In a strange turn of events, I don’t recall the first time I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I didn’t see the original until I was 16 years old, so it must have been later, but beyond that, I couldn’t tell you what my initial reaction was to TCM2. I remember buying it on DVD in 2007, I remember watching all the special features, I remember ordering my TCM2 T-shirt from Rotten Cotton around the same time, but I was definitely already familiar with it. It’s a blurry moment in my horror movie history.
If the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a perfect film, then its followup is a perfectly flawed film. That is to say, I can see how it might disappoint fans of the original, but I consider it to be one of the best sequels in the history of movie sequels. It’s up there with The Godfather Part II, Empire Strikes Back, and Back to the Future Part II.
The first thing fans of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre probably noticed in the sequel was a massive tonal shift. It’s beyond glaring. I dare say TCM2 is, in a sense, laughing at you for expecting more of the same. One might even wonder if they put on the wrong movie upon first viewing if they’re expecting anything similar to the original. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a slow-burning, gritty, documentary-esque, subtle horror film. A filmmaker’s film. Fine dining. If it were a dish, it would be a medium-rare steak paired with steamed mushrooms, rice pilaf, and a glass of wine. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is beer and pizza. A horror comedy complete with dancing corpses, chili cook-offs, Bill “Chop-Top” Mosely, Dennis Hopper having a chainsaw duel with Leatherface, and french fry houses.
But beer and pizza isn’t a bad meal, and TCM2 isn’t a bad movie. Or perhaps it is a bad movie, but if so, it’s a great bad movie. The distinction of such a thing brought me to a nagging question. A question I’ve asked myself off and on for the last 35 years, to some extent.
What is the difference between a good-bad movie and a bad-bad movie? I used to think I had the answer to that question. In fact, I was a little smug when I’d answer it. Whenever the subject of bad movies came up among my cohorts and me, we’d always ask ourselves what the difference was between the bad movies we love and the bad movies we loathe. And my response was always something along the lines of:
“If a movie sets out to be a bad movie, then it’s bad-bad. But if a movie has heart, and it tries its best to be a good movie, but fails, there’s a chance that some strange combination of ambition and irony can make it enjoyable.”
And I’ve stood by that for most of my life. I cite examples like Sharknado, Date Movie, and Machete as movies that kinda go out of their way to be “so bad it’s good.” It rubs me the wrong way because that’s just an unnecessarily cynical way to make a movie. And I know the aforementioned Machete has some valid political points to make (political points I vehemently agree with) but I just think it fails as a film overall.
These kinds of movies set out to be bad and I think they succeed. They suck. They’re not fun, they’re not funny, they don’t entertain me. Nice work, I guess? Whereas something like The Room tries its best to be good and also succeeds, just…for reasons unintended.
Furthermore, I’m not really a fan of these meta, self-referential, self-deprecating movies either, with very few exceptions. Which is exactly what makes Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 so damned conflicting. I know Tobe Hooper knows how to make good movies. I’ve seen Poltergeist, I’ve seen the original, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper is a horror God. So with TCM2, it’s clear to me that Tobe Hooper set out to make some level of goofy, self-referential, self-deprecating horror movie with TCM2. And I really don’t understand why I love it so very much, but I really, really do. In fact, I like it just as much as the original but for contrasting reasons.
What sets TCM2 apart from other purposefully goofy, and over-the-top horror movies?
The only other two movies I’ve seen pull off such an endeavor are Scream and Shaun of the Dead. But Scream and Shaun of the Dead are just self-referential, meta riffs on horror. They actually strive (and succeed) to be good movies. TCM2, nearest I can figure, is not trying to be a good movie at all.
After doing some thinking and rewatching TCM2, I think I have some semblance of an answer. TCM2 does not wink. Remember the scene in Friday the 13th Part VI where the gravedigger looks into the camera and says, “Some people have a strange idea of entertainment.” That was f*cking stupid. I love F13VI pretty well, it’s a solid entry to the franchise, but that part was unnecessary. It’s as though the filmmakers felt they had to stop and look at the audience and say, “We know this is bad but isn’t it funny?”
The audience is watching a Jason movie, they already know it’s campy and goofy, we don’t need someone to ensure we’re getting the joke. We’re all getting the joke. We’re all getting the joke and have been for some time now. Chill out.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 never really seems to do that. There’s never some moment where it stops to make sure the audience isn’t stupid. Horrors fans are smart. We get it and Hooper already knows that. At least that’s what I deduced from watching TCM2. It’s Tobe Hooper going full throttle into over-the-top madness, not giving the slightest of damns, and never looking at the audience to make sure they’re laughing with him. Let them laugh or let them roll their eyes, he seems unconcerned.
At least, that’s what the movie leads me to believe. Moreover, he fully commits to the film’s over-the-top tone. All the way through the film he stays on track with making TCM2 as ridiculous as possible and never once pulls back. Rather, he keeps upping the ante until it culminates with Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and Lefty’s (Dennis Hopper) insane chainsaw fight at the end.
To take a page from Joe Bob Biggs’ book: Have we seen it before? Yes, we saw it in Motel Hell. Great chainsaw fight there. But have we seen it with Dennis Hopper and Leatherface? I think not.
Do I think TCM2 is as good a film as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre? No. No, I suppose I don’t. If you’re going to press me on the issue, I guess I must concede the original is better. But do I watch TCM2 more often than the original TCM? Yes, yes I do. I watch TCM2 quite often. Actually, it’s among my favorite ‘80s horror movies.
I watch it for all its insanity and its inanity. It’s not serious horror like the original, it’s spookshow horror, more similar to Creepshow than it is reminiscent of its predecessor.
Granted, I don’t know exactly what Hooper was thinking when he made the movie, and I probably never will, but it gives me a great feeling when I watch it…a fun feeling. Something to which its (technically superior) predecessor never comes close. And for that, I thank Tobe Hooper. The man had range.
Cheers to you, horror God.
As always, thanks for reading.
Which one do you prefer and which one do you watch move? Tell me in the comments or on Twitter.