Friday, October 15, 2010

31 Days of Halloween - Day 15 - Movie

When The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) was initially released I refused to see it. Not because I was a big chicken, but because I had seen clips showing Dennis Hopper wearing two chainsaws in holsters, like a gun slinger while he brandished a giant chainsaw as the hero of the movie. I just thought it looked idiotic. I finally watched the movie tonight, and it's pretty idiotic, but not really because of the bit mentioned above. The original movie succeeded because it felt real. You believed in it, you believed you were a part of it because the actors were not very good and because it was shot like a documentary without any real plot to speak of. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre felt like an actual event taking place before your eyes. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is like watching a cartoon, in the most derogatory way that critics use that term. It has a plot which makes little sense and has so many problems its baffling. Most of the performances are way over the top and comedic without being funny. Leatherface has been turned into a big ugly cuddle bear. In every way you can imagine this movie should be a complete failure, but oddly it isn't. It actually works. There are some really intense scenes and it's entertaining in the best way that a movie about a bunch of murdering cannibals can be.

Apparently, because police never found the cannibalistic Sawyer family after the events of the first movie, they decided those events never happened. Only, Lieutenant Lefty Enright, a former Texas Ranger and the brother of Franklin, the boy in the wheelchair from the first movie, is still interested in finding the killers, and he does by using a DJ who calls herself Stretch (Caroline Williams) as bait. Leatherface (Bill Johnson) falls in love with her instead of killing her. Stretch follows the Sawyer boys back to their home base, an immense underground Batcave-like lair devoted to mass murder with the remains of what must be thousands of people incorporated into it. This impossible underground complex would spawn thousands of haunt Attractions across the country in the years since. Lefty follows Stretch. When Stretch falls into the bowels of the complex, Lefty forgets about her and simply begins sawing apart all the support beams. The Sawyers capture Stretch, but before they can kill her, Lefty reappears and engages them with his own chainsaws. Etc.

The movie has tons of flaws: the interminable opening involving two jackasses in a BMW who get their just desserts as the first victims; the fact that the Sawyers don't have enough wits about them to change their own clothes, let alone create this vast empire of murder based meat products without getting caught. Dennis Hopper has invaded their lair and proceeds to destroy it without them taking enough interest to go after him; Bill Moseley as Chop-Top, one of the Sawyer brothers. He's pretty threatening when we first meet him at the radio station, but immediately afterwards becomes really annoying for the rest of the movie; Lefty, a character who becomes more and more one dimensional as the movie progresses; Leatherface becoming a cuddly softie.  

These flaws far outweigh the good parts. And, the good parts are pretty questionable as "good" parts. Most involve Caroline Williams. I didn't particularly care for her as an actress, or as a character in the movie. Oddly, like Dennis Hopper's character, Stretch also becomes more one dimensional as the movie progresses. She starts out as a person, but devolves into a victim who spends most of the movie, running, screaming, and begging for help. Sadly, I found her far more effective as a victim than as a person. The tensest scenes in the movie all involve her. The best is the assault on the radio station where she works. As I mention Bill Moseley is creepy and threatening in that scene, and so is Leatherface with his loud chainsaw. Once he catches up to her though, instead of chopping her to pieces, he takes a liking to her, and shows it in what can only be termed an unsettling chainsaw rape scene. Their next encounter is almost as tense. Stretch is hiding in a preparation chamber in the Sawyer compound while Sawyer skins Stretch's friend and coworker. She's discovered and Leatherface shows her his tender side by putting Stretch's dead friend's face over her own, making her look more like Leatherface himself. Leatherface as a big dumb cuddly softie, is cartoonish and idiotic, but it also makes the movie more interesting and works pretty well. I did keep waiting for the Darth Vader moment when Leatherface would turn on his kin in order to save her, but it never happened. Between those intense scenes, there's really a whole lot of nothing. Yet, I never found myself bored, or wondering why the hell I was watching this movie, which I find completely mystifying. I have no answer.

1 comment:

Shawn Robare said...

Yeah, TCM2 is an unfortunate flick. I want to love it because it takes the conceit that so many other slasher flicks were sort of subconsciously playing with at the time of making the villains into anti-heroes of a sort, and it does it better.

I want to be scared of Jason and Freddy, but I tend to find them humorous at best, and bumbling at their worst. With Leatherface and the rest of the Sawyers in TCM2, they're painted as the victims somewhat, at least when it comes to the vengeful Hopper character, but I'm still afraid of them. I both feel for Leatherface's sexual awakening, and am repulsed by it. It's strangely addictive.

On the other hand there are so many things that Hooper intentionally changes about the flow and tone of the sequel that totally undermine what was so great about the original. In the sequel the gore is explicit instead of the original's very strong implicit scenes. The cinematography in the sequel is polished and way to professional to feel real, unlike the original. The original was claustrophobic and dirty, while the sequel hits the open road for chili cook-offs and has sprawling underground catacombs that seem to stretch for miles. Most importantly, the horror in the original is perfectly unexpected, coming always from seemingly nowhere. In the sequel, it's predictable, formulaic.

All in all, I have to agree that there's a part of me that enjoyed where the film went, even though I don't understand that attraction at all.