Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most splendidly unpleasant and transcendently terrifying horror movies ever made. Even before Leatherface shows up and the gruesome deaths start coming in rapid succession, Hooper infuses the film with an air of unpleasant tension. Franklin is really the genius touch. Some of the hardest scenes to watch in the movie are just about the dysfunctional relationship that Franklin has with the other characters. The scene where he is alone in the abandoned house, mocking the other kids’ laughter and sticking out his tongue, talking to himself all by himself is painful. You pity Franklin and yet he is so obnoxious that you can’t actually like him. It’s a scene about embarrassing emotional pain, something that is generally ignored in movies besides comedies about social behavior by directors like Mike Nichols or Judd Apatow.
The scene of him and Sally alone at the van screaming out their dead friend’s name into the darkness is even worse, meaning better. They are both desperate and going crazy and then they have that fight over the flashlight. Franklin is scared of being left alone without Sally and Sally is scared of being left alone with Franklin, her “invalid” brother. It makes me think they almost have it coming when Leatherface cuts into Franklin and chases Sally with his roaring chainsaw.
The film reminds us of the fucked up, painful things that are just under the surface of our society through the relationship between Franklin and Sally. The dysfunction of their family perfectly foreshadows the family of sociopathic monsters that become the focus of the film later on. The rest of the film pays off its creepy set-up beautifully and horribly. It maintains a mood, scientifically calculated to be as nightmarish as possible right up to the chaotic last shot of Leatherface dancing and waving his chainsaw in the air.
There is no movie you can watch right after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre except for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The experience of watching the first movie is so intense that the idea of watching more seems repellent, obscene, even sadomasochistic. However, the sequel is as different in tone from the original as possible. It was made thirteen years later by the same director, Tobe Hooper, and with a script by L.M. Kit Carson, the writer of such films as the bizarre 1983 remake of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Like the 1983 Breathless, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 takes a premise from an already established movie and explodes it in every way.
The sequel has all the elements that made the original great. Just like the first movie, it is a descent into the nightmarish realm that this family of murderers lives in. The first movie takes place in an aging farm house, eerie because of its familiarity. The sequel’s second half is set in the bowels of an underground series of tunnels, reminiscent of other 80’s fantasy movies like The Goonies or the Indiana Jones series in its elaborate expressionistic design.
Jim Siedow was hilarious in the original Chainsaw Massacre as the father of Leatherface and the Hitchhiker. He had a smaller role then either of them, and it was much more understated than either role as well. He said he “can’t take no pleasure in killing,” but he has no problem throwing a sack over Sally’s head and poking her repeatedly with a broom stick. When he reluctantly joins in with the hitchhiker’s laughter, mocking the cries of Sally while she is tied to the chair at the dinner table, it adds such a creepy and complex reality to the character’s insanity.
Siedow returns for the sequel in a much expanded, almost cartoonish version of the same character, whom we now learn is named Drayton Sawyer. In a turn of his character out of a screwball comedy, he now spends his time making a celebrated brew of chili (his secret is “an eye for good meat) and thinks of nothing else. He is so self-diluted and obsessed with his chili that when Denis Hopper finally confronts him at the end of his revenge quest, Drayton thinks he’s a rival chili company come to sabotage his chili operation.
Everything from the first movie is magnified under some twisted lens. They’re chainsaw attacks in the first movie; there is a chainsaw duel in the sequel. Franklin is key to the structure of the first movie and then, in maybe the best moment in either movie, he is revealed to be the motivation for Denis Hopper’s insane campaign of vengeance against the murderous family.
The sequel works as a remake, a sequel, and a parody of the first movie. Watching them back to back makes for a phantasmagoric night of unrelenting images, both bone-chilling and funny bone tickling. After the first movie, you have so many disturbing images rattling around your head and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 beautifully compliments those images by twisting and even mocking them. But at the end of the double feature, you will have to admit that you are a loser.
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