Retrospective: The Buzz Remains 35 Years After ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2’ By Shawn McKee

In 1986, director Tobe Hooper released the last film in his three-picture deal with Cannon Films, a follow-up to his 1974 landmark horror tour de force, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Like many of our modern horror greats, the 1980s gave Hooper his most consistent and impressive output, unmatched in proceeding decades.

The success of Chainsaw launched Hooper from independent filmmaking to mainstream studio productions. He directed the well-received TV miniseries of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1979), the atmospheric carnival slasher The Funhouse (1981), and the Steven Spielberg-produced supernatural horror classic Poltergeist (1982). Spielberg tapped Hooper to direct primarily from the visceral strength of Chainsaw, presenting Hooper with the challenge of directing a movie Spielberg had intended to make himself but couldn’t due to contractual obligations with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Controversy over “who really directed the film” aside, Hooper proved to be undoubtedly the right choice for Poltergeist, and the evidence lies in his body of work.

Hooper’s deal with Cannon Films was something of a blessing for the former adolescent movie lover who spent his childhood in Austin theaters, absorbing everything he could. In two short years, he made three big budget movies with complete creative control. Unfortunately, Lifeforce (1985), his apocalyptic science-fiction epic, and Invaders from Mars (1986), a remake of the 1950s film of the same name, failed both critically and financially upon their release. This left Cannon with one last hope to cash in on the movie that had made their star director. They wanted a sequel every bit as harrowing and unsettling as the first one, and most importantly, just as successful. What they (and we) got was something completely different, a deranged sequel parody courtesy of Hooper and screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was a film Hooper initially only wanted to produce. Making a sequel more than a decade later to his most seminal work was a feat itself. He eventually took the helm and presented the cannibalistic Sawyer family in a modern setting. In the film, Leatherface & company have since moved underground thirteen years after the original massacre. But, as the opening title crawl tells us, “Reports of bizarre, grisly chainsaw mass-murders have persisted all across the state of Texas.” The story begins on a bizarrely satiric note that never lets up throughout the film’s all-out assault on unsuspecting viewers.

Hippies from the original have been replaced with obnoxious eighties yuppies, two jocks, on their way to see an Oklahoma-Texas (OU) football game. The blitzed yuppies shoot passing signs and scream and giggle hysterically as they call a local radio station with their bulky car phone to harass on air DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams). They soon reach a bleak end after playing “chicken” with the wrong pickup truck along a desolate Texas highway. Inexplicably unable to hang up, Stretch listens in horror as Leatherface (Bill Johnson) dispatches her two pesky callers with his massive chainsaw. General mayhem ensues with comic gore effects by the legendary Tom Savini and accompanying music by Oingo Biongo. Their song “No One Lives Forever” decidedly separates the sequel from any notion of being a straight horror film. Unbeknownst to the killers, Stretch records audio of the slaughter and keeps it as evidence.

The highway aftermath sees the arrival of Dennis Hopper, portraying Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright, a former Texas Ranger. Lefty is obsessed with finding the Sawyer family and avenging the death of his wheelchair-bound nephew Francis (from the first film) and maiming of his niece Sally, the lone survivor. Hopper was the movie’s biggest star at the time and would solidify his comeback with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet later that year. Discovering the tape on hand, Lefty convinces Stretch to play the incriminating audio on air to “lure” the killers out of hiding. Meanwhile at the state-wide Chili Cookoff, Drayton Sawyer “The Cook” (Jim Siedow, the only returning cast member) has established an enterprising business from his family’s ritualistic killings and processing of human meat. Drayton later hears the recorded audio of the highway murders and sends Leatherface and “Chop Top” (Bill Moseley) to the radio station to eliminate the problem.

The tense confrontation between Caroline Williams and Bill Moseley is perhaps the movie’s most “nuanced” moment, followed by an ingenious jump scare that launches a chainsaw wielding Leatherface from the shadows and roaring into the room. Stretch screams, runs, and hides as her radio technician L.G. (Lou Perryman) is comically slaughtered by Chop Top. Leatherface then corners Stretch and uses his chainsaw in a perverse and overbearingly phallic manner. She survives their encounter by coaxing him into simulated chainsaw sex, and the rest is cinema history.

The movie screeches into its third act with Stretch making another inexplicable decision to follow the Sawyer family to their hideout. Lefty trails her and admits that she was used to discover where the Sawyer family is hiding. The two are separated as the movie plays out in the catacombs of Tobe Hooper’s twisted sensibilities. Lefty arms himself with multiple chainsaws and battles Leatherface in the only chainsaw duel of its kind.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was not well-received when it first came out. It also had the misfortune of being released at a time of unadulterated MPAA tyranny, where slasher films were rubber-stamped with X ratings to no avail. Hooper chose to release the film unrated, similar to George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985). In both cases, horror fans are fortunate to not have to track down uncut versions thirty years after the fact. Such a move took guts, and frankly, the movie is not that violent. There are maybe three on-screen deaths, some casual bloodletting, and a grotesque moment involving a skinless L.G., but it’s hardly worth the fuss. Call me desensitized, but there’s nothing in the film that warrants an “X.” The movie ends on the same chaotic note it began with, portraying Stretch manically dancing around with a giant chainsaw, having survived her own traumatic brush with death.

