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Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) - Arrow films bluray release.

BEWARE! This blog comes with a Fifth Dimension health warning: Franchise - the word that should not be mentioned in my presence otherwise painful consequences may occur.

Let me be honest with you straight away on two separate points. The first thing that I need to mention is simply this - When I went to see this movie on its initial release at the cinema way back in those heady days of 1986..... I didn't like it. No, I did’nt like it one little bit. I felt disappointed and almost cheated because it was so unlike the masterpiece that was its 1974 predecessor in both style and content. In fact that disappointment was so intense that  I have never watched it since. “So this isn’t exactly going to be a favourable review is it?”, I hear you say. Well don’t be so quick to judge, I’m always willing to give a movie a second chance – well, that is except for Gus Van Zant’s shot for shot remake of Psycho in 1998. Nothing, I repeat NOTHING will ever make me watch that pathetic pile of pointless remake nonsense again. So watching the digitally remastered preview disc sent by Arrow films last week was the very first time in 27 years that I have seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I was fascinated to see if my attitude had changed in all that time. 

My second point of honesty is that when it comes to horror movies, I despise the word 'franchise', I truly do. No, actually let me clarify that. I have no problem with a seminal movie becoming part of a renowned franchise, together with all the highs and lows that becoming a series of films can bring with it. Indeed, long-running movie franchises have frequented the business since the early Hollywood era - The MGM produced Tarzan films, The Sherlock Holmes series of films, James Bond et al have all been notable inclusions under the banner of the word that shall not be mentioned. Add to that some notable series of films from my beloved genres of science fiction,fantasy and horror have all notable franchise inclusions - in fact I would go as far as saying that contemporary horror is arguably more known for it's various collections of the word that should not be mentioned than for individual works in their own right.

So no, I don't have a problem with the concept of developing one film into a series per se. I do however have a problem with filmmakers who decide at the outset to develop a new Franchise even before the release of the first production. It seems that the desire, or ability to make an individual piece of work in it's own right which will stand on it's own two feet as a piece of art has become a rare concept for some horror producers. Instead, the preferred option in the past few years has seemed to be a conscious act to pursue the franchise option, after all, it is an easy way to ensure that the captive SAW/ELM STREET/FINAL DESTINATION audience will provide a truckload of money. I can fully understand the need to make make money, but it feels to me that there may lots of money to be made from purposely developing a franchise - but there ain't much soul in them.

I suppose that the point I am trying to make is that time and time again I have witnessed a seminal piece of horror and it's cinematic legacy being diluted by a series of increasingly  insipid follow-ups in the franchise series. It was my firm view for quite some time that the Texas Chainsaw movies had fallen into the trap of 'lets make money from the Franchise and screw the notion of making something original and innovative. Indeed, this was confirmed to an extent on the recent documentary accompanying the latest 'reimagining' of the Chainsaw films this year when the producers explicitly stated a desire to produce a new TCM franchise...... my heart dropped. The bottom line is that for many years, for me TCM2 was merely one of another tired franchise.

So, it could well be possible that my initial dislike of TCM2 and and a seemingly pathological dislike of the concept of the franchise might go some way to explaining my avoidance of this movie for so long. So this for me was the perfect chance to test whether or not my avoidance had been justified - because at the time, I wasn't the only one to find this follow-up a bit of a let down.

Family of the year - 1986
So what is the plot of the movie that galvanised views back then, and still stimulates argument amongst horror fans to this day? Well let's start with a brief synopsis shall we, in the words of Arrow films themselves......... 

"Relocating the cannibalistic Sawyer clan to a cavernous, labyrinthine dwelling beneath an amusement park, Hooper’s deliciously demented sequel sees Leatherface and Co. continue their murderous exploits afresh. This time around, local DJ Stretch runs afoul of the Sawyers when she gets mixed up in the brutal slaying of two youngsters. Meanwhile Lieutenant ‘Lefty’ Enright is hell-bent on avenging the murder of his nephew Franklin who perished in the original massacre."

A cult classic in its own right, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 serves up a heady blend of gratuitous gore, socio-political critique and jet-black humour – whilst Dennis Hopper’s unhinged turn as Lefty needs to be seen to be believed! Whichever way you skin it, Leatherface’s second cinematic outing is an uncompromisingly delirious vision from one of the masters of horror."

Hey there, sexy.
The word that stands out in that synopsis is the word, humour - this is a far more in-your-face mix of gruesome and black humour which is in sharp contrast to the original film which had a far more black, claustrophobic and almost snuff-like quality to it. Because lets face it, 12 years earlier the director Tobe Hooper had almost single-handed altered the face of horror with his seminal movie. He had a lot to live up to - and he knew it. From all accounts he was steadfastly reluctant for sometime to direct a follow up to his 1974 classic, instead wanting simply to produce it. However Hooper was unable to find a director firstly who he could trust and secondly someone who would work for the budget that was available and in the end he had little choice but to direct it himself.

