SEPTEMBER 20, 2012
For the life of me I can't remember his name, but for my first 2-3 weeks of my junior year at college, I had an extra roommate due to a housing issue, which drove me nuts as I was the type who hated having even one roommate, let alone another (the chosen roommate was my friend Steve. We haven't talked much since that year, incidentally). But I did try to make nice in my own way, and thus one night we watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which had recently come out on DVD. I don't think he liked it much, but he got his correct room not too long after that, so he was spared further horror movies.
I bring it up because I think it was the only time I watched that version of the DVD, which had OK picture but TERRIBLE audio, and zero bonus features. The 2006 release (dubbed the "Gruesome Edition" and boasting new box art that looked like a Saw film) had a superior transfer plus lots of bonus features, and thus I tossed out that old one. Now, again six years later, we have the film's first Blu-ray release, which is just a port of that 2006 one, albeit with the image obviously improved thanks to Blu-ray's higher resolution. It's not a "night and day" transfer - in fact I was more impressed with the jump from the 2000 to 2006 versions (both on standard DVD!), but I guess one can't really complain about a solid representation of what was an improved transfer. It's an intentionally grimy looking movie - it's never going to be demo quality. Still, if you already own that edition, I should note that it's identical in every way as far as the bonus features (and box art), so the slightly improved image is really the only reason to upgrade.
But if you're still stuck with the original DVD from 2000, by all means run, don't walk, to the nearest store and pick this baby up, as it's loaded with great supplements and a much improved audio track - you want that chainsaw duel to sound amazing, not like it was recorded through a wall like it did on that hideous disc. Plus, this is one of those movies that just gets better every time I watch it; I pick up on more and more humor (and with a much clearer audio track, make out some of screenwriter Kit Carson's wonderfully gonzo dialogue and colorful profanity). Yes, this movie is more of a comedy than the suspenseful extreme horror of the original, but to me that works in its favor - they've already done that perfectly, so why copy it? Instead, they tried something new, and mostly succeeded.
By mostly, I refer to the film's odd structure, which puts the film's biggest chainsaw kill scene in the first 10 minutes (the two yuppie assholes in the car) and then pretty much leaves any chainsawing out of it until the very end, when Leatherface has his battle with Dennis Hopper's dual wielding (and equally insane) lawman. The only other kill in the film is LJ, who is mostly done in by Chop-Top and his hammer. There was a big massacre scene in a parking garage where the family took out more yuppies, but it was cut for pacing - possibly the first time in horror history where a big kill scene was removed because it was slowing the movie down. It also would have been the only actual "massacre" in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, so its removal is a bummer.
Otherwise, the movie is just pure gonzo greatness. Hopper's nutty turn as Lefty can stand proudly alongside his much more "respectable" roles in 1986 - Blue Velvet and Hoosiers, the latter of which earned him an Oscar nod. The male protagonists in all five of the other films tend to be boring and forgettable compared to the Sawyers (or Hewitts) and their hysterical, ass-kicking heroines, but TCM2 offers not only Hopper's Loomis-esque nut but also LG, played by the late Lou Perryman. He doesn't get to do much, but his puppy dog crush on Stretch, colorful dialogue, and INSANELY high pain tolerance make for a memorable side character - it's a shame none of the following movies saw fit to have a character in the vein of either one of these guys.
It also gives an expanded role to Jim Siedow, who unfortunately had to pretend to be a good guy for half of his screentime in TCM1. Here he's allowed to drop the act for most of the film, save for an amazing bit early on (his first scene, in fact) where he wins a chili cookoff. Of course, WE know the secret to his tasty meat, so the scene is just a black comic treasure, with everyone (including our heroes) cheering on their unsuspecting cannibalism. And Siedow is firing on all cylinders here, playing a role that can be considered the most normal of the Sawyer clan in one moment and the craziest in the next. Or sometimes simultaneously - check out the bit where he orders Leatherface to kill Stretch but can't help but feel a bit of fatherly pride that his "Bubba" is crushing on her.
Plus: BILL MOSELEY. Possibly the most underrated genre actor working today (in that he can actually disappear into a role and play sympathetic easily, something that eludes guys like Robert Englund who always feel a bit creepy), this was his first big role, and like Siedow, gives it his all, making Edwin Neal's performance as the Hitchhiker in the first film (who is the twin brother of Moseley's character) look somewhat restrained at times. Keep an eye on him during scenes that are otherwise focused on other characters - out of focus and in the background he may be, but he's still completely committed to Chop-Top's human Tazmanian Devil routine.
I could go on and on: Savini's FX are top-notch (particularly the human skin faces), the set/production design is Oscar-worthy, it features the longest bridge in the world, etc. But it's been over 25 years - you're either on board by now, or you're missing out. Your loss!
For us fans though, again, this is a great special edition. Tobe Hooper's commentary is unsurprisingly low-key - he's never been much of a talker, and most of what he says is just repeating what the moderator says. He does get into some of the film's social commentary and a few production stories, but otherwise it's a track that is in need of a couple of Red Bulls. Luckily, the other commentary, with Moseley, Savini, and Caroline Williams (moderated by Michael Felsher) more than makes up for it - it's a terrific mix of information and trivia, shooting anecdotes, and just enough jokes about the movie to let you know that they're aware it's not perfect, but not so much that it becomes MST3k. With four participants there's some interruptions and talking over one another, but
Then there's "It Runs In The Family" a six part documentary that runs about 90 minutes all together (you can Play All or watch them individually). Hooper and Hopper are absent, but pretty much every other principal that's still alive is here, with a hefty part of the doc focused on Carson, whom we've rarely heard from over the years, so that's a great bonus as he discusses the constant rewriting and budgetary issues (it's amazing this movie is even watchable, let alone good). Everyone has great stories about the grueling production, and it covers just about everything you could want.
Less satisfying are the deleted scenes, as they are in the roughest of rough shape - seemingly taken from a duped VHS workprint, they aren't even close to complete. Sound FX and music are gone, dialogue is occasionally left out (subtitles provide the missing words), and they're stretched out to boot. Obviously it's interesting to see these things, but is this really the best they could do? There's gotta be a better copy (if not the original negatives) for this footage somewhere, right? Anyway, the aforementioned massacre scene is a hoot, as is the Joe Bob Briggs cameo (for which he still receives credit). There's also a little more between Lefty and Stretch, and a minor bit where we get proof that Chop-Top was blown up at the film's conclusion. Honestly, all of it should have been left in the movie; it's a longer film than the original but it never drags, and I don't see how any of this stuff would hurt it if it was edited and mixed properly.
As with Jeepers Creepers, FOX/MGM didn't see the need to give the film an actual menu screen, so the movie just starts up and will loop forever if you leave it on, which is fine since like I said it just gets better every time you watch it. So if you're watching it for the first time and don't care for it, but can't find the remote, just let it play again - you might be surprised to discover it's pretty dang good.
What say you?
Film score: 8/10 AV score: 7/10 Extras score: 8/10