In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 director Tobe Hooper replaces the chilling and sheer terror of the 1974 original with a far less serious tone and style, making for a gore-filled but ultimately empty-hearted slasher. Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams) is a Texan local radio DJ who becomes involved with police officer “Lefty” Enright’s (Dennis Hopper) obsession with the deaths of two local boys. The investigation leads the pair to the Sawyer family who were first introduced in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Leatherface (Bill Johnson), Chop Top (Bil Moseley), Grandpa (Ken Evert) – and this time including Cook (Jim Siedow), the father figure of the family. Soon, Stretch finds herself in a battle for survival whilst the family relentlessly hunt her.
Right from the opening scene, in which the two hedonistic teens are killed in a car duel involving Leatherface and his trademark chainsaw, there is a significant difference in tone between the first and second instalment. While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre favoured a creeping, slow-paced build up and minimal gore, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 lunges straight in with a killing scene that demonstrates a larger budget and exaggerated, comic violence. This surely would not be a problem sitting amongst the other gory and rubbery special effects slashers of the 1980s, such as Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). However, in the case of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, it is a juvenile follow-up to the incredibly novel and influential original. Leatherface was initially presented to the audience as a terrifying wall of incomprehensible fury and angst, whereas in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 he is more child-like and innocent. He seems to empathise with Stretch when his lack of empathy was the most frightening of his characteristics in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The shift in tone means the film is not as gripping as its predecessor and it lacks the ferocity and visceral quality of the original, despite involving the same director. Towards the end of production, Hooper’s budget suffered an almost 25% cut from the production studio Cannon Films, which may explain the mediocre end result. Scriptwriter L.M. Kit Carson was constantly rewriting the script until the production crew literally ran out of time and they had to make do with what they had.
Hooper fans will appreciate the extra two films accompanying the main feature in this three disc limited edition Blu-ray. The silent short The Heisters (1965) tells the comic story of three robbers escaping from an off-screen heist and how their greed comes to be their downfall. The film borrows many conventions from German Expressionist works, such as F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and Robert Weine’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), where performance very much revolves around facial expressions and exaggerated physical movements and the look of the piece is aided by stark contrasts between subjects and their shadows. The Heisters is an absurdly funny comedy and recalls The Three Stooges with guns substituted by custard pies in a duel to the death. The Heisters is far more entertaining and rewarding than the main feature in this set. Also included is Hooper’s debut film Eggshells (1969), a far more experimental film. Hooper shows us the “flower power” movement of the 1960s through the eyes of a group of hippies squatting in a house in Austin, where a ghostly entity dwells in the basement. Hooper incorporates several camera movements and fast-paced editing such as layering images to disorientate the audience, which he uses again in later films such as Poltergeist (1982).
The Blu-ray presents Hooper fans with a substantial amount of cult content, including cast and crew interviews and commentaries for each film, an interview with Tobe Hooper about his career from his debut to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, making-of featurettes, deleted scenes and trailers. Hooper aficionados and horror fans will be more than satisfied with this limited edition release and the quality of the extras certainly go some way towards compensating for a lacklustre sequel.