Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Purge: Anarchy has us thinking about horror sequels.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 picks up a dozen years after audiences last saw Leatherface, dancing with his chainsaw in the Austin dusk. Fans hadn’t yet experienced sequel fatigue when it hit theaters in 1986, but whatever they were expecting, it surely wasn’t the sideshow freak-out that Tobe Hooper cooked up. Chainsaw 2 has the goofy middle-finger vibe of other punk horror comedies like Return Of The Living Dead or Repo Man, and the soundtrack to match. Like Texas itself, everything is bigger in this sequel, from the explicit gore by Tom Savini to the endless references to the cannibals’ home state to the scenery-chewing performances.
Not much happens in the first movie, but it seems even less happens in the second. A radio DJ nicknamed Stretch (Caroline Williams) and a former Texas Ranger who goes by Lefty (Dennis Hopper) work together to lure the family out of hiding so Lefty can finally get revenge on the monsters who butchered his relatives in the original. As it turns out, at least one of the family members is enjoying the spotlight. Cook (Jim Siedow) is actually named Drayton Sawyer, and he’s got a successful barbecue business; the trick to his award-winning chili is, of course, quality meat. He’s aided and abetted by his brothers Leatherface (played here by Bill Johnson, not Gunnar Hansen) and Chop-Top (Bill Moseley), who turns in an unforgettable performance as a war vet with an exposed metal plate in his head.
Leatherface goes through his own transformation. In the first film, he seemed flustered, as if he were just going about his normal business when these annoying kids showed up. He’s supposed to cook and clean and take care of things around the house; it’s just that those supposedly menial “womanly” duties refer to wildly different things in this household. He even puts on a frilly cook’s apron and what looks like a special mask with makeup on it for the family dinner. He’s a sexless wife/hapless child when first introduced, albeit a deadly one. But he hits puberty and learns all about the birds and bees in the sequel. Leatherface falls for Stretch, a tough-talkin’ Texas broad if there ever was one, and he expresses it in the only way he knows how: with his chainsaw.
Somewhere between Stretch’s screams and his own blood lust, Leatherface becomes aroused for what we might assume is the first time. He uses the chainsaw as if it were a natural extension of his hand or even his penis, to stroke Stretch’s leg as if they were on a date at the movies and even to thrust it between her legs. To him, it’s not at all a threat; it’s erotic. Despite her terror, she takes a chance that he’s human underneath all that dead person skin and coos at him like he’s a good puppy—or a particularly skittish virgin. Stretch tries to appeal to his humanity, the parts inside almost all of us that want love and affection and sex, and it works. That’s what makes Leatherface a much more interesting villain than Freddy or Jason; he has more in common with Lennie in Of Mice And Men than an inhuman killing machine. No matter what Drayton tries to tell Leatherface, Stretch isn’t just another “piece of tail” and the saw isn’t his only family.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is infamous for its final scenes with Marilyn Burns screaming her damn head off; you can see how broken she is by the wild rolling of her eyes as she manages to escape in a passing truck. Stretch, on the other hand, grabs that saw for herself and does her own dance, just like a good Texan gal should.
Availability: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is available on Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.