The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the few films I can really recall upsetting me. I saw it when I was teenager and that initial viewing experience is vivid in my memory, if only because it was such a ridiculous setting in which to be terrified: my parent's suburban home, a bright sunny spring day at about one o'clock on a Sunday afternoon. If there is a less terrifying, more benign setting known to existence, I'm not aware of it. I recall getting up off of the beige sofa and pacing back and forth across the off-white carpet as I watched the film, intermittently sitting down and standing back up, deeply unsettled and horrified. The film's ending shocked me most of all - the penultimate image of a bloody Marilyn Burns screaming hysterically provided no catharsis: just a battered, tormented woman narrowly escaping death. And then: a final shot of the chainsaw-wielding transvestite man-child dancing violently in the sunrise. It's not an exaggeration to say that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a horror film like no other, but that clichéd fact is just as easy to over-look.
On the surface of things, TCSM resembles the hordes subsequent films to follow the basic outline of "pot-smoking, scantily-clad youngsters go to a remote area and are violently murdered by depraved lunatics almost supernatural in their awfulness." But down in its core, it's really nothing like those movies - it often gets called the grand-daddy of all slasher films, but anyone with even a mild familiarity with the genre would be able to tell you that Halloween is the platonic ideal to which everything from Friday the 13th to Soroity Row are aspiring. TCSM is an usually cagey and strange film, a pitch-black abyss which viewed from certain angles can reveal counter-cultural satire, dark but still almost screwball-ish comedy or even a dogmatic Artuadian theater of cruelty.*
Forty or so minutes in, the narrative drops any pretense of interest in developing the ostensible main character (and kills off the others surprisingly quickly), instead shifting its perspective to the family of carniverous killers - the family takes center stage in the second half and the film provides little relief from the madness and macabre of their world. If anything, it becomes almost a domestic drama centered around the struggles of three under-achieving brothers and their grandpa, a great man now little more than a living corpse buoyed by tales of his former glory. It could easily be re-titled The Death of a Beef Salesman; its focus becoming the domestic minuteae of fixing dinner and coping with the physical trials of caring for an enfeebled relative. The interplay of their familial relationships all but shuttles Marilyn Burns' Sally off-screen - if she weren't constantly shrieking, you might forget she was even there.
The aesthetic of the film is even more idiosyncratic. Daniel Pearl's brilliant cinematography starts off in dusty orange hues and static painterly compositions of Texas vistas before gradually reducing its focus to tight punishing hand-held shots of cramped dark spaces, its jagged disoriented close-ups instantly recalling the psychedelic-tinged experimental films of the 1960's. The images methodically degenerate from Malick to Brakhage, breaking down as the narrative becomes unmoored from a traditional perspective, as our surviving protagonist comes unhinged and is reduced to a position of pure meat, as the everyday depravity of the rural family creeps out in every direction like a disease consuming the film. And while Sally escapes and the hitch-hiking brother is crushed by a truck, the film eschews any standard come-uppance for the murderous villains; the police don't storm their compound, Sally doesn't return with a machete - if the bad guys are stopped from continuing to do what they do, we sure don't see it. And then: a final shot of the chainsaw-wielding transvestite man-child dancing violently in the sunrise.
To tell you the truth, I am frequently convinced that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the greatest film ever made - I haven't even mentioned Robert A. Burns' legendary production design or the film's two most under-rated elements: Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell's clattering screeching atonal score or J. Larry Carroll and Sallye Richardson's stunning editing. Granted, I don't place much stock in "Greatest Ever!" pronouncements, but I'm hard pressed to think of a more effective and unique film - it definitely achieves real beauty through real awfulness, which is a tough trick to pull off since the two things naturally undercut each other. I certainly love it and have spent more time thinking, writing and lecturing on it than any other film, so... from the beginning, I was on the fence about its sequel. On the one hand, director Tobe Hooper was returning to the project. Especially in the 1980's, the original director returning for the sequel seemed to be the make-or-break factor. Franchises like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street suffered for bringing in hired guns while The Evil Dead and Phantasm managed to keep their personalities more or less intact throughout the subsequent outings. Night of the Living Dead's iterations seem to prove this point conclusively (although to classify those films as 80's horror is wrong) - say what you will about Day of the Dead or Land of the Dead, Romero brings to them fealty to the source material (and a unique vision) painfully absent from Tom Savini's more literal 1990 recreation.
