock at not being the ones in charge. They have lived their lives getting everything they want and being kings of the castle. This shift in paradigm confounds them. They have no clue whom they have pissed off, but as an audience we do and eagerly anticipate what is coming. That’s another core difference between films; the first made you cringe and feel for those being attacked. In the sequel you cheer for the Sawyers. You want bloodshed and in TCM2 you get it in all of its red-soaked glory provided by Tom Savini. There are no tricks to make you imagine what you saw, like the hook scene in the original. In this one you kick a wall and guts come flying out.
So the yuppies take off, trying to get away from the truck. They head down the world’s longest bridge and suddenly you get what you want. In the first one, you waited quite a while to get your first glimpse of Leatherface; here it comes quickly. Out from the truck pops Nubbins, a member of the Sawyer clan who has seen better days. He’s nothing more than a dried out and dressed corpse. One of the yuppies shoots Nubbins and his head shifts, showing who is disguised underneath. It’s our old friend Leatherface, played in this scene by Tom Morga, who also portrayed Michael Myers in Halloween 4 and Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 5. He does exactly what we want him to do by sawing the shit out of those yuppies. Unfortunately for the Sawyers, they were still being broadcast on the radio. Enter Dennis fucking Hopper.
I love what he brings to the table. It’s batshit crazy, no doubt about that. His character, Lefty Enright, has been searching for the Sawyers since his niece and nephew, Franklin and Sally from the original, encountered the clan. He has put everything together and even though no one agrees with him, he knows there are devils on the loose killing at will all across Texas. He will stop at nothing to see them sent back to hell. Casting an actor the caliber of Dennis Hopper was a major score. It brought recognition and some name value. Every scene he is in you can’t help but smile. The way he cuts up the logs at the chainsaw store makes me laugh out loud. I also realize that he isn’t as far from insanity as he thinks. He has been driven to it, rather than born into it though. He knows his mission will more than likely be a one-way trip. The fact that he tosses down more money than needed for the chainsaws without a care shows he knows the end is near and he’s fully accepted that.
When Stretch reads about Lefty, she knows the tape she has from the show is exactly the people he is searching for. Lefty has her play it on the radio, and Drayton “the cook” Sawyer, a returning Jim Siedow, hears it on the air. In the fashion of the 80’s, the Sawyers now have a rolling BBQ. They crave awards and money, no longer content to just be together and enjoy life. They’ve monetized cannibalism. His inclusion really connects the two films and it is better because of his involvement. While he adds a touch of class, he’s also allowed to go more over-the-top this time and delivers many memorable lines. But if we are going to talk about memorable lines, we have to bring up Chop-Top.
Stretch meets Chop-Top at the end of the broadcasting day. She stumbles upon him in the lower level of the station. His appearance (head plate and coat hanger), mannerisms and demeanor all reek of crazy. Almost every line he delivers throughout the movie has become quotable and legendary.
“Lick my plate, you dog dick.”
“Dog will hunt.”
“Music is my life.”
He is character that you cannot forget, as is Bill Moseley, the man who brought him to life. The guy is a genius and I’m not just talking about his acting ability. He really is a genius. He went to Yale and wrote for Omni magazine. How many people do you know that took their family to a rain forest on vacation? He knows a little bit about everything. I’ll share a personal story here.
Bill and I were both attending Cinema Wasteland in Strongsville, Ohio. I can’t recommend that show enough. Great people, great times. Bill loves nature and likes to go for walks whenever he’s in town for an appearance. On this occasion I joined him. We found a little wooded area behind the hotel and commenced with our stroll. I had known Bill for a few years at this point, but still wondered if he was leading me to my death. He plays the character so damn well and has a way of glossing over his eyes when he’s in character that part of me wondered. I still went, though, because if I’m going to go, there are worse ways than by Chop-Top. So we are walking around and he’s pointing out to me what the various plants are and I began to wonder if he was bullshitting me. Suddenly he stops, climbs up a tree, picks something off a branch and swings back down. It was unbelievable. It still brings a smile to my face. He showed me what he picked and it was some berry, though I don’t remember the name. How could I? Fucking Chop-Top just pulled a Tarzan. He also has released a number of CD’s a part of The Cornbugs with Buckethead on guitar, and he has a new project with Phil Anselmo aptly titled Bill and Phil. How cool is that? Anyway, back to TCM2.
Chop-Top is zany, crazy, deranged and funny as hell. He has a surprise for Stretch hidden in the record room and that’s his bro Leatherface.
Other than in the opening scene, Leatherface is played by Bill Johnson and Bob Elmore. The budget allowed for stunt people this go-around. I’m sure the cast of the original would have gladly let people step in for the more heavy stuff but that movie would have suffered for it. It needed that pain and anguish. This one didn’t rely on tone as much as it relied on individual performances.
Leatherface is quite different this time around. He is no longer the worried child and gets to have some fun, even giving some skin to Chop-Top at one point. He has adopted the teenager mentality in the family and is quite horny. TCM2 is well known for this change. We see a Leatherface that wants to get a piece. The seduction scene with the chainsaw, though creepy as fuck, does come across as slightly erotic. Maybe that’s just me, though; if it is, then my apologies…no, fuck that. I love it. This scene is where the movie becomes nuts. From here out, it’s full steam frantic salaciousness, camp and gorgeous gore. There’s a dinner scene, a chainsaw duel and a skinning.
You can’t really compare Gunnar Hansen’s portrayal to Bill Johnson’s. They were both working with different material and tone. Both did a fantastic job. I’d also like to point out that in real life both are highly intelligent men that strike me as more Shakespearean than anything. The stories they told, the laughs they had, drew you in and had a way of making you feel more intelligent just being in their presence. It’s funny how the monsters are almost always the polar opposite of the people that played them. It’s been that way from the beginning with actors like Karloff, Chaney and Price. It takes intelligence to craft a character, especially one that has no lines. It’s all told through the eyes and movements.
The set dressing of the Sawyer’s lair is quite amazing. Last year I got to catch a screening in the theatre, something I waited thirty years to do. Every inch of the screen was dressed. There are no gaps, no “fuck it no one will notice.” The attention to detail is astounding. You never feel like you are there like the first film, but you feel like you want to be there. It’s a carnival of the grotesque and as bad as the Sawyers are, you can’t help but like them. Rob Zombie was able to do a similar thing with The Devil’s Rejects and it’s no surprise Bill Moseley was front and center there also.
The first Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a cinematic masterpiece. Attempting to do another was a disaster waiting to happen. The choices they made with the script and tone are what saved it. It has a great balance of humor, bizarreness and horror. It is very much an 80’s movie through and through, and that’s not a bad thing. It knows exactly what it is; there are no delusions of grandeur. Every aspect of it went in a different direction than the previous and it was the right thing to do. In the original you felt like you were there taking part in their experience. It felt dark, dirty and left an impact on you in many ways. TCM2 aims for a different experience. It’s a movie meant to be seen with friends. You should laugh and smile along with it. That’s what the 80’s were about.
And that’s why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is my favorite film of all time. It’s not the greatest film and doesn’t aim to be. It’s there to entertain you, and it certainly does.
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