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WTF Moments: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2's unhinged opening kill
That's exactly the kind of imaginative hype the filmmakers were counting on, and it's the starting point for a cloud of infamy that's followed the film from its release in 1974 into today. Everyone who's ever heard those words in that order has seen a free movie in their head, and I suspect a great many of them were expecting something much more garish than what actually ended up onscreen in Tobe Hooper's masterpiece. And then there's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which makes up for the original's refinement in some truly wild ways.
For a long time, I was one of those people who built the original Massacre up to be gorier than it was. I grew up in central Texas, about a 90-minute drive from where they shot Texas Chain Saw, in a house where horror movies weren't allowed. I didn't yet know how big my appetite for scary movies was because I didn't have a chance to taste them, but I did have access to a mom and pop video store with a wide range of horror titles all laid out along one extra spooky wall. I can still remember going to that video store on Friday nights and sneaking away from my parents long enough to stare at various plastic-wrapped VHS boxes on that wall, and I remember Texas Chain Saw Massacre being among them. For most of my childhood, that wall of horror was the scariest thing I was allowed to experience, and I remember fantasizing about what watching a movie with a title like that would be like.
As I got older, I felt emboldened to actually start asking people who might have seen the movie what it contained, and even then the infamy persisted. There was no "Oh, it's actually not that scary," at least not that I remember. School friends who'd maintained a steady diet of Freddy and Jason complained that they hadn't actually been able to see Texas Chain Saw, as though it was somehow beyond even the horrors of dream demons and undead hockey mask wearers.
Once, a high school teacher proclaimed that he actually knew where the family's old BBQ joint had once been, and then he knew people who'd possible eaten human flesh there. Even in Texas, where a certain portion of the population would rather not be associated with the film in any way, Texas Chain Saw Massacre retained its mythic notoriety.
Hooper was aware of this, perhaps to an exhausting degree. On a DVD commentary for Texas Chain Saw featuring Hooper, cinematographer Daniel Pearl, and Leatherface actor Gunnar Hansen, you can hear the trio commiserating over everything from complaints about how much gore is in the film (there's not much, particularly compared to later slasher flicks) to encounters with people who claimed to have known "the original Leatherface," as if such a person existed in Texas once upon a time. Some of this is no doubt thanks to attempts to market the film as some kind of true story, but the rest can be chalked up to runaway public imagination.
Because Hooper was an impish genius when it came to turning our own imaginations against us, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a film that takes all of the infamy — real and overblown — from the first film and flat-out weaponizes it. While the first movie is lean, mean, and shot with the seat-of-your-pants realism of a docudrama, the second film is a loud, wild black comedy that gleefully dumps buckets of over-the-top gore on its audience. Put another way: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is the gross-out slaughterfest your prudish relatives warned you the original Texas Chain Saw was, and it all starts with the opening kill.
Rather than showing us a group of friends we'll slowly get to know as they drive out in the country, Hooper opens Chainsaw 2 with a pair of jerks, namely two drunken kids on a mission to get up to the Cotton Bowl for the annual Texas vs. Oklahoma football game (known 'round these parts as the Red River Rivalry). Along the way, they goof around with a revolver and use their car phone to call a local radio DJ just to screw with her, until their night of high-speed revelry is interrupted by a mysterious truck on a bridge.
As the truck drives backwards parallel to their car, a ghastly figure emerges from the bed, and cranks up a chainsaw. It's Leatherface, strapped to the mummified body of his brother The Hitchhiker (who died in the first film), and the unhinged automotive dance that follows — set to Oingo Boingo's "No One Lives Forever" — is one of the wildest things you'll find in any slasher movie.
Two cars speeding down a road facing opposite directions, a killer wearing his brother's corpse just to freak people out, a creepy song, a chainsaw, a pair of obnoxious victims, and a stomach-churning final gore effect all come together to allow Tobe Hooper to say "If you thought the last movie was freaky, strap the hell in." This is just the opening gambit.
From there, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 just gets weirder, delivering everything from trophy-winning chili made from human flesh to an abandoned amusement park to cannibal shrines that make the house from the first film look like child's play. Throw in some not-so-subtle symbolism (hint: The saw is a penis), some all-time great Tom Savini gore effects, and Dennis Hopper going crazy, and you've got an absolutely bonkers sequel. It's a film that both reminds you how notorious the first movie's reputation is and also goes out of its way to prove just how stripped-down Texas Chain Saw Massacre is by comparison.
And still, no matter how weird and bombastic it gets, there's something about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 that still seems real, if only in that outsized urban legend sort of way. It's not there all the time, but it's there just enough to make you wonder what might happen if you were to drive along a lonely stretch of Texas highway in October, looking for a certain pickup truck...