On the other hand, The Teaxs Chainsaw Massacre 2 looked nothing like the original - the video box was a campy cheese-ball abomination that seemed to position the now rural maniacs family as the type of goofy horror film hero/villains popularized by late-vintage, pun-obsessed Freddy Kreuger. Look at that poster: something is clearly up. What's with making "Chain Saw" into "Chainsaw?" It goes to show you how finicky I am that I have a lot of affection for the original film's idiosyncratic title spelling and the more technically correct spelling put me on guard. (And I now know that I was right: Michael Bay's terrible remake did the same thing - oh well, at least I have a quick way of telling the original and the shit-bomb apart.) Everything about it looks like the touring company version of the original: both cleanly professional and extremely cheesey. Look at the tagline: "After a decade of silence... the buzzz is back." Really? That's the what the marketing department came up with for an encore to "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" Plus, the little teaser taken from the opening monologue: "America's most bizarre and brutal crimes." It almost doesn't need the excellent capper: "What happened is true. Now the motion picture that's just as real." But what the hell is this new silly cast photo? Who's that guy in front supposed to be? Cousin Roy? Oh, ha, ha, I had missed the buzzz so much and all the good times we shared - I hope my pal Leatherface is back along with the buzzz! Or maybe he's just the physical embodiment of the buzzz. Who knows? The only thing I'm sure of is that a good time will be had by all. So, yeah, I was a little skeptical. I waited until college, probably another 4 years after my unforgettable experience with the original, to check out 2. [How can you fail to mention that this poster is a silly Breakfast Club parody?! - john]
When I finally sat down to watch the sequel, I was well aware that the buzzz on it wasn't very good. Joe Bob Briggs, the greatest champion of TCSM and the critic most important to my teenage self, gave it a lukewarm approval even though he had been given an (ultimately excised) cameo. I hadn't heard or read a good word about it, other than Carol Clover writing in Men, Women and Chainsaws, but she was an avowed horror cinema novice and didn't seem to have much of a discerning taste within the genre, especially when it came to slasher films. The general agreement seemed to be that there was no real reason for it to exist - Hooper just needed it as a cash-grab. He was coming off of his three biggest studio projects: the ultra-succesful Poltergeist (still nowhere near the hit of the original TCSM), the naked space-vampire apocalypse epic Lifeforce and the ambitious remake of Invaders from Mars. Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars were expensive flops and the persistent rumor-mongering sought to re-assign the lion's share of credit for Poltergeist to producer Steven Spielberg, so TCM 2 appeared to be a classic sell-out move. That's the way it goes, I guess. I really enjoy that phase of Hooper's career making sloppy big budget weirdness, so technically there are many films I could reasonably expect to enjoy less than 2. My dark secret is that I'm a completist (even more so in my youth) and I will go far out of my way to see obscure films with meagre reputations by directors I like in favor of seeing Important Classics that I know aren't to my tastes.** What sense did it make that I had sought out the excellent "cocktail dress haunted by ancient Aztec spirits" film I'm Dangerous Tonight, but not given the sequel to one of my favorite films a go? I knew in my heart that I would only avoid TCM 2 for so long.
