The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 ★★★★

It Is Happening Again: Hooptober 6 (Haunting: 14)

Films Whose Year Ends In 6: 4/6
Tobe Hooper Film: 1/1

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains likely my pick for outright scariest movie. Scary can mean a lot of things, but in that film's case it's a sense of oppressive atmosphere, of being overwhelmed. The low budget brutality doesn't make it feel like a cheap film, rather, it barely feels like a film at all. Maybe it's my tendency to romanticize movies I love, but the original has such a grimy realness to it. It's a horrifying portrait of how the most incomprehensible evils can be anywhere, even living next door.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, well, certainly is not that. Right from the beginning it is clear that this one feels like a horror movie. The technical aspects and filming style are far more polished and familiar. This isn't necessarily bad, but it announces that there will be no attempt to recapture the magic of the first. It's probably for the best, though. Part of the fun in the original was the shock of it all, the sudden brutal entrance of Leatherface, the family twist, the bizarre nature of grandpa, etc... yet the family is inevitably familiar now. So instead, Hooper and Carson chose to amplify everything to its absurd limits. It's TCM knowingly and gleefully flanderizing itself. For example, Leatherface now shakes his body around in such a ridiculous way that we can't help but laugh a little, and his father has become entirely obsessed with the plight of the small businessman. It is funny, but what other reviews I've read here haven't really captured is that that doesn't make it stop being horrifying. Maybe it's just me, but the movie primarily forces out sort of uncomfortable laughter -- the scales have no doubt tipped further in that direction, but Leatherface and Chop Top are still menacing, and there are some really gross moments too. For me, anyway, this still works as a creepy experience.

I don't think the way it's knowingly silly makes it entirely dumb, either. There's no doubt some room to read into the way this film portrays the aforementioned businessman, so happy to kill and eat both his customers and competition. Another direction of analysis is how it's no coincidence that Texas battlegrounds are constantly referenced. But what interests me and what I want to hone in on most is how this sequel seems to relate to its predecessor. Since the original, the cannibal family has had to go into hiding, and has secretly terrorized the state for years. While I mentioned that the original plot was about evil lurking next door, this one elevates the status of its antagonists into a sort of legend. The final act takes place in an underground hideout within an abandoned carnival, and the fantastic set design really makes it an otherworldly descent into hell. Again, I tend to romanticize, but this family is no longer disguised in an outwardly normal house, they're the rulers of their own twisted playground. Even though they're technically not made to be taken as seriously as before, their position in this film treats them with such endearing reverence. For all that some people say this is tarnishing TCM, I find it a lot closer to a loving celebration.

And yeah, you'll read this everywhere else, but Dennis Hopper dual-wields two chainsaws. Even though it's tonally all over the place, this still really worked for me. It balances horror comedy in a way that remembers the horror a lot better than most others in the genre. Now I think it's time for me to pretend that no other movie was ever made in this series.

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