Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, The
Released by: Shout! Factory
Released on: April 19th, 2016.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Bill Moseley, Jim Siedow
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Following up a film that has gone on to be rightfully recognized as a classic is never easy, and often times completely unnecessary, but in 1986 the late, great Cannon Films organization managed to get Tobe Hooper behind the camera for a second shot with Leatherface and company for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. This time around, however, Hooper and his cast and crew did things very, very differently.
The film starts with a pair of rednecks on their way to a party, enjoying a few beers while on the road and firing their guns at whatever signs they happen to pass. They call in to a radio station that they're listening to and speak to the DJ, a woman named Stretch (Caroline Williams), and harass her. While this is happening, the driver decides to play chicken with an oncoming truck which they run off the road. A little while later night has set in and the two guys are back on the road and they decide to call Stretch for another round. Oddly enough, the truck they ran off the road earlier reappears and chases them. Once they catch up to the car, Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and Chop Top (Bill Mosely) hop out of the back and the two men are killed, their phone call to Stretch broadcast live over the radio.
The cops show up at the scene of the crime the next morning and Lt. Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), a former Texas Ranger, soon clues in to what's happening here. His brother was slaughtered by a cannibal family years back and he's made it his life mission to track these guys down and make them pay. It looks to Lefty like they're still around and up to their old tricks again. When Stretch offers him a recording of the phone call to use in his investigation, at first he declines – he’s the type that likes to work alone – but soon realizes her evidence could help him. Stretch has an ulterior motive, however, in that she hopes that if she works with Lefty on this case that she'll get the promotion to news reporter that she's been after for some time now.
Lefty convinces Stretch to play the recording on the air a few times in hopes of luring the maniacs out of the woodwork. Sure enough, Leatherface and Chop Top break into the station and just as Chop Top is about to do her in, Leatherface stops him – it seems he's fallen for the foxy disc jockey. Her technician, L.G. (Lou Perryman), isn’t so lucky, however. The two maniacs leave and Stretch follows them back to their lair, a bizarre abandoned underground theme park where she knows Lefty will be waiting for her. Along the way, she falls through a weak spot and plummets down into the heart of the park where the bodies have been piling up for years. As she works her way out of there to try and save her skin, Lefty is trying to work his way in so that he can avenge his brother's death and get on with his life.
Everything in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is completely over the top, from the acting to the set design to the cinematography to the lighting to the dialogue and back again. The realism and bleak atmosphere of the original is thrown right out the window and this one functions more like a black comedy than a true horror film, despite a couple of good jump scares and a more than a few genuinely creepy moments. Much of this has to do with Dennis Hopper in the lead. No one does 'bat shit crazy' better than Hopper and this role gives him the opportunity to really run with the material. Caroline Williams is a nice balance in that her more restrained performance contrasts Hopper's maniacal turn quite nicely, but once you throw Bill Mosely into the mix there's no turning back – the movie is nuts and the cast really run with it. Throwing Jim Siedow back into his role as The Cook (the only actor to return from the original film) is also a nice touch, and he goes toe to toe with Hopper and Mosely in the crazy department.
The special effects provided by Tom Savini are strong and the cinematography does a really good job of capturing the weird colors and unconventional lighting that was used to give the movie its unique look, particularly once the action heads underground. Most of the film works really well, though there are spots where the dialogue isn't quite so effective and the story feels a little contrived – Hooper’s decision to basically remake the infamous dinner scene from the original feels unnecessary, for example. There are logic gaps to deal with, such as how the family has maintained control over a massive underground lair and gone undetected for so long, but that's not uncommon with horror films and can be easily overlooked when one takes into account the bigger picture here.
At its heart this is really a twisted revenge story as it focuses quite a bit on Lefty's manic obsession with payback for what happened to his brother but it does make for an interesting twist on the Chainsaw mythos, warts and all. It's a truly weird film but it has its charm and it has its place alongside the other sequels – just don't go in expecting a rehash of the more famous first film. It almost seems like Hooper knew he couldn't out do himself and so instead he opted to go in a completely different direction.
The first disc features an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation taken from a new HD transfer done in 2016 as a 2K HD scan of the inter-positive film element and it looks fantastic. The second disc ports over the original HD transfer of the movie, which featured color correction supervision by director of photography Richard Kooris. The new transfer looks fantastic. Colors are reproduced really nicely, black levels are nice and solid and detail is about as good as you can realistically expect for a movie like this (some of the scenes shot underground in the last half hour are a bit dusty and hazy but the movie has always looked like this). Skin tones are fine, there’s no obvious noise reduction nor is there any edge enhancement and film grain looks nice and natural here. At the same time there’s very little print damage to note at all, the picture is very clean.
Some screen cap comparisons between the two transfers (the new transfer is on top, the older transfer on the bottom):
Audio options are provided for the movie in both DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 options with removable subtitles provided in English. The 2.0 mix sounds truer to the roots of the movie while the 5.1 mix spreads out the effects and the score a bit (The Cramps in lossless is a beautiful thing, if only for a few fleeting seconds). Both tracks are clean, clear and nicely balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. When the chainsaws fire up, you’re going to feel it as they really rumble and buzz in a pretty big way.
Extras on the first disc start off with a new audio commentary with director of photography Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, script supervisor Laura Kooris, and property master Michael Sullivan. This track is well paced and pretty informative though it leans towards technical in spots. Personally, that stuff tends to be pretty interesting to this writer but obviously others may feel differently. Regardless, there’s some good discussion here about how and why certain scenes were lit and shot the way they are, some stories about the sets and location used, some talk about the props and the scripting and quite a bit more. This track is active, engaging and well put together.