My hopes were lowered and, even then, I hated 2. What surprised me is that I hated it with a fiery passion. Not only was it some completely pointless sell-out dreck, but it was one with a campy tone that almost seemed to be deriding the original. It seemed to belong squarely in the tradition of shitty late-80's horror films that spurted stupid comedy and fake-looking gore in equal amounts. As far as the horror genre is concerned, the comedy and gore in the original are comparatively restrained. In terms of the onscreen violence, there's nothing ground-breaking - it's mainly suggestive. It certainly doesn't contain anything more graphic than Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (made a decade and a half earlier, in 1960) and is far below the level of repulsive sadistic misogynistic violence onscreen in the Master of Suspense's Frenzy (released in 1972, an immediate precursor to TCM.) With the sequel, Hooper went the exact opposite route and created the type of excessive splatterfest which was fairly routine by 1986. It might've gone one step further than anything that previously existed, but only by the small-minded measures of the MPAA (4 mangled limbs, 3 spurts of a severed artery, 2 torn eye-balls, etc.) - philosophically there was nothing to its violence beyond the depressing "more is more!" mentality that had overtaken horror cinema in that timeframe. The amped-up joke-y comedy was an analogous change: what was subtle in the original had been blown completely out of proportion seemingly in imitation of the legions of garbage that had followed in the original's wake. Instead of somehow tapping the spirit of the original, it had instead chosen to ape all the crap that had stolen nothing beyond its general plot and tool-centric violence: it was a rip-off of rip-offs, a cash-in on cash-ins.
Reason for reassessment:
There's no good reason that I wanted to revisit it after a decade. The film's reputation for unalloyed terribleness has waned somewhat, maybe the Platinum Dunes take on the material has given fans a new appreciation for the original films. There's even a significant segment of the horror film community that loves it and holds Bill Moseley's Chop Top (a cut-rate replacement for the original film's hitch-hiker) in the same regard as Leatherface - which is all dubious and, truthfully, the sort of mindset that turns me off from the film. More importantly, other than that I hated it, I couldn't really remember anything about it. I had basically three memories: Chop Top using a heated wire hanger to pick at his metal-plated skull, Dennis Hopper dressed like a bandoleros/gay-cowboy hybrid and Leatherface rubbing his chainsaw in a woman's crotch in the most overboard attempt to literalize subtext I have ever seen. I had a lot of ideas floating around about it being a "rip-off of rip-offs" but no real specific memories of the plot (and what ones I did have proved to be wrong on the second viewing.) Part of me is always searching for my past for errors and intellectual blindspots, wanting to give art I don't like another chance and see if maybe I was in the wrong - and my burning hatred of 2 seemed to be fueled by certain youthful fires that had cooled. I no longer hate bad 80's horror films or see them as a dangerous degradation of something I love: bad movies have always and will always exist, bad art is essentially unrelated to good art. I have no nostalgia for an imagined past in which most of the horror movies from any era aren't terrible (and I don't dream of a future in which the Marcus Nispels of the world will be definitively defeated.) The world simply isn't set up like "Halloween versus Friday the 13th" - if one wins the other loses! Or Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 stinks and that somehow hurts the original film. My views on "selling out" boil to down to, "I no longer think of it as a moral transgression against the sanctity of art, I just sure wish folks wouldn't do it because they're a lot less likely to make something I'll like."
Additionally, I don't hold Tobe Hooper to any kind of a standard: I didn't remember much about 2, but there's almost no way it could be as bad as Night Terrors or Crocodile. Like I said, the Poltergeist, Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars 3-pack is my favorite phase of Hooper's career and 2 probably belongs more to that group than the "cheap, ill-concieved b-flicks" that he's been churning out ever since. For the record, I enjoy The Mangler, Spontaneous Combustion and the aforementioned "cocktail dress haunted by Aztec spirits" tale I'm Dangerous Tonight, but those movies are pure camp: enjoyable for their terrible ill-concieved cheapness. Film like those are dime-a-dozen; the ludicrous big budget 3-pack is a much rarer and formidable vintage of cinematic lunacy. Hopefully, 2 actually belonged to that category (or at least interestingly straddled the line.) That's the truly strange thing about Hooper as a director: he's shown an almost equal capacity for inventive genius and total incompetence. After the really unclassifiable Texas Chain Saw Massacre, he makes a batch of more or less staid, effective (and just slightly weird) films including Funhouse, Salem's Lot and Eaten Alive. Then comes the big-budget Hollywood 3-pack, films that are extravagantly ambitious cinematically, but also deeply, deeply weird. Poltergeist has a similar profile to TCM in that in some ways it follows the haunting/possession film template, but at the same time departs conclusively from the places those other films go - like TCM, it's unforgettable because there's actually nothing else like it. Invaders from Mars is the inverse: a film so by the book, showing so much fidelity to the source mindset/philosophy, that it brings out the extreme psychosis of that original mindset. And Lifeforce is definitely my personal favorite naked space-vampire apocalypse epic. TCSM 2 is the swan song of that Tobe Hooper, the Hollywood hack that for once used the big budgets and Stan Winston special effects to create an unhinged universe of previously unimagined landscapes - hell, I'm talking myself into fandom right now!
