Though The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s critical reputation is less than stellar, in truth the film is one of the very best horror sequels around. As James Cameron did with Aliens, Hooper used his sequel as a bridge to a new genre, rather than serving up the same points as the original. Whereas the original – a masterpiece, no doubt – was a lean, stripped down chiller, the sequel is an overblown, darkly comedic fantasy that trades in skin-crawling horror with deliciously cartoonish gore and knowing winks to the audience.
The plot sees Dennis Hopper in full beast mode as Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright, an unhinged officer looking for revenge on the clan that killed his niece and nephew in the first instalment of the franchise, coming into contact along the way with Caroline Williams’ heroine, Vanita Brock, and Bill Moseley’s distinctly memorable psychopath Chop Top.
But in truth, the early machinations of the plot are really just a set up for the film’s latter half, a slice of cinematic excess so bizarre and bloated that it comes to feel like a dark carnival. Haunted and haunting faces pass over the screen, leering and shrieking, as we move from deliciously overblown setpiece to deliciously overblown setpiece. The scene with Chop Top intimidating Brock in the radio station is something that must be seen to be believed, rich as it is with comedy and horror, and is shortly followed by an even more demented scene as Brock and Enright take a trip down into Leatherface’s cavernous lair.
Rather than imitate his best known film, Hooper instead used The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 to explore that film’s polar opposite. The original movie worked because of how raw and DIY it felt – the sequel works because of how grand and overblown it is. They are two utter counterpoints, but Hooper should never have been punished critically and commercially for trying something new. Instead, he should have been celebrated for taking a horror franchise into entirely fresh, entirely unexpected territory.