Chainsaw 2 defines subjectivity. Critics hated it, fans were disappointed, and the movie failed to achieve the success Cannon was hoping for. They wanted a horror film and were given a black comedy evident by the movie poster’s parody of The Breakfast Club (1985). It’s a mad film, equally unsettling as the first, but with an entirely different tone. Roger Ebert called it a “geek show” in his one-star review. Other critics said that it only proved Hooper’s “contempt” for the original. Leonard Maltin gave the film a “Bomb,” saying, “Frenetic overacting and attempts at black humor sink this mess.” It’s a polarizing but no less memorable film. Hooper wanted to bring the comedy he felt existed in the first one to the forefront. In the process, he unleashed an insane commentary on modern times.

Hooper could have easily made the same movie again. Instead, he created something unique beyond the countless mind-numbing sequels, remakes, and reboots. It’s a film that embraces chaos, absurdity, and schlock to its lasting status as a cult favorite. Sadly, Hooper passed away in 2017, leaving us with one less pioneering auteur. We didn’t just lose a horror icon, we lost a talented filmmaker with an uncompromising vision, something rarely seen today.

Retrospective: 25 Years Since ‘The Frighteners’ First Freaked Moviegoers By Jesse Striewski

The ’90s – especially the mid-to-late ’90s – were a unique time indeed for cinema when it comes to horror films; The Silence of the Lambs paved the waved for more ‘sophisticated’ thrillers in the beginning of the decade, while typical slasher franchises originally led by the likes of Freddy, Jason, and Chucky, were laid dormant to make way for the more realistic meta-horror of the Scream franchise and all its numerous copycats. As a fan of both horror films, and Michael J. Fox since his Back to the Future and Family Ties days, I was eager to see this new intriguing horror flick with him in it (something he had not yet attempted to do), and was at the theater to watch it with friends within its first couple of weeks of release (see original ticket stub photo attached below). What ensued was nearly two full hours of dark, brooding insanity, and big budget, zany chaos.

Before it there were also the more surreal horror flicks that bordered on equal parts fantasy, and silliness. Films such as Leprechaun (1993) and Brainscan (1994) stretched one’s imagination while taking liberties with reality as a whole. When Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners was released on July 19, 1996, it definitely ticked many of the same boxes as said previous films, yet in its own unique way. Author and Rewind It Magazine contributor Shawn McKee commented on the film; “The Frighteners is one of those films that has gotten a lot of reevaluation over time. It was both a precursor to (film director) Peter Jackson’s mainstream success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the rise of the Weta Digital and the Weta Workshop, the New Zealand (where the film was also filmed) special effects company co-founded by Jackson.”

He continued; “Upon its release in ’96, the scare trailers that followed made little mention of it as a Peter Jackson movie, who was still unknown at the time to most audiences. It was instead marketed as a supernatural comedy by Universal Pictures and Robert Zemeckis, the film’s executive producer. The trailers also struggled to explain what the movie was even about. This most likely led to its brief theatrical run, low box office performance, and eventual second chance on home video.”

Original 1996 ticket stub from the author’s personal collection

The plot is fairly simple; Fox plays Frank Banister, an ex-architect turned ghost hunter who uses the help of a trio of spirits (played brilliantly by John Aston, Chi McBride, and Jim Fyfe) that only he can see to con locals into believing they have an actual haunting. Things start going awry once would-be client Ray Lynskey (Peter Dobson) mysteriously drops dead (among many others), and his widow Lucy (Trini Alvarado) immediately enlists Frank’s services to solve what happened. Further complicating things for Frank is an aggressive detective (Jeffery Combs) dead set on proving Frank had killed his own wife years before, a newspaper editor (Elizabeth Hawthrone) hell-bent on proving Frank’s a fake, and other spooks like Master Sargent Hiles (played by the late R. Lee Emery in a role which emulates his Full Metal Jacket performance from 1987) disgusted by Frank’s chosen methods.

It turns out that Frank is not the only one with the power to see those from beyond; local patient Patrica Bartlett (Dee Wallace) has been helping her long deceased lover Johnny (Jake Busey) continue his killing spree from beyond the grave for years, and along with a little help from his ghosts and Sheriff (Troy Evans) Frank and Lucy have to put an end to the twosome’s rampage once and for all. In an October 2020 interview, Wallace revealed to me what it was like to play a villain in place of her usual squeaky clean “mom” roles; “Oh God, I had so much fun doing that! I love exploring all of the different sides of me, and the psyche, and I just loved the arc of going from the little victim, to becoming the killer towards the end!”