The Second Chance:
Before the film even starts, I know I'm in trouble: the Cannon films logo comes up on screen. I'm exactly sure when I saw2 before, at that time I didn't have the faintest idea who Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus were. Now I know better. And I know that the chances are if their Cannon Films are involved, that film is either going to be choppy, tonally imbalanced and borderline incoherent (as Golan/Globus were notorious post-production hijackers who put Harvey "Scissorhands" Weinstein to shame), a catchy genre concept with poor execution (unlike, say, Roger Corman or Samuel Arkoff, they were experts at blowing the potential of solid b-movie concepts) or an outright shitfest (prolific and, in a way, influential they're almost entirely responsible for the fact that the 80's were so dismal for movies.) They fell in and out of the mainstream, so some of their productions include big budget spectacles like Masters of the Universe, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and King Solomon's Mines, but also exploitation films like the Deathwish sequels, all of those dance movies about niche trends that never caught on (like Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo and Lambada) and just about everything Chuck Norris did in the 80's.***
Off the top of my head, I'm not sure if they worked with Tobe Hooper before or after this one, but it wouldn't surprise me - he's exactly the sort of unreliable, borderline-mainstream talent that they liked to employ. Their logo means trouble, if only because their films tended towards a certain drab, mean-spirited aesthetic - Cannon films are generally ugly in every sense of the word. They're exactly the type of films that give action blockbusters and b-movies a bad name. But don't worry because Golan and Globus had their pretentious side, too: the first I can ever recall having heard of them is their moronic deal made at Cannes to have Woody Allen star in an adaptation of King Lear for Jean-Luc Godard. They apparently wrote the contract on the back of a napkin. The whole thing was the type of hacky idea that drove their other productions, only now with a disinterested mid-80's Godard involved - that they would do such a thing shows how truly clueless and self-indulgent they were. I'll try not to hold that against The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but now I have a sinking feeling about why I hated it so much to begin with. Their involvement certainly explains that horrible poster.
Once the film starts, I can immediately see why this film has a horrible reputation and why I hated it: the opening sequence is awful. Two squealing yuppies on their way to the Big Texas/OU football game call in to a local radio station using their giant cell-phone and harass the DJ. Almost everything element is as bad as it could be - really, if I were going to change this opening bit to make it more irritating, illogical and cheesy, I'm not sure what I could do. Have one of the characters prone to making puns? The yuppies, in their fancy little foreign, are the exact opposite of the original film's victims: they are over-written caricatures who in no way resemble human beings, just stock movie stereotypes. In the original film, Sally and company are underwritten to the point that it's hard to even describe them: the guy who kinda looks like a hippy David Letterman? The not-ugly other guy? The other girl? Franklin has a bit of a personality, of course, but it doesn't amount to much beyond "has emotional problem related to being confined to a wheel-chair." The fact that the original group is basically unremarkable is one of the original film's virtues and contributes to the raw veracity of the film: you don't know much more about these folks than you would about a complete stranger with whom you spent an hour hanging out. They're kinda hippies, but just regular folks.
