Twelve years after the micro-budgeted, seminal classic terrorized audiences with the terrifying, jarring sounds of a chainsaw, Tobe Hooper returned to Texas in this sequel that catches up with the raving lunatic family of cannibals. Only this time, the director departs from the intensely apprehensive cinéma vérité atmosphere of the original. Instead, he doubles the grisly mayhem with lots of in-your-face bloodletting gore, whereas as before, the violence was implied off-screen, left to the imagination of the viewer. He also doubles the insanity with the Sawyer family — Drayton the Cook (Jim Siedow reprising his role as the maladjusted father), Chop-Top (Bill Moseley as the Hitchhiker's twin) and "Bubba" aka Leatherface (Bill Johnson) — acting even zanier and over-the-top than previously remembered.
There is a strong resemblance to the first movie in the way the narrative plays out, following a very similar structure in that the entirety of the second half is set inside the gruesomely decorative home of the Sawyers. And like its predecessor, spending more than a few frenzied minutes with these inbred psychotics at the dinner table becomes the movie's most memorable legacy. As a direct follow-up, the family eluded capture by taking refuge inside an abandoned amusement park, which is elaborately ornamented by the bones and other leftovers of their victims. Texan resident Cary White worked on the production design, which incidentally launched a lasting career for him, and with the assistance of set decorator Michael Peal, created an eye-dazzling haunted carnival ride with fantastical, childish appeal that's also dizzyingly terrifying and nightmarish.
Unlike the original, however, the uniquely scintillating set design participates in the movie's intentions of generating laughter more than scares, expanding the graphically horrid shocks into a schlocky funhouse sensibility. With stunning special effects by legendary make-up artist Tom Savini, aka "The Sultan of Splatter," the bloody slaughter appalls and disgusts, often with a wince-inducing cringe and a bad-aftertaste grimace. Such is the case in a sequence involving Leatherface, a skinned-alive country bumpkin (Lou Perryman) and an electric carving knife meant as a comically smaller version of a normal size chainsaw. By the time we come to when hapless radio DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams) is hit over the head with a hammer by Grandpa (Ken Evert), an evocative scene harking back to the 1974 classic, it becomes all-too clear what Hooper is actually doing.
Working from a script by L.M. Kit Carson ('Paris, Texas'), Tobe Hooper, the director of cult favorites 'Salem's Lot,' 'Lifeforce' and 'The Funhouse,' took his original creation into wickedly, ultra-black dark-comedy territory. 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2' is a twisted, farcical satire of itself, its memory and its impact on the horror genre in general. Hooper shows he has sense of humor of the film which put him on the map and brought him to the attention of Hollywood, allowing and welcoming viewers to laugh at the gonzo absurdity that once scared the bejesus out of everyone. The film also comes with a sort of social commentary intuitiveness, bespattering the screen with the same vividly excessive violence that was becoming typical of the genre at the time and possibly even of the 1980s as a whole. When Leatherface gyrates with his chainsaw in a wantonly perverse but funny manner, Hooper makes it known he's aware of the sexual undercurrents many have read into the original.
Deeper still, the unexpectedly offbeat follow-up carries an intriguingly cynical and jaded undertone, as if the director is blowing off some pent-up steam and frustration at the expense of his own creation, the vehicle that brought him recognition. After the success of his second small-budgeted, independently-financed feature, Tobe Hooper was met with a maddening experience trying to work with the Hollywood system as oppose to the creative independence which lead to the brilliant 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' Starting with the rather terrible 'Eaten Alive' and the embarrassing publicity nightmare surrounding 'Poltergeist,' Hooper was clearly growing disenfranchised and discontented. Dennis Hopper's Lefty can then be seen as a projection of Hooper's dissatisfaction and boiling grievance, walking into the home that created him with three frightening chainsaws at the ready, tearing the place apart and bringing it all down with maniacal laughter. Because after all, the saw is family.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox and MGM Home Entertainment bring 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc that goes straight to the movie. Special features can only accessed through a pop-up main menu. The disc is housed inside a blue eco-cutout keepcase with a cover art similar to 2006's "Gruesome Edition" DVD. Personally, I prefer the original artwork satirizing 'The Breakfast Club' poster because it better suits the film's comical tone.
The hillbilly family of cannibals slices and dices on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that's better than its DVD counterpart, but not by very much. In fact, it seems as if the studio simply recycled the same transfer for this high-def presentation. Overall resolution and clarity is an improvement with many good sequences of sharp definition in clothing and the faces of actors and decent visibility of the set design inside the abandoned the carnival.
The video isn't very consistent, however, and fine object details can suddenly appear blurry or engulfed by the deep shadows. Contrast fluctuates between steady and average with some clipping in the highlights to dull and mediocre, giving the 1.85:1 frame a grayish tone in daylight exteriors. Blacks can look fairly attractive in several spots, but there is also a noticeable amount of crush in the darker portions. Colors range from middling to flat and lackluster, except for maybe the second half when the photography suddenly warms. A heavy grain structure remains intact, making the transfer look attractively cinematic, but many poor sequences show it unnaturally thick, almost noisy and clumpy.
The picture quality is an upgrade, but in the end, it's a face only a mother can love.
The DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack scores just a hair below the video, but again, it's not an exciting enough improvement.
Vocals are delivered cleanly in the center of the screen with great tonal clarity while the other two channels display good balance, providing a decently welcoming image with constant off-screen activity.
Unfortunately, the mid-range feels dull and lifeless, especially during action sequences with the chainsaws where we'd reasonably expect more clarity and a couple more decibels in the upper frequencies. Instead, dynamics and acoustics come in at the same, even response levels to create a noticeably flat and pretty boring soundstage. Worst still, there's no low-end at all in the entire lossless mix, and the song selections are also tuned in at a lower volume than the rest of the track, making the Oingo Boingo, The Cramps and The Lords of the New Church tunes seem like distant, barely audible noise in the background.
Special features are ported over from the "Gruesome Edition" DVD from 2006, but missing is the still gallery.
Twelve years later, Tobe Hooper returns to the film that put him on the map, but takes the sequel in a different direction. 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2' is a twisted, gory farce that's bonkers, wacky, and downright gonzo, darkly satirizing its legacy, the graphic explicitness of the horror genre and the 80s culture of living in excess. The Blu-ray offers a mediocre high-def presentation and a dull lossless audio option with recycled supplements, making this package one for the fans.