The F*cking Black Sheep: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!



I’ve made little bones over the years about the fact that Tobe Hooper’s 1973 THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is my all time favorite horror film. The stark realism, raw authenticity and visceral indefatigability can never, to my mind, ever be eclipsed or even matched onscreen. I love it so. Yet, while I bite my tongue on the word regarding LEATHERFACE (stay close for a review soon), I think most will agree that one movie that never got much love was Hooper’s satirically farcical follow-up, the 1986 release of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. Well, this is no full-throated apology for the film, but I do think TCM2 has been wildly mistreated over the years. Is the sequel far inferior to the original? Oh absolutely. But is it really a fair comparison to stack the two side by side to begin with? Perhaps not as fair as you’d think! Let’s get into the particulars below, but first let us posit that yes, unequivocally, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is a F*cking Black Sheep of a forgotten good time!

Let’s start with the most obvious of selling points, the marketing. Right off the bat, in a poster design/character layout that visually apes that of John Hughes’ THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Hooper was telling us right up front that TCM2 was going to be a self-conscious mockery of grandeur. A comedy of horrors. Hooper forewarned us that the flick would be a lighter in tone, but darker in humor (not to mention bloodier), nonthreatening addendum to his feted forerunner of first-class ferocity. And straight up, I’m arguing this is the wisest approach Hooper ever could have taken.

Think about it. More than a decade had eclipsed since the original TCM ascended to infamy around the globe…fostering a universally beloved (among horror heads) and reviled (for all others) reputation for being one of the nastiest, scariest horror films to ever come about. So what, does that mean Hooper should have tried to duplicate that kind of lottery-winning success? Impossible. There’s no way he could ever do so. The absolute worst thing he could have done, other than to let someone else direct the sequel (he was originally just going to produce), was to try to recreate the inimitable.

This is exactly why I say the wisest thing Hooper could have done is to take a diametrically opposite approach and, in this specific case, poke bloody good fun at his predecessor rather than try to recapture the (black) magic. And still do so while offering up some genuinely effective gore-sodden set-pieces, overt the top violence, maniacally memorable characters and by proxy, ultimately preserving the original as an inarguable classic. Hooper never meant to eclipse the original because he knew he couldn’t. His approach to the sequel was not just the right one, it was the only one.

Now, I’ll admit, one of the aspects of the film that took the farcical tonality a bit too far was the performance of Bill Johnson as Leatherface. F*cking ridiculous. Never mind the glaring absence of Gunnar Hansen’s hulking frame and organically manic energy, this Johnson dude turns Leatherface into a cartoonish, doddering, twitchy, spastic, ADD meth-addled Wookie. It renders the character totally ineffectual as a result. It’s an absolute joke, and probably the single most damning thing about the entire movie. Hooper turned his own venerated horror villain into a slap-sticky punch-line. Deliberately. That said, the scene where Leatherface is sexually taunted by Stretch (Caroline Williams) to the point of licking his lips and all but busting a loaf in his slacks is too damn funny to lambaste.

Thankfully, atoning for the silly Leatherface turn is the presence of not only Jim Seidel as papa Drayton Sawyer, but newcomers Bill Moseley as Chop-Top and Dennis Hopper as Lieutenant Lefty Enright. Holy f*ck these three dudes are fun to watch. Moseley in particular is a joyous revelation, and he’s been on record as saying Chop-Top is his favorite of all the parts he’s played in films over the years. And why not? It’s such a juicy part…so vilely repugnant, so wildly unhinged, so hilariously depraved and simultaneously scary that it cannot be forgotten. And for those confused about Chop-Top possibly being the Hitchhiker who may have survived being run over by a semi-truck at the end of TCM, it’s NOT the same character. Confusing I know, especially given the metal plate Chop-Top rocks in the sequel, but extra attention paid to the story will reveal that the corpse Chop-Top and Drayton carry around throughout the film is indeed that of the Hitchhiker. Still, Moseley takes that unbridled energy of Edwin Neal and cranks up the dial to volume ten!

As for Dennis Hopper, a whole book could be dedicated to this crazy bastard’s life in 1986 alone. Jesus. He not only laid down Frank Booth in BLUE VELVET that year, he played the equally foul Feck in RIVER’S EDGE, and now the sweaty, unscrupulous, double-fisted-chainsaw-wielding Enright in TCM 2. Hell of a one-year resume! Now, Hopper has been on record saying TCM 2 is the worst movie he’s ever acted in, a statement he then amended when appearing in SUPER MARIO BROS. a decade later. Still, his wise-cracking humor, ten-gallon Stetson and gigantically phallic chainsaws are too damn good to impugn here. The final showdown between him and Leatherface in that f*cked up subterranean Sawyer dungeon is pretty damn amusing. Ludicrous, but entertaining!

In fact, the entire movie breezes by at a brisk clip, sagging very seldom, with a number of stylized set-pieces to keep the action enthralling throughout. I love the chainsaw shop that Hopper frequents early in the film, I love seedy neon-lit radio station locale, and of course, that candy-colored array of abject dishevelment in the underground lair – converted from an old carnival ground – festooned with human bones, animal remnants, skin ornaments and the rest. Oh, and who could forget that creepy-ass mountaintop shrine-ruin where Mama Leatherface’s desiccated remains rest? F*cking psychotic! Truly, the one and only thing I can say regarding the sequel’s superiority over its original, if any, is the locations and set-designs. It’s the one area of the film that, aside from the overt level of graphic carnage, is markedly bigger, bolder and dare I say better than the original. Okay maybe not, but almost!

So yeah, because of its intentionally humorous bent, I say TCM2 has been unfairly castigated as a F*cking Black Sheep over the years. While no one with two working eyes and ears would ever claim it’s a superior film to its 1973 trailblazer, it seems clear Tobe Hooper never intended it to be in the first place. It’s as if he knew he could never catch lightning in a bottle twice, and so he instead mounted an exorbitant, blackly humorous send-up as a way to take the air out of such lofty expectations fans of the original must have had at the time. I mean, when you show a Fine Young Cannibals poster in the radio station, more than a wink and nod of fun is being had here. TCM2 is Hooper taking the piss out of his original masterstroke, secure enough to know he could never outdo the ’73 version, wise enough to poke fun at it without tarnishing the legacy. It’s the only move he could have made…the only movie he could have made. By design, TCM2 is a tactfully whacked-out F*cking Black Sheep of a horror flick. Give it another shot!



Extra Tidbit: What are your thoughts on TCM 2?
Source: AITH

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