In contrast, 2 seems really intent on recklessly spewing out its character development in bogus cinematic terms: "annoying yuppies, the kind you always see in movies, you want them to die, got it? great." They don't resemble people - they remind me most of the actors from Peter Jackson's Bad Taste for some reason; maybe because they're more likely to squeal and chirp and giggle like a lunatic and contort their faces than to simply deliver their lines. The initial scenes introducing TCSM's youngsters feel unrehearsed and unfocused, authentically aimless in the way real life is generally narratively diffuse. It's hard to tell where the film is going because these directionless scenes offer very few clues about how we are supposed to think and feel - it's disorienting: everything feels a little dangerous and a little off, it's unclear what form the threat will actually take and how anyone will respond. 2 on the other hand plays its cards immediately, insistently and tediously - after 10 seconds, you're thinking "will somebody just kill these jackasses already." And that's clearly exactly what the movie wants you to think.
Consequently, nothing resembling the loose, free-form aire of the original film has any just of manifesting: over-determined narrative machinations rule from the get-go. The whole damn opening scene revolves the dubious notion that this small radio station has the inability to cut off its callers - our lady DJ, Stretch, can't get the jerks off the line without her chaw-spitting yokel tech-guy randomly plugging and unplugging wires from the switchboard for five minutes. Come on, movie, what radio station takes callers but can't get them off the line? I can suspend my disbelief far enough to go with the notion that they might be able to tie up the line, but for Christ's sake don't expect me to believe that she also has to keep their goofy squeals and football-centric hooting on the air. The whole scene feels phony as a three-dollar bill with Dean Cameron's picture on it.
And each character is given the "Franklin" treatment: one broad trait that quickly defines them in an exaggerated manner. Lady DJ, chaw-spewing yokel, yuppie pinhead, monstrous lunatic. I haven't even gotten to the travesty that is the introduction of Leatherface. In the original film, our first brief glimpse of Leatherface must surely rank among the most shocking and memorable moments in all of cinema history. As the progresses, it becomes clear that Leatherface is an exceptionally strange character brought to life by an exceptionally strange performance by erstwhile beat-poet Gunnar Hanson. He's a non-lingual, cringing man-child transvestite given to haunting moments of malaise and confusion, completely under the thumb of his abusive brothers and patriarchal grandpa. And, of course, he's more famously a chain-saw-wielding, meat-hook-utilizing, human-skin-wearing, massive beast of a cannibal. Hanson plays the role with an unforced sensitivity and neurosis - especially in comparison to his more recognizably human brothers-in-crime, he's the film's most complex character. In 2, he's just some dude in a mask. No, worse than that, he's some talentless hack's impression of the idea of "Leatherface," Horror Icon and Chainsaw Massacrist. Gunnar Hanson delivers a real (genuinely great) performance; Bill Johnson comes across like a shitty impersonator from one of those low-rent haunted house attractions that pop up every October.
At a certain point, I've got to stop comparing the sequel to the original (and after I finish up here discussing Leatherface's first appearance in 2, you have my word of honor and dignity that I will.) The opening scene makes abundantly clear there's just no comparison; or rather, it makes clear the only comparison: 2 is a cartoon version of TCSM. In the original film, part of what's so deeply unsettling is its use of eminently dangerous, but still everyday items like chainsaws, hammers, metal hooks and freezers. But those items aren't given any supernatural qualities, it's enough for the film that hammers and chainsaws are common but dangerous - there's just no need to embelish. In 2, Leatherface's chainsaw is transformed in a six-foot long, smoke-spewing machine of mass destruction: it slices through the yuppies' car like a hot knife through warm butter. In the original, the chainsaw couldn't even get through Leatherface's thigh.**** We're in a world that's simply a cartoon version of the original nightmare, a goofy, candy-colored fantasia in place of the original's muted palette and harrowingly evocative portrait of violence and depravity.
After the opening scene, there should be no surprise that 2 climaxes in a double-fisted chainsaw fight in a Christmas-light strewn labyrinthian lair underneath a campy amusement park called "Alamoland." Or that the "Sawyers" (oh wait, there's that fucking pun I was looking for) win a good ol'-fashioned Texas chili cook-off with their "special ingredients." The (re)introduction of Leatherface in 2 sets the tone: a cheesy skeleton-puppet taunts the yuppies with an outlandishly large chainsaw... but who's controlling the puppet? Surprise - it's Leatherface! The idea is stupid, the reveal of Leatherface is lame and everything about the situation is (to quote Homer Simpson) "fruity."
