Following up a genre-defining classic is no easy task, especially when that sequel is released 10+ years later. But that’s exactly what Tobe Hooper did when he directed the sequel to his own slasher classic, and gave us all The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in 1986.
In what very easily could have been another subpar sequel (that’s unfortunately very common), Hooper avoided falling into this trap and subverted everyone’s expectations in a particularly brilliant way.
New Genre, New Tone
One very common pitfall with horror sequels (and sequels in general) is a tendency to essentially remake the first movie. The Hills Have Eyes was followed up with the same plot, but with soldiers this time instead of a family. The Rage: Carrie 2 is all but a remake of the original, except for the fact that the events of the first movie are referenced.
So rather than feature another group of ill-fated young people happen upon the Sawyer family home in rural Texas, this movie features the Sawyers coming out into the world (which kind of makes them scarier). But this barely scratching the surface because the two movies could not be more different.
The first one is a slasher classic that helped kick off the genre. It’s gritty, serious, and incredibly disturbing. It has a real grindhouse feel to it, and at times you’d almost believe you’re watching a real snuff film (especially during that dinner scene). While the second one feels much more like a Hollywood film, but also has a strong self-aware sense of humor to it.
It’s not to say that one is better than the other. In fact, both movies are made better simply for having the other one exist, and approach the subject matter in a different tone.
Hooper knew that this would be a hotly anticipated sequel and that he couldn’t just do more of the same. It had to be different enough to not only justify its own existence, but to feel like it was fresh and unique enough to stand on its own.
Of course, any movie can very easily succeed or fail with it characters and cast, and this movie is an example of the former. With the talents of Caroline Williams. Dennis Hopper, Bill Moseley, Jim Siedow, Bill Johnson, and many others, there’s not a single weak link in this cast.
Moselely and Siedow’s characters Chop Top and Cook give more personality to the Sawyer family than we had seen before. To this day, Bill Moseley’s Twitter handle includes “Chop Top” in it because it’s not only one of his first roles ever, but it’s a character that gained cult status in the years since.
Caroline Williams makes for a great protagonist, who doesn’t spend the runtime running about screaming. Granted, she does a bit of that in the final act, but it’s accompanied with her fighting back and showing off the strength we had seen all movie. And of course there’s no discussing Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 without a mention of Dennis Hopper.
While he’s not in the movie too too much in terms of screen time, he kind of steals the movie with his own antics and goes toe to toe with Leatherface in an epic chainsaw duel. It’s a role that in the hands of many other actors would have become too cheesy, even for a movie as comedic in tone as this.
What makes it work was that Hopper treated the role seriously and committed 100% to it. Even an ounce of him holding back would have revealed that he knew how ridiculous his character was. But his devotion to it kind of makes us take him seriously too.
This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than the original, but we can’t overlook the fact that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 benefitted from having roughly 50x the budget of its predecessor.
In addition, the Tobe Hooper who directed this was 12 years more experienced than the Tobe Hooper who directed the original. In the subsequent time, he had directed other classics like Salem’s Lot, The Funhouse, Poltergeist, and Lifeforce.
It shows in how he makes better use of blocking the sets and moving the camera in conjunction with the action in the scene, as opposed to the original which was shot with a lot of very quick cuts.
Another advantage this sequel had that the original didn’t was the makeup/effects talents of Tom Savini, and it shows. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 treats its audience to bloody and gory kills that go way further than the original did, but were more in line with the slashers of the 80’s than of the 70’s.
Obviously, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains an early influential slasher, and one of the greatest horror movies ever made. However, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 remains one of the greatest horror sequels ever made because it was different enough in plot and tone that it was very much its own (very entertaining) movie!