The Frighteners was far from a runaway hit; grossing just under $30 million on a $26 million dollar budget, it received a lukewarm reception from moviegoers and critics at the time. Though it had the potential to become the Ghostbusters of the ’90s, it was too “out there” for the casual viewer to “get;” too dark for the family friendly crowd, and not gory enough for the usual horror fanatic. Still, a quarter of a century after its release, it remains a stepping stone in Jackson’s flimography, and worth a revisit, whether it’s your first time ever seeing it, or fifth.

Album Review: Danz CM – The Absurdity of Human Existence (Channel 9 Records)

By: Shawn McKee

Like a young, earnest Trent Reznor, Danz utilizes technology to arrange, produce, and sometimes mix music all her own, while embodying an abundance of influences, to include Gary Numan, Thom Yorke, Blondie, Depeche Mode, Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, and beyond. She also has a clear passion for film, pop culture, and science-fiction, notably reflected in most of her work. Her numerous music videos often reach cinematic heights, as seen in the grainy, glitchy magnum opus “Fuzz” from her debut album, “Davos.”

Danz CM reemerged last March with the release of a new album, citing the name change from Computer Magic as one of growth. The album title is anything but subtle and was purportedly conceived during a low point in the artist’s life. This is mostly the case with good music in general. “Absurdity” leads us on an introspective journey through uncertain times. There are a few standouts, with some minor lulls in an album that remains consistently fresh and unique. Danz CM delivers a symmetrical ten-song lineup at just under forty minutes, where no song sounds the same.

The opening track, “Idea of You” immediately launches into a thumping, electronic beat over layed with pulsating synth loops and distant guitar strumming. She sets the tone with, “I don’t want another… heartbreak on my record” and proceeds to pick up the pieces of a fractured relationship. The song’s arrangement is near perfection and offers an accessible sound that should pique the interest of any casual listener. The second track, “Domino” quietly delves into the struggles of love. Here, Danz displays a rarely heard vulnerability, further exploring themes of confusion and melancholy. The song deploys a litany of direct and indirect questions, such as, “How can I be so weak / How could you let me fall for you / How can I let you in, over again.” It’s an appropriate second track but far from an album favorite.

A cosmic slow burn follows of overlapping synth waves in the equally somber, “My Other Self.”The otherwise mellow song has a lot going for it, including disillusioned lyrics combined with a spacey sound. “You’re just a distraction… From myself,” repeats the chorus, as though the situation at hand has grown old. “Low” proceeds with some impressive electronic arrangements and keyboard layers wrapped in lyrics of paranoia and confusion, this time involving someone waiting for their lover to return. “You’re not the only one missing something…You’re not the only one.”

The album reaches a midway high point with the dance-oriented, Bjork-sounding “Don’t Stop,”where Danz channels her inner Debbie Harry. Her harmonized vocals are strong throughout the infectious tune. The isolating sadness of “Breaking Point” follows in a winding sonic fashion that recalls an 80s movie synth score. The Cars-sounding “Something More” picks things up again, with a cruising rock beat that’s fun and catchy. The lyrics convey a yearning beyond the ordinary while “working at a restaurant,” for little return. This seemingly harkens back to Danz’s own early days in NYC while attending college. I initially dismissed the song, only for it to grow on me later.

“I Don’t Need a Hero” is as a real standout and one of the best songs on the album. The rock-induced, synth-pounding ballet charges forward with industrial-sounding fervor. Danz takes no prisoners in her escape from the “monster” she’s left behind. “I don’t need a hero,” she says with a tone of finality, “It could never be somebody like you.” The song also represents her uncanny ability to layer catchy pop tunes with depth and emotion, a technique Kurt Cobain reportedly admired about The Pixies and wished to emulate.

The album winds down with the big band, disco-sounding “Not Gonna Stand By,” erupting in a plethora of strings, an intense, funky bass line, and fast, tight drums. Its undeniable groove is reminiscent of Abba, ELO, and KC and the Sunshine Band mixed into one. The lyrics and music present a more optimistic side of her existentialist journey. “I won’t hurt you, I won’t leave you, I won’t make you cry / But if you don’t let your guard down, I’m not gonna stand by.” Seems like a fair compromise to me. “Human Existence” is a touching and beautiful closer. Its simple, synth-driven aesthetic feels like something created at the edges of the earth… after the apocalypse. Powered by haunting lyrics and impressive vocals, the song offers hope amid a crumbling world. “Hold me…Hold me tightly.” It’s a fitting end to an enjoyable album that doesn’t outwardly hammer its appeal. It takes a few listens, like many albums, to draw you in. As a fan of electronic music in general, her music resonates with me. But I also believe that there’s a lot here to offer anyone who can appreciate it

Rating: 4/5 Stars