Unsurprisingly, the original make-up artist, production designer, costume designer and special effects artist didn't return for the sequel, so Leatherface doesn't even look like he's from the same universe as the original character - he does, however, now belong to the universe of Freddy, Jason, Chucky and Horace.***** There weren't necessarily specific individuals assigned to those production roles on the first film, so the loss of Hanson stings all the more: Leatherface is clearly his creation in many ways and much of the care and idiosyncrasy that went into his realization of the character disappeared along with him. Seeing the film, it was hard for me to get over the idea of Leatherface as just another masked slasher coming up with "creative kills."
But this second time through, I did get over that idea a little more. For whatever reason, I was able to settle in and take 2 in as a stand alone and forget about the source masterpiece. Even then, however, it's not so hot. Granted, it's never as bad again as it in the dismal opening sequence, but it's never exactly what anyone could rightfully call "good" either. The best that can be said about it is that it's pleasantly weird and the "just barely keeping this crazy thing on the rails" vibe that pulses through Hooper's later work gives everything a certain loopy energy. If the original film didn't exist, there would certainly be no reason to hate this movie, even if there isn't exactly any reason to love it either. I guess some people love a good double-fisted chainsaw duel and, in this crazy world, who am I to argue with such sound thinking?
Hooper's work would increasingly become characterized by ridiculousless: in addition to making that movie about a cocktail dress haunted by ancient Aztec spirits, he also adapted a Steven King story about an industrial-grade laundry machine haunted by homicidal spirits (bonus points for Robert Englund as the machine owner/victim with prosthetic legs) and a boy cursed with military-medical-experiment-sourced superpowers that cause the people around him to blow up (kinda like Spiderman, only if he had been bitten by an atomic bomb instead of a radioactive spider.) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 fits comfortably in with that company. Turns out I wasn't mistaken that this really, truly isn't the vintage of Hooper á la Lifeforce or Poltergiest. It's the tale of a family of subterrean-dwelling Texas chili-cooks who, in addition to using human meat in their award-winning recipes, also run a modest Alamo-themed amusement park. And are puppet enthusiasts? They certainly love Christmas tree lights and underground mazes, that much is not in dispute. The film is a mess, is what I'm sayin'.
But if it sounds like I dislike the film, that's incorrect, too. I really have surprisingly few negative feelings about what's a pointless and very silly desecration of a favorite artwork of mine. My relationship to the film is embodied in the main character: a female radio DJ named "Stretch." Female radio DJ's were a popular horror film heroine for a bit there with Stretch, Nicki Brand in Videodrome and Adrienne Barbeau's character from The Fog. But that's beside my point. It's just something I noticed. My point is, Stretch (played by Caroline Williams, who I don't recall having seen before or since - except at horror conventions) is a pretty lame character and the retarded ending involving her is just a stupid, obvious idea and she's not at all charismatic, but I still have a bit of affection for her. She's really flat and unimpressive on-screen - another example of that weird thing where she feels much more like a phony character in a movie than Marilyn Burns does in the original, even though Stretch is actually give a personality and all Sally does is shriek. And shriek. And shriek. And hate Franklin.
The conception of Stretch is a too on-the-nose playfully knowing feminist take on the standard horror film heroine - the film is crafted with an awareness of how the hero in most horror films is a woman and how the audience (of mainly teenage boys) is manuevered to identifying with this would-be victim. 2 plays games with the phallic nature of the Sawyer family's murder implements and has meta-textual jokes about Leatherface's crossing-dressing tendencies and impotence. The final shot of the film is an ironic mirror of the first movie. Stretch, as the heroine turned Sawyer, is a nuanced commentary on how the mechanices of these films function by turning their heroines into violent killers (even if the violence is justified, most horror films end with the villain getting a violent come-uppance), how they get teenage boys to identify with middle-aged women by turning those women into teenage boys. It would all being very smart, if it weren't so completely fucking stupid. That's film in a nutshell: it has similar "if it were any smarter it would be functionally retarded" takes on vegetarianism, country vs. city tensions and how countercultures function.
