Director Tobe Hooper’s career trajectory has been tumultuous at best. How one artist can have The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night Terrors in the same filmography is a mystery to me. If we were judging the man’s worth by box office performance alone, it would be even less pretty. There isn’t another filmmaker working within the horror genre whose worth is as debated as Hooper’s. A lot of it stems from having something as impactful as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist under his belt and even the latter is argued to this day since many circles believe Steven Spielberg was the one really calling the shots. I for one have always found myself defending the value of a chunk of his work. Even if his stuff was looked down upon during its initial release, home video companies such as Shout Factory and Arrow Video have done a great job of highlighting some of his under appreciated genre gems such as Lifeforce and The Funhouse. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is the latest to be given the royal treatment.
Thirteen years after the shocking events of the original, cinema’s favourite cannibals, the Sawyer Family are back at it again. This time they meet their match with the likes of the vengeance-fueled Lieutenant ‘Lefty’ Enright (a delightfully over-the-top Dennis Hopper) and local DJ Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock (the sexy Caroline Williams). Hooper is fully aware he can’t possibly top what is arguably the greatest horror film of all time. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that can never be duplicated. With The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Hooper changes the tone…drastically. While dark humour ran through the veins of the original, it never surfaced enough to undermine the sheer psychological terror the film successfully suffocated its startled audience with. With the sequel, comedy is front and center even though a decent share of scares pops up from time to time. Hooper embraces the age-old golden rule of Hollywood when it comes to sequels: “bigger is better”. Subtlety doesn’t enter the equation. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is loud and in your face at all times yet it’s not just operating on a strict entertainment-minded level. It’s easy to be distracted by the movie’s adrenaline-fueled energy and unflinching gore (which barely made a cameo in the original) by the great Tom Savini. The more I saw it (which was a boatload of times), I began to see other levels in which The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was operating on. Great satire is never preachy. Hooper captures the Reagan era with all its 80’s excess and obsession with consumption so brilliantly. The film’s manic tone alone personifies this to great effect. The oversold reading of the opening crawl does a stellar job of establishing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as its own separate entity. The abandoned carnival grounds in which the Sawyer Family now call home is hyper-packed in detail. Its massive scale is showcased to awe-inspiring effect during the recreation of the classic dinner table pullback from the original, only here Hooper can’t help himself but to take it even further, establishing the sheer density of the environment with a super-wide shot.
Hooper is backed by a fantastic cast, completely understanding of the lunacy they’ve signed up for. It’s not hard to see why Chop-Top, the twin brother of the first film’s Hitchhiker has become Moseley’s signature performance. While there are affectionate nods to Edwin Neal’s unsettling performance, Moseley makes the Chop-Top his own by injecting a giddy, off-kilter quality that defines him. Johnson is the right Leatherface for this distinct vision. Here he explores the character’s discovery of the opposite sex in a truly queasy and disturbing manner. Jim Siedow makes a welcome return as the quirky Cook. He’s as memorable here as he was in the original. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is prime example how a sequel can feel like a continuation of its predecessor, at the same time offer the viewer a completely fresh experience. It grows more and more delectable with each view. I wish more franchises had the balls to be half as daring as Hooper’s ass-kicking follow-up.
THE A/V: Disc 1 contains The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 the same HD transfer found in the MGM North American release, which was supervised by Director of Photography Richard Kooris. It wasn’t the most attractive video around but was without a doubt the best and most accurate the film has looked on home video. Colours, contrast and detail was a genuine step up. Grain was a notable constant which to me satisfied my love of that film’s 35mm look. For their release, Arrow Video has taken it upon themselves to do some additional restoration at Deluxe Digital Cinema, supervised by James White who was also had a hand in the fantastic work that went into Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters and most recently, Hooper’s Lifeforce. Dirt, sparkle, debris, scratches and stability issues have been painstakingly dealt with to give The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 its most welcoming appearance to date. This extra effort will be much appreciated by fans. When it comes to the audio, the 2.0 Stereo PCM track seems to be the same as MGM’s DTS-HD MA 2.0. It’s true to the original theatrical presentation and contains some nice clarity. This is a definite improvement over the previous Blu-ray release.
Disc 2 has impressive restored transfers of Hooper’s early work. Dirt and debris is present but not nearly as much as I expected. The MPEG-4 AVC encode help colour and contrast look as fine as possible. The Heisters and Eggshells are given lossless PCM 1.0 tracks. They both sound solid considering their film’s age and low budget roots. Overall Watchmaker Films with Hooper’s assistance has done a first rate job with these films’ home video debut.
