Homogenized Horror Part II
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Okay, the title implied more than the movie was able to deliver but it is still a classic of modern terror. Tobe Hooper made the film with barely more than one camera and a crew of people whose enthusiasm was greater than their acting ability. Allegedly based on the true life exploits of Ed Gein, the movie took great liberties. The family in TCM are unemployed slaughterhouse workers and in real life Ed lived alone. While he never actually admitted to eating human flesh when police finally gained access to his Plainfield Wisconsin home they found human hearts cooking in a stewpot on the stove and a refrigerator full of "venison" which was later proved to be human in origin. Also, Ed never used a chainsaw. Luckily the movie is strong enough to stand on its own.
The original TCM was made as an independent film and it evokes a grittiness that scrapes your nerves raw even after repeated viewings. Gunnar Hanson recalled getting hurt many times by running full tilt through the woods at night with his Leatherface mask on. He had no peripheral vision and more than once ran into trees. Edwin Neal was burned shooting his death scene when he put his unprotected face on the hot pavement of the Texas road. Everyone did all their own stunts and everyone was banged up and bruised after a frenzied weekend of shooting. During the "dinner" scene not only Marilyn Burns but everyone else involved got sick because the heat of the day plus the added intensity of the lights raised the temperature in the room to 110 degrees and accelerated the rotting of the meat on the table. The point is, everyone seemed to translate their agony very well into the screen characters they portrayed and TCM was recognised by critics worldwide as almost a neo film noir.
Oddly enough it took 10 years for a sequel to materialise. Menahem Golan, head of Cannon Films, knew of Hooper's post-Chainsaw track record and decided the time was right for a sequel. He also brought Tom Savini on board to handle the special effects. Texas Chainsaw Massacre II should have been a complement to the original and an improvement also.
Yeah, it SHOULD have been! But . . .
Hooper would later blame the boxoffice failure of TCM2 on the hurry up attitudes of his big-studio bosses but the fact is Mainstream Hollywood got scared once again. Despite the R rating they were worried about parents groups, church groups, teachers, and the other people who confuse zealotry with belief and who consciously think they know best how to rule the lives of other people. Golan was afraid the gore would be excessive and cut out what many people felt were some of Tom Savini's best effects. Luckily, film pirates came to the rescue and the uncut version of TCM2 was made available on video via some grainy bootleg prints.
The killing of the football team in the underground garage is like a gory roller coaster ride of chills and gallons of stage blood, severed limbs, and sheer mayhem. If you look quickly you can even spot Savini doing some of the stunts. The rest of the movie is quite good with Jim Sideow, the only member of the original film brought back for the sequel, chewing up the scenery as The Cook (in 2 movies, his name has never been revealed). Sideow manages to do the almost impossible and steal the show away from Dennis Hopper, whose scene stealing histrionics are legendary. Still, as Texas Ranger Lefty Enright the former Easy Rider gets some great moments. Sporting twin 12" chainsaws in holsters and calling himself "The messenger of God" Hopper almost singlehandedly destroys the amusement park hideout of the Sawyer clan.
Unfortunately the last few minutes of the film are almost a scene for scene remake of the original with Caroline Mac Williams subbing for Marilyn Burns and Bill Mosely doing an impression of Edwin Neal. Leatherface falls in love with Ms. MacWilliams so we get a few scenes of black humour double entendre with him manipulating his chainsaw between her legs like it was his . . .well, you know.
With the Sawyer clan destroyed by a hand grenade it looked like that was the end of the story but in 1987 along came Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Many people, myself included, wondered just how ol' Leatherface could come back since the last time we saw him he was impaled on a 36" chainsaw. I guess this was a different family than the Sawyers who also just happened to have a pea-brained brother who wore a human skin mask and wielded a chainsaw. Coincidence? Yeah, I guess so!
Anyway this new sequel tried to recapture the claustrophobic feeling of the original by setting most of it in an isolated cabin with a family of cannibals (none of this speaks well about the habits of rural Texans) and once again throws in an independent, plucky female (Kate Hodge this time) who is not about to go down without a fight. It also throws in cult hero Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) as a weekend survivalist. The family includes a guy with a hook hand and a sweet little tyke who turns out to be a hundred times more deadly than Rhoda Penmark from The Bad Seed. She even argues that it's her turn to trip the spring loaded sledge hammer that kills one of their victims.
Backed by big bucks from a major studio Leatherface ran into trouble when preview audiences did not like its downbeat ending. Poor Ken, after kicking major butt on the cannibal family, gets his head nearly sawed off by Leatherface and sinks into a bog. Kate thinks she has escapes and is finally able to flag down a police car. Only it isn't a cop in the car it's the last surviving cannibal and the little girl. The movie ends with them just staring at each other, knowing what the immediate future holds. The reshot scenes show Ken miraculously recovering from his head wound (he is sporting just a tiny scratch on his forehead) and driving away with Ms. Hodge. The last shot suggests that ol' L.F. is still alive though and will soon be looking for someone else. TCM 3 was release allegedly uncut on video by RCA/Columbia. Yes, it's uncut but its the uncut THEATRICAL version with the "happy" ending! Once again if you want to see the original ending you'll have to check the various mail order places and settle for a bootleg print.