As a consequence he found himself in the unique situation (for him) in having a reasonably good amount of money to spend and in the process once again surprise the audience - and surprise the audience he did. For it seems that he almost went out of his way to upset the general audience who (like me) were expecting something that was essentially more of the same. It would have been all too easy for Hooper to simply repeat the process and style of the regional in an effort to replicate its success, instead he wanted to do something different. For that he should be applauded. 

And do you know something? After finally seeing TCM2 again after all this time...... I loved it, I absolutely loved it.

Hang on Tobe, don't say cut...I'm acting here
I loved the morbid comedic stylisation and plot narrative that is quite clearly a product of its time with its explicit themes of 1980's politics, capitalism and greed. I love the incredible over the top performances by Dennis Hopper as Lieutenant ‘Lefty’ Enright and Bill Moseley as Chop Top. Whilst Moseley is suitably excellent as he brings his entertaining repertoire of manic insanity to his role, it is essentially the often maligned Hopper who holds the movie together as he declares war against the insane Sawyers with a little chainsaw-play of his own. I say 'often maligned' because Hopper in his later career was never afraid to go into 'manic acting mode', there are many examples of this. However, we often forget that he was amongst a whole glut of 1960's wunderkind actors who radicalised the whole approach to their acting craft. I never realised it the first time around when watching this film, but Hopper's performance despite, or possibly because of the somewhat cheesy dialogue is simply mesmerising. He simply owns this movie, chewing up and stealing every scene he is in  - sometimes with just a delicious glint in his eye.

The mistake I and many others have made over the years is that we refused to accept that TCM2 should be treated as a movie in its own right and in no way should be compared to its predecessor. The bottom line is that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and TCM2 are two entirely separate styles of film which was a purposeful intention from the director from the very start. I made the mistake the first time around of simply not enjoying TCM2 for what is really is - a funny, gory, slasher movie that's only real intention was to entertain - and it does that in spades. Is this the Citizen Kane of horror? No it isn't. Is this the Texas Chainsaw massacre of horror? No it isn't. What it is is 100 minutes of pure unadulterated joy.

This experience of revisiting a film that I once despised has been an interesting one. The dislike for TCM2 has been replaced by a positive glow of appreciation for what the filmmaker intended it to be, and what is is now. Has it changed my mind about the devil within the franchise as a concept? No it hasn't. One small step at a time you know.

Once again, the bluray package that Arrow films have put together is excellent. The treatment given to the visual restoration is beautiful as the original grainy quality that added to the quality isn't completely lost thereby meaning the original atmosphere isn't lost.Overall, the improvements to the look and sound beautifully enhance the overall effect with a lovely crisp quality and clarity. The extra goodies come in a 3-Disc Limited Edition Set which include:

• High Definition digital transfers of three Tobe Hooper films
• Original uncompressed audio tracks for all films
• Limited Edition Packaging, newly illustrated by Justin Erickson
• Individually Numbered #/10,000 Certificate
• Exclusive Limited Edition Extras


• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation from a digital transfer supervised by Director of Photography Richard Kooris
• Original uncompressed Stereo 2.0 audio • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio commentary with director and co-writer Tobe Hooper, moderated by David Gregory • Audio commentary with stars Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special-effects legend Tom Savini, moderated by Michael Felsher
• “It Runs in the Family” - A 6-part documentary looking at the genesis, making-of and enduring appeal of Hooper’s film, with interviews including star Bill Johnson, co-writer L. M. Kit Carson, Richard Kooris, Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Tom Savini, production designer Cary White and more!
• Alternate Opening sequence with different musical score
• Deleted scenes
• “Still Feelin’ the Buzz” - Interview with horror expert Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA
• Cutting Moments with Bob Elmore – Interview with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s stuntman
• Gallery featuring never-before-published behind-the-scenes images
• Original Trailer


• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition (DVD) presentation of two of Tobe Hooper’s early works restored by Watchmaker Films with Tobe Hooper, available on home video for the first time in the world
The Heisters (1965) - Tobe Hooper’s early short film restored in HD from original elements [10 mins]
Eggshells (1970) - Tobe Hooper’s debut feature restored in HD from original elements [90 mins]
• Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio Commentary on Eggshells by Tobe Hooper
• In Conversation with Tobe Hooper - the legendary horror director speaks about his career from Eggshells to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
• Trailer Reel of all the major works by Tobe Hooper


Exclusive perfect-bound book covering everything you wanted to know about Tobe Hooper, chainsaws and more! Featuring new writing on the director’s early works by Brad Stevens, an investigation of Tobe Hooper’s three-picture Cannon deal by Calum Waddell, new writing on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 by John Kenneth Muir, a look at the film’s long battle with the BBFC and an exclusive interview with Hooper by Stefan Jaworzyn, author of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion, rounded off with an appraisal of the highs and lows of the Texas Chainsaw franchise by Joel Harley, all illustrated with archive stills.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is out on general release on November 11th 2013.

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