THE SUPPLEMENTS: For this 3-Disc Limited Edition Set (only 10,000 in circulation), Arrow has pulled out all the stops. Each copy comes with a cool, individually numbered certificate. On the flipside of the card you get a reprint of the iconic The Breakfast Club parody one-sheet. The packaging is beautifully illustrated by Justin Erickson. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Disc 1 – Blu-ray), Tobe Hooper’s Early Works (Disc 2 – Blu-ray & Disc 3 – DVD) get their own separate DigiPack, along with the epic 100-page perfect bound book. To date, it might very well be the mother of all Arrow Video booklets (definitely the best since Obsession which includes Paul Schrader’s original screenplay). Along with the usual archival stills and posters you get six excellent articles covering everything from Hooper’s early work, the fascinating, uber-detailed document of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s dealings with the censors, right up to a retrospect on the entire franchise. A brilliant read all around.
Disc 1 is devoted to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. All of the superb special features from MGM’s The Gruesome Edition (originally on DVD followed by the 2002 U.S. Blu-ray) has been carried over. This includes two excellent audio commentaries. One with director and co-writer Tobe Hooper, moderated by David Gregory, and the other with stars Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special-effects legend Tom Savini, moderated by Michael Felsher. The centerpiece of that set was the 88-minute documentary “It Runs in the Family”. It gave a detailed look at the making of the film and its renewed life beyond its disappointing theatrical run. There are plenty of interviews with the likes of co-writer L. M. Kit Carson and Savini, as well as stars Johnson, Moseley and Williams, to name a few. There’s also 11-minutes worth of deleted scenes including some of Savini’s gory FX work. They’re not in great condition yet a valuable inclusion nevertheless. Another welcome addition is the alternate opening sequence featuring a different musical score cue. The theatrical trailer is also here.
Arrow has thrown in a few new extras including production stills and two new featurettes. “Cutting Moments with Bob Elmore” (15 mins) contains the stunt man’s account of this supremely difficult film shoot. I also dug “Still Feelin’ The Buzz” (29 mins), an interview with horror expert Stephen Thrower, author of “Nightmare USA” and the awesome “Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci”. It contains his thoughts on the film and its treasure chest-packed subtext.
Disc 2 focuses on Hooper’s previously unreleased early work. 1964’s The Heisters (11 mins) is a goofy ode to the silent era and Roger Corman’s series of Edgar Allan Poe films. This silent short gives us an early peek at Hooper’s affection for comedy which would find its way in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Its inclusion on this set is an appropriate companion piece. Hooper’s 1969 feature debut, Eggshells (90 mins) is a weird yet fascinating arthouse piece. The viewer takes on a “fly on the wall” perspective, following around a household of hippies. There really isn’t any sort of narrative yet Hooper hints upon that unnerving sense of tension that would be so predominant in his follow-up, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The audio commentary to Eggshells featuring Tobe Hooper and Louis Black, who played a huge part in the film’s restoration, is a terrific discussion from start to finish. The 24-minute “In Conversation with Tobe Hooper” is a tad erratic interview. Despite that issue, there are enough goodies here to satisfy fans who are interested in how he got from Eggshells to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The Trailer Reel is a collection of the majority of Hooper’s filmography.
OVERALL: While Dawn of the Dead will most likely forever remain my favourite horror sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 had a much tougher act to follow. The original just happens to be the granddaddy of horror movies. Hooper seems to have been inspired by the tonal shift George A. Romero infused in Dawn of the Dead. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 follows the silly “bigger is better” rule Hollywood has adapted for its sequels, at the same time takes it to a whole other level. Hooper creates a hysterical satire on 80’s excess, as well playfully poking fun at Leatherface fans’ expectations. The film is huge on a grotesque scale. It’s only fitting that Arrow has given this much-debated cult classic an equally towering Blu-ray release. If physical copies aren’t quite as hot of a seller as they once was, Arrow valiantly continues to prove its worth to fans and collectors’ alike. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: 3-Disc Limited Edition is an exquisite piece of work; from its beautifully-conceived packaging to the plethora of extras just waiting to eat up your days. Home video releases don’t get much better than this…and that’s a challenge, Arrow Video!
Note: As with all current Arrow titles, this is strictly Region 2 which means you’ll have to get a Region-Free Player to see it. The perfect Christmas gift if you ask me.
this week in horror
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