How could we have made it this far and I haven't even I mentioned Dennis Hopper? Like Hooper, in real life, he's a strange symbol of what the 60's were actually like, not the white-washed version that exists as a cultural short-hand. The beatnik, Texas-based Hollywood horror filmmaker and the drugged out corporate hippie rebel, creators of two of biggest independent hits of all time, two countercultural eccentrics that flamed out spectacularly within the system and had second lives as spectral caricatures of their former selves: their pairing seems as inevitable as it does illogical. Hopper's enjoyable/pretty terrible as Sally and Franklin's revenge-obsessed uncle and in fine form during the aforementioned chainsaw showdown. 1986 was a busy year for him, making not only this one but also The River's Edge, Blue Velvet and Hoosiers. He obviously has an exceedingly strange track record and his role here fits in nicely in a career pocked with turns as wide-eyed loonies in semi-legit detritus.
Anyway, one of my biggest false memories concerning the film concern's Hopper's character. I genuinely thought that he died fairly early and unexpectedly in the film - like he was set up as the film's would-be savior and then the rug is pulled out from under the audience when he's killed before saving our heroine or exacting revenge. So strong was my impression of this plot-point, that 2 was my go-to example for a film that pulled the ol' "would-be hero killed before getting down to business" shtick. Now I have to go with Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea. But that film's my example for everything - Saffron Burrows is hot, the stereotype has reveresed and black guys never get killed in movies now, Thomas Jane is pretty cool, breeding super-intelligent sharks is a bad policy, every film should end with a rap about the movie, Renny Harlin deserves credit - you can literally use that movie as an example for anything. Anyway, Hopper makes it to the very end of this one and even accomplishes his mission: the Sawyer clan gets a fatal taste of their own medicine. Plus, his look is pretty sharp - I kinda feel like I should wear a beige suite, bolo tie and ten-gallon hat everywhere I go. Certainly, I should wear something like that whenever I'm investigating whatever implausible conspiracies in which I find myself all wrapped up. So, in summation, Hopper and Hooper: they go together like sunglasses on dog.
Again, maybe I'm being too cruel or dismissive in my description - the film is essentially "not good," but I really don't feel anounce of animosity for it. As a matter of fact, I almost feel like this film is the definitive proof that Tobe Hooper is a great (or original or singularly talented or esteem-worthy) director. His whole career, he's been plagued by allegations that he's not really the one responsible for his most famous and well-recieved films. You know the shtick: the original TCSM was the miraculous end result of a disastrous, choatic shoot that Hooper barely had control over or producer Steven Spielberg is the one who really directed Poltergeist. And, on the surface of things, the mess that is 2 has Cannon film's fingerprints all over it: a completely unnecessary sequel, a lavish budget employed to questionable effect, a pervasive cheesy tone. And I think the rumors have a grain of truth in that Hooper appears to be the type of artist who can be easily pushed around by businessmen and has no talent for playing the Hollywood game - if Steven Spielberg directed even one frame of Poltergeist, it's because he's the type of producer who had no qualms about throwing his weight around, shoving his director to the side and stepping behind the camera.
And throughout his career, Hooper clearly was clearly unable to resist businessmen like Golan/Globus and the mobsters who distributed TCSM imposing their will on him. It's easy to wish he had been able to join forces with one of those tough-minded, take-no-shit producers who fought on behalf of their directors, someone like Serge Siblerman or Christine Vachon, but those aren't the cards he drew and we're left with what we are left with: an oddball genius shining through in even the most star-crossed, ill-considered projects. 2 is painfully, disappointingly the work of a talented artist, it couldn't have sprang from anywhere but a truly eccentric, unpredictable imagination and it is infused with a tricky sense of humor and intelligence all the more frustrating for being buried under the Cannon group's bad ideas about how to make art and money at the same time. Like Poltergeist and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, there are clearly influences at play other than the director; but like those films, no one else could've made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 except for Tobe Hooper. There's nothing else like it. I'm glad it exists.
~ JULY, 2010 ~