A failure, but an incredibly bold and ambitious one. Utterly watchable, even as its various parts don’t really hold together as a whole.
A complete 180 from the original masterpiece, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 seems intent on bulldozing everything that made the first one so distinctive. Moving from the original’s terror to outright, wacky, dark comedy, TCSM2’s approach can best be summed up in one shot: while a character’s legs kick in a clear homage to the original’s first death, Leatherface comes in screaming with his chainsaw, does a little jog, and runs away to blast through a wall. Everything here is BIG and LOUD, and it’s all just an unsubtle Fuck You to 80s excess.
Everything is played for weird laughs, Dennis Hopper alternates between vaguely distracted and Pastor-by-way-of-Frank Booth, Leatherface’s chainsaw becomes a phallic object, Drayton screams about taxes, and Chop Top never stops fucking jumping.
Despite the insanity on display, TCSM2 is truly tedious for much of its runtime. I never thought I’d say that for a film that features Dennis Hopper having a chainsaw duel with Leatherface, but it is. The pacing is terrible, with every single scene extended near interminably with reaction shot after reaction shot after scream after scream. The camera will swoop in, then out, then in, then out, then in a final time. Nothing feels punchy.
And perhaps this is purposeful. The padding is most noticeable when it apes scenes from the original, so the pacing issues could simply be a part of its satire. It’s as if Hooper is saying that his bigger budget cannot be used to make something as tightly controlled of the nightmarish original, but only to make something big and unwieldy and annoying.
Nevertheless, purposeful tedium is still tedium.
In the end, TCSM2 is an interesting experiment. It constantly undercuts any possible tension by intercutting between suspense and broad humor, so it doesn’t really work as a horror film. Its comedy and satire is both broad and extraordinarily dark, to the point where it almost cancels itself out.
But the film IS gleeful in its ambitions and repulsions. There is joy in the way the insanity is presented. Even at its most boring, you can feel the filmmakers’ wild grins behind the cameras. And, every once in a while, all the insanity hits a boiling point and you get riled up in the film’s dementia. A nonsensical train wreck – much like Schumacher’s Batman films – TCSM2 is nonetheless bold, ambitious, strange, and wholeheartedly singular. It may not work as an entire picture, but some of the aforementioned pieces – like that chainsaw duel – can get you swept up in Hooper’s mad vision.