10th Nov2013

‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2′ Blu-Ray Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson, Ken Evert | Written by L.M. Kit Carson | Directed by Tobe Hooper

TCM2-Blu

A key component of just why many sequels don’t satisfy is that age old complaint of repetition. The Saw and Paranormal Activity franchises are just the latest examples of films which don’t do anything all that different from the first in their intent aside from new characters, more complex mythology and the odd new USP, something which made Paranormal Activity 3 in particular a more interesting installment than it probably should have been with its oscillating camera. Looking at franchises past though, there are quite a few examples where box office and critical results have been disappointing because the sequels are just too different from the original. One of the prime examples of this is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, a film made by the director of the original which was so different in style and tone from the original that it feels like a footnote in the annals of horror filmmaking. In its new Blu-Ray edition from cult label Arrow Video however, the case is made that this is a brave, confident but also very entertaining film which isn’t the original but is all the better because of that.

Watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (to give that film its correct title) is 40 years on still a gruelling and harrowing experience, an hour and a half of almost unrelenting bleakness which remains a career highpoint for all involved. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is an altogether different experience becoming a surrealist blackly comedic romp which revels in its gore and the insane characters it gives us. Hooper is obviously aware of the tone throughout. With a much bigger budget, the film being the last of his expensive 3-picture deal with Canon Films, and also the effects work of Tom Savini, the film paints in much broader strokes in all aspects.

The production value on show here is second to none, the film playing out in a handful of locations with the entire second half taking place in an underground lair full of horrific sights and painstaking background detail which fully realise the most messed up carnival funhouse you’ll ever see. Savini also brings us some very memorable gore, an initial chainsaw killing in a car leading to facial mutilation, all sorts of bodily flesh being torn apart but most impressively, the work done on Bill Moseley’s Chop Top, a nightmarish creation with a plate on his head and scabbed up skin which he can’t help but pick off. Moseley’s performance matches the excellent work there creating a horrific character whose gleeful prancing around is skin-crawling throughout.

Hooper’s intent for the film in comparison to the first is best summed up for me in the last shots of the respective films. Both are in pure content terms the same thing, someone waving a chainsaw around, but whereas in the first, its a dirty, close-up shot of a creature it would be impossible to understand, here the camera pulls back to reveal a comedic setting for the chainsaw flinging which full encapsulates the overblown nature of all we’ve seen for the last hour and a half or so. This is a goofy film with Dennis Hooper’s supposed hero running around with a chainsaw and yelling for most of his screentime, Caroline Williams’ likeable Stretch being put through the ringer increasingly throughout and seemingly losing her mind in the meantime (although Williams herself tweeted me to re-assure that it was a great deal of fun to shoot), and our cannibals once again having dinner, but this time with tounge fully in cheek, and really incredibly entertaining for it.

It’s no wonder that people didn’t take to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 initially and frankly if I was around at the time I wouldn’t have either. A film which feels similar to Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2 in its almost daring the studio in its “Oh, you want a sequel? You’ll wish you never asked!” kind of way, this just like that film emerges as a singular vision from a man who didn’t care a bit about what others would think and instead made his sequel in his own way. Certainly more interesting than any Texas Chainsaw film since and probably the most straight-up entertaining of the whole lot, this may be an entirely different beast from the original but that makes this no less valid as a success on its own terms.

Arrow Video’s excellent run of form continues with a lovingly crafted set which is sure to please fans. The video transfer of the film reveals an insane amount of grain in some shots with an at-times weathered print certainly playing up the grungy aspect of the film. It’s not Arrow’s best transfer of late but its a hell of a lot better than we’ve had before in the UK for sure. Audio is presented in a straight forward 2.0 surround track which gets the job done.

Impressing much more is the extras package we have here. Heading up the lot are a pair of commentary tracks, a slightly anemic one with Tobe Hooper not on quite as chatty form as he was on the recent Lifeforce Blu though he is forthcoming with production trivia, but a cast and crew commentary featuring Caroline Williams, Bill Moseley (Chop-Top) and make-up effects legend Tom Savini provides us with a rowdy and entertaining 100 minutes or so with the former two laughing their way through the piece and Savini forgetting about entire cast and crew members but giving great detail on his work. The affection between the three is palpable and it’s a really good time.

Heading up the documentary material is an hour and a half making of which chronicles the troubles had with Canon Films, the rushed production schedule and how Bill Moseley went from mega-fan to cast member. Featuring many of the cast and crew, though not Hooper himself, its a varied and detailed time. We also have a half-hour look at the film by an academic who links the film’s origins to rampant consumerism and plays up just how intelligent a piece it is deep down. We also get deleted scenes including a fun sequence involving the killing of a pack of football fans, an alternate opening and a few other interview pieces. Along with two complete films from Hooper included on a separate disc, including his film Eggshells which played at FrightFest back in 2010, we have probably the most exhaustive extras package of the year.

Arrow Video does it again with an entertainingly subversive film presented as best as could probably be along with a boatload of extras which feed into the film’s place as one genuinely worth talking about. A real treat in all.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is released Monday November 11th.

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