The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the most notorious horror movies ever made. People see whatever they want to see in it. Whether it be a commentary on Vietnam or an allegory about the meat industry or classism. It has even convinced audiences for forty years that it happened. All over the country, there are those who claim to have known someone who knew one of the victims, or those who even claim they knew the real Leatherface himself. There are few films that have this kind of lasting power; a power that began to develop immediately after the movie hit theaters.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was made over a decade after the release of the original film. By that time, its predecessor had become something bigger than just a movie. It was an entity. It was a cultural phenomenon. With this in mind, director Tobe Hooper made a controversial choice when the opportunity to craft a sequel presented itself. He would carry on the story and make this a true sequel, but at the same time, he would satirize the first feature. To ensure he wouldn’t feel like he was making the same movie twice, Hooper made the second film focused on the things people thought the first movie was about. It would be gorier, it would be more political, everything people insisted on seeing in the original. At the same time, the director chose to play up aspects of the first movie that were intentional but had gone unnoticed by audiences; namely the comedy.
According to Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a black comedy. He’s always seen it that way, but the masses that referred to it as one of the scariest movies ever made did not. This time, there’s no escaping the humor. Hooper makes the absurdist comedy in the sequel as apparent and overt as possible. The family is even louder and more obnoxious this time, Leatherface gets some comical, almost sentimental moments of levity. It almost seems like Hooper expected and prepared for the complaints, which were numerous, of people saying the movie was more of a comedy and the first one was not. That was the general reaction from audiences. They thought this movie was disrespectful to the first, which they claimed was deadly serious, by injecting a sense of humor.
Another dramatic change is made to the character of Leatherface himself. In the first movie, Leatherface (The late, great Gunnar Hansen) is an utterly androgynous character. His personality is determined only by the mask that he wears. Some of them are male and some of them are female, and they are all worn to fulfill specific tasks. In that film, things like the killing are perceived as more masculine and things like the cooking are perceived as feminine. For the most part, though, audiences only latched onto the character’s brutality. Here, though, all of that is gone. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Leatherface doesn’t have anything like the first film’s pretty lady mask. Staying true to making a sequel that inverts the previous, this Leatherface is hyper-masculine. He wears a suit for almost the entire movie, never changes his mask to something with a different purpose and has overtly sexual feelings for the lead heroine, Stretch.
While Hooper says that Texas Chain Saw Massacre was devoid of subtext, his sequel is full of it. Most of it points out things that were picked apart in the original. Themes like the meat industry, Vietnam, and nutrition are directly referenced. But at the same time, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 brings some subtext of its own. It is very much a Chainsaw movie for the 1980’s, making it not just a satire of the first movie but of the decade itself. Things are very different for the Sawyer family here. They’re not living in a backwoods farmhouse running a beat-down gas station. Now, they’re running one of the most successful barbecues in Texas. They’ve been able to carry on their work without interference for a decade. Hooper is not as overt with his politics as filmmakers like Romero and Carpenter, but they’re still there. This whole situation is suggesting that the cannibals are thriving in the Reagan era. Many horror filmmakers were dealing with the country going to hell in some form or another, but Hooper looked at it from another angle. Here, we see that the bad guys are prospering. These cannibals are doing better than they’ve ever done before.
One of the most overt differences between the first and second movie is also the easiest to catch if you’re paying attention. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is still referred to as one of the goriest movies ever made, even though there is virtually no onscreen bloodshed in the film. Fans at conventions still applaud cast and crew on the movie’s special effects, even though there really weren’t any. They didn’t have the money for anything like that and most of the carnage was left to the imagination. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 actually is incredibly gory. To pull this off, Hooper hired the best FX artist of the era, Tom Savini. At that point in the 1980’s, Savini had already earned himself a large reputation in horror, having worked on the effects for Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, The Burning, The Prowler and many more. He was the go-to guy for splatter.
The first Texas Chain Saw Massacre feels almost like a documentary. It’s so raw, so insane that it feels as though it is somehow really happening. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is entirely more cinematic. It uses the camera much more and it has a bigger, slicker feel. It even has a musical score, which the first movie did not feature. The score in the original was created by an inventive variety of sound effects.
Tobe Hooper had become both fascinated with and surely infuriated by some of the reactions to the first Chain Saw over the years, and made Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 with the intention of subverting those expectations. And it worked. By becoming everything the original wasn’t as a way of commenting on what people thought it was, this movie became almost as enjoyable as the first feature itself. All of these things naturally throw off diehard purists who cling to the original, which is a shame. It’s a smart, funny satire. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 took a long time to get made, but it wound up happening at the perfect time regardless. It became a sickly smart, gory, black comedy that is definitely worth checking out for those who may have overlooked it expecting more of the same.