The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 ★★★½

I got a real good eye for prime meat. It runs in the family.
- Drayton Sawyer

Sequels can be a tricky business. There's the pressure to prove your concept wasn't a one-trick pony, but also the temptation to rehash the formula which rendered the original a success to begin with; indeed, many sequels are the same set of bones wearing new skin. In the case of filmic predecessors such as Psycho, Halloween, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, there's the added factor that these are all films which did much to establish the conventions of their genre, but by the time their sequels arrived the tropes were already so firmly entrenched in the movie-going public's consciousness that name recognition wasn't enough; in other words, in the world of horror cinema, nepotism will get you only so far.

If in 1974 it was hippies who unwittingly provided sometime sustenance to the cannibalistic backwoods Sawyer clan, then in 1986, reasoned scribe L.M. Kit Carson, why not yuppies? This epiphany provided the impetus for numerous drafts of a screenplay that was being written right up until the final day of principal photography; only after the martini shot was in the bag did the film have its official final draft. What survives of the yuppies who spurred Carson through countless drafts isn't much, though their screen time is used consequentially, and not solely for the sake of establishing the killers and the awesome threat they will pose to the protagonists.

How good are you?
- Stretch

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 wastes no time establishing its tone, beginning with a mock-serious homage to the original film's opening crawl and accompanying narration; the song playing over the first post-credits shot includes the lyric "Shame on you," perhaps a self-deprecatory acknowledgment of the nature of sequels in general, and of the nature of a sequel to what many horror buffs consider a sacred cow in particular.

The film kicks off in high gear with a sequence detailing the increasingly antagonistic back and forth between a talk radio host nicknamed Stretch (Caroline Williams) and a douche-bag yuppie duo whose roadway antics result in their gruesome and inevitable dispatching at the hands of Leatherface (played this time around by Bill Johnson with tongue firmly in cheek) and an unseen designated driver.

The yuppies' grisly death is broadcast over live talk radio, with Stretch on the other end of the call-in, her equipment recording the whole thing; this draws the attention of Texas lawman Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), who's following the trail of bloodshed left in the wake of a spate of chainsaw killings scattered all over north and central Texas. He's got a personal stake in the matter, and faces opposition from peers who think he's a few steers short of a full stable.

After some prodding, Lefty enlists the help of Stretch, who reluctantly agrees to play the murder tape over the radio in hopes of drawing the killers out of hiding. This is followed through to its most logical conclusion, resulting in a late-night siege on the radio station where Stretch works, and progressing from there to a prolonged finale set in and around and under the Texas Battlegrounds, a subterranean nightmare version of a theme park, replete with an inventory of the accumulated belongings of former victims of the Sawyer clan and decorated (if you can call it that) with what appear to be Christmas lights, strewn all about the compound's intricate tunnel system and the cavernous central hub these tunnels presumably all bleed into.

Tobe Hooper is back in the director's chair and admirably does not merely rehash his iconic original; whereas that film was marked by a flinty, stripped-bare aesthetic, relying on a verisimilar, almost documentary presentation of its story to evoke genuine terror, here that's replaced by conspicuous gore and a stylistic flamboyancy bordering on the absurd. Hooper's psycho tribe are even more eccentric this time around, seeming like perverse distortions of stock sitcom characters. In a brilliant move, the phallic significance of the chainsaw is no longer only subliminal; Leatherface is clearly impotent, and his handling of the titular weapon is indicative of his sexual frustration (note the "sex" scene between Leatherface and Stretch when he corners her in the radio station).

Disappointingly, the characters of Lefty and Stretch go underdeveloped. There was a father/daughter dynamic that was never fully fleshed out, and Lefty begins as an intriguing archetype with the potential for a satisfying character arc, but over the course of the film's brisk ninety-five minutes (excluding end credits) devolves into a hysterical hellraiser possessed of a one-track mind for reciprocal vengeance, and his rantings and ravings toward film's end reach near biblical proportions, as he all but forgets he is trying to rescue poor Stretch from the bowels of the Sawyer clan's makeshift hell.

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