Carried over from the previous release is a commentary track with director Tobe Hooper moderated by David Gregory (who made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth documentary among many others and who currently runs Severin Films). Gregory keeps Hooper talking throughout as he fires one question after another at him so this turns out to be a pretty packed discussion. Throughout the commentary we hear about the location shooting and how there were problems with some of the sets while the film was in production. He covers some casting issues though doesn't elaborate on why a new actor was brought in to play Leatherface, and he talks about some of the effects work. There are definitely areas where Hooper could have gone into more detail but it's obvious from his tone at times that he doesn't really want to elaborate on a few of the more controversial issues surrounding the movie and so he just doesn't go there. That being said, this is a good track and worth listening to just to get Hooper's perspective on some of the stranger aspects of the movie, working with Dennis Hopper, and to get an idea of his take on the whole thing.
A second archival commentary track is also included and the participants here include Tom Savini who did the effects work, actors Bill Mosely and Caroline Williams and moderator Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. This track can be a little hard to get your head around at times as the three alumni tend to want to talk about everything and anything so things are slightly chaotic, but there's a good sense of humor behind it all and each of the three key participants has no shortage of things to discuss. Savini or course covers his effects work while the two actors talk about their work in front of the camera and there are a lot of great stories in here about some of their co-stars and about some of the difficulties that they had to deal with while on the set.
New to this release is roughly half an hour’s worth of extended outtakes from the feature length It Runs in The Family featurette (included on the second disc, see below for more details) that feature L.M. Kit Carson and Lou Perryman. While you can see why the filmmakers might have chosen to remove this material from the finished version of the documentary, it’s great to see it included here, particularly as both men have passed away since the documentary was put together. Perryman in particular is a really interesting interviewee and anytime you get the chance to take in more footage of him talking about his life and career you should take it! The first disc in the set also includes forty-three minutes of Behind The Scenes footage that was shot by none other than Tom Savini while he was working on the movie. As you’d guess, most of the footage here is related to the effects work that Savini and a few other talented SFX artists were tasked with creating for the picture but in addition to that, this footage provides a very candid glimpse at what it was like on set and what some of the cast and crew went through on this shoot.
Also carried over from previous releases are the highly touted deleted scenes. Here you'll find Joe Bob Brigg's cameo, the garage kill scene and an alternate opening credits sequence. While the quality on these isn't so hot (they look to be VHS sourced) the original materials are supposedly gone for good so it's at least understandable.
Rounding out the extras on the first disc are a bunch of different still galleries including posters and lobby cards, behind-the-scenes photos, stills, and collector’s gallery, a few different theatrical trailers, a handful of TV spots, an alternate opening credit sequence, animated menus and chapter selection.
On disc two we get a forty-two minute featurette called House Of Pain that is a collection of interviews with make-up effects artists Bart Mixon, Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale, and John Vulich. The interviewees detail their work on the feature and there’s some pretty cool behind the scenes material and stories in here. If you’re into the effects side of horror movie history, this is pretty much gold. In the nineteen minute Yuppie Meat we get all new interviews with actors Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon, the guys who played the two victims that call into Stretch before Leatherface kills them. Here they discuss how they came to appear in the film, what it was like working on the project and what they’ve been up to since getting the acting gigs they got for this feature. The seventeen minute long Cutting Moments gets editor Alain Jakubowicz in front of the camera to talk about cutting the film for Hooper and Cannon Films. He talks not just about working with Hooper on this feature but also the director’s Invaders From Mars. He also talks about a few other films he cut for Cannon Films (he worked on quite a few of them, including the mighty Delta Force!). Behind the Mask spends fourteen minutes with stuntman Bob Elmore who wound up playing Leatherface in the film in the scenes that were deemed too dangerous for Bill Johnson. This is pretty interesting stuff because apparently Johnson had a lot of difficulty actually wielding the massive chainsaw that Leatherface uses in the feature, which lead to Elmore getting a lot more screen time than he would have originally. He talks about his experiences doing this, working with Hooper and some of the more intense sequences that Leatherface appears in during the span of the film.
Fans of the Horror’s Hallowed Grounds location visits that have popped up on various DVD releases over the years will appreciate seeing Sean Clark show up here to revisit the locations used for the movie shoot. This twenty-five minute long piece sees Clark visiting Austin and the surrounding areas used for most of the key scenes in the film. He also checks out the amusement park set. Sadly, most of what was there in the eighties is long gone or completely transformed by this point, but this is still an interesting look at what’s left.
The highlight of the extra features carried over from the SE DVD release is the feature length ninety-minute documentary on the film entitled It Runs In The Family. You can watch this in one ninety-minute chunk or select one of the six chapter – Texas Screenplay Massacre; The Art Of Mayhem; Cast Of Characters; Prime Meat; Father Of The Saw; Requiem For A Sequel – individually. The titles of the chapters give you a rough idea of what is covered but the interviews here with screenwriter Kit Carson, actors Bill Mosley, Caroline Williams, Bill Johnson and Lou Perry, effects guys Tom Savini and Michael Sullivan cover pretty much everything you could hope to learn about the making of this film. There are a lot of fun stories in here about some of the key scenes in the film and about Tobe Hooper himself and the whole thing is edited together nicely with film clips and photos from the film.
Both discs are held inside a standard size Blu-ray case that features reversible cover art (the new illustration created for this release is on one side and the more familiar ‘Breakfast Club’ style original poster art is on the flip side). The case fits inside a nice cardboard slipcover with the new painted art on the front.
The Final Word:
While this second film is a very different beast than the classic that came before it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is still a really well made movie that mixes humor and horror quite effectively. The berserk atmosphere of the movie coupled with Hopper's over the top performance makes it completely worthwhile and this two disc special edition Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory offers it up in fantastic quality with more extras than most sane people would have ever hoped for.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
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