The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the greatest indie-horror efforts ever made. It’s an exercise in dread that is just as effective today as it was four decades ago. Arguably most of the most masterful stuff about the movie was simply the result of having to work around a very minuscule budget rather than any actual talent (the rest of Tobe Hooper’s career seems to point in this direction) but it’s a terrifying, grotesque, wonderful piece of work. And though none of the “heroes” are anything worth mentioning, the villains played by Jim Siedow, Edwin Neal, and Gunnar Hansen were all instant genre icons.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre picks up several years later in North Texas, the DFW Metroplex to be specific. Radio DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams) hears the death of two college kids on air as they’re killed by Leatherface (Bill Johnson). The murder attracts the attention of Texas Ranger Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), uncle of the first film’s lone survivor, who has been chasing chainsaw murders all across the state of Texas looking for the murderous cannibal family who killed his nephew. Lefty convinces Stretch to play the tape of the murder again, which draws in Leatherface and his brother Chop-Top (Bill Moseley). Stretch is attacked but Leatherface takes a shine to her and doesn’t kill her, so she follows the brothers back to their hide-out in a massive underground tunnel system where she becomes trapped and Lefty, toting a trio of chainsaws goes in after her, singing church hymns and sawing the place down rafter by rafter.
Does It Hold Up?
No, but it’s not trying to. Even Tobe Hooper seemed to understand that he didn’t have another Texas Chainsaw Massacre in him, so he took the characters in a wildly different direction. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a pitch-black comedy that’s drenched in blood and gore. This movie is exactly as bloody as many people erroneously think the first one is and there’s a seemingly never-ending buffet of grotesque set-pieces. Only Jim Siedow returns from the original, though I have personally heard from Edwin Neal that he and Gunnar Hansen were intended to reprise their roles until they asked for “too much” money and so a new actor became Leatherface and The Hitchhiker got a twin brother whose absence in the first film was explained away as him having been away fighting in Vietnam (the Hitchhiker appears as the corpse that the family drags around with them).
Every Texas Chainsaw movie ostensibly features Leatherface as the villain but it’s actually always a member of his family that takes the truly villainous role. In the first movie it was Edwin Neal’s Hitchhiker, in the third film it’s Viggo Mortensen’s Tex, in the forth it’s Matthew McConaughey’s Vilmer, and in the remake it’s R. Lee Ermey’s Sheriff Hoyt. Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s secret antagonist is Bill Moseley’s Chop-Top. Forget Otis Driftwood, this will always be Moseley’s most iconic role. Chop-Top’s motor-mouth insanity, most of which is themed around how much fun he had fighting in the Vietnam war is the right mix of campy and creepy and the scenes where he and Jim Siedow try and talk over one another are great.
In a movie of crazy performances, it’s hard to single in on one favorite but I have to give the nod to Dennis Hopper. Lefty’s third-act transformation into a wild-eyed maniac, wielding a massive chainsaw as he carries two smaller ones on his hips like six-guns, and singing church hymns at the top of his lungs is gold. I love how he confronts the Sawyer clan by telling them he’s “The Lord of the Harvest”, I love that Jim Siedow thinks the chainsaw toting lunatic in their cannibal fortress is a rival foot-truck owner, I love the big chainsaw duel between Lefty and Leatherface.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 will never match the lean perfection of the first film, but goddammit I love this movie.
Watch, Toss, Or Buy?
Where Can I Find It?
Scream! Factory has it on Blu-ray, there’s a DVD from MGM, and it’s on Amazon Instant.