The Friday Night Horror Movie: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

the texas chainsaw massacre part 2

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the best horror movies of the 1970s. It is gritty, dirty, and full of Texas sweat. Like a lot of films from that decade, it is documentarian in style, not realistic exactly but textile, you can feel it in your bones – the heat, the dirt, the blood.

In contrast, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is totally ’80s in every way. It is a neon, day glow, music video of a film that doesn’t take anything seriously except for its attempts to have serious fun with the material.

It stars Dennis Hopper as Lt. Boude “Lefty” Enright the uncle of two of the victims of the first film. The movie is set thirteen years after the original film and an opening scrawl informs us that the crazed chainsaw-wielding cannibals from the first film are still on the loose and on the move. We see them chase down a couple of frat boys driving recklessly on the highway and cut them up.

The boys were on the telephone with a local radio DJ, “Stretch” (Caroline Williams) when the attack occurs and she recorded the entire incident. She takes the recording to Lefty and the two of them go on the search for the killers.

Before long they are trapped inside an underground funhouse full of leftover amusement park junk, skeletons, skulls, and dismembered corpses.

Leatherface (Bill Johnson) falls in love with Stretch, while his family members chop up humans and turn the meat into chile to sell for the famous Oklahoma University vs Texas football game.

It is hard to explain just how over-the-top nutso this film really is. It is intentionally ridiculous, verging on camp. For the first twenty minutes or so I was really annoyed by it. I love the original film and this seemed like a terrible parody of it. Then I realized that was kind of the point and learned to sit back and enjoy myself.

More or less. It really is a bit too much. I can handle my gore pretty well, and I’m not opposed to using excess to create comedy. But eventually, it becomes boring. I was exhausted by the end.

At least Dennis Hopper seemed to be enjoying himself.

Salem’s Lot (1979)

salems lot poster

I was slow coming ’round to Stephen King. Growing up I was more of a Dean Kontz man. I read the short story The Langoliers when I was in high school and loved it, but for some reason didn’t even both finishing the other short stories in the book much less read any other King. In college, I read Dolores Claiborne, and loved it, and then didn’t get around to reading any other King books until a few years later. And so it went for a long time. I’d read a King book, love it, and then not pick one up again for many months or years. And then four or five years ago I got a copy of the Mr. Mercedes audiobook from the library and really dug it, then picked up the sequel, Finder’s Keepers, and I was off to the races. I’ve been reading him steadily ever since.

I read ‘Salem’s Lot about 12 years ago and absolutely loved it. I’m a sucker for vampire stories and King tells a really good one. It remains one of my favorite novels of his. Tobe Hooper directed a two-part TV miniseries back in 1979 and I decided to rewatch it this week. It is surprisingly good.

The story concerns Ben Mears (David Soul) a writer (the first of many times the protagonist in a King story would have that occupation) who grew up in the small town of Salem’s Lot, but moved away as a boy. He comes back to write about a spooky old house up on a hill that has a sordid history and is rumored to be haunted. He plans on renting it but as it turns out the house has just been purchased by the mysterious Richard Straker (James Mason, completely enjoying himself), and his absent partner Kurt Barlow.

Turns out Barlow is an ancient vampire and Straker is his familiar. But the movie takes its time getting to that part. First Ben has to meet Susan (Bonnie Bedelia), the romantic interest, plus other assortments of characters. It isn’t until the second part of the movie, more than 90 minutes into its three-hour runtime that we actually see the vampire. Mysterious things do happen, people get sick, a kid dies, a dog is murdered, etc., but Hooper keeps the pace slow and the eeriness high.

There is quite a lot of padding, as one would expect from a TV movie made in 1979. And the production values fit within that genre as well. But Hooper gives some good jump scares and several truly spooky scenes. There’s one in which a vampire kid floats into another kid’s room which is an all-timer. The look of the main vampire is very Nosferatu-esque and pretty darn terrific.

It is a film that, if you consider the budget and its limitations, comes across as surprisingly great, and well worth watching.