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Movie Review : 'Chainsaw 2' Abuzz With Even More Gory Horror

August 23, 1986|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2" (citywide) is a piece of coolly calculated outrage. It's Tobe Hooper's sequel to his legendary low-budget slash-and-shriek shocker of 1974, in which a family of demented butchers and chainsaw-wielding maniacs went on an 83-minute rampage against the hapless hippie picnickers who'd stumbled into their bloody midst.

It wasn't a film for gentle sensibilities: The horror was too incessant, the humor too weird. Neither is the sequel, which is even wilder, gorier--and funnier. Here, the chainsaw Sawyer family members have seen their murderous hobby grow in profit and respectability. Now, passers-by are chopped up as the secret ingredient in their prize-winning Last Roundup Rolling Grill chili.

Pursued by the obsessive Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), uncle of their previous victims, and an intrepid lady deejay, "Stretch" Brock (Caroline Williams)--who caught one of their atrocities on a radio call-in tape--the Sawyers are holed up in a carnally creepy abandoned amusement park which they've festooned with skeletons, entrails and the remnants of dozens of cadavers. In this obscene bone bin, the kill-crazy clan, gibbering and sawing away--and complaining, like many other small entrepreneurs, about taxes and the strangulation of family businesses--makes its last stand against forces of justice and revenge scarcely less crazy than they are.

Is there any excuse for watching a movie like this? Well, yes--though if this synopsis makes you squeamish, you'd better stay away. This is one horror movie that delivers the goods--and then some. It's the kind of movie where good taste isn't merely thrown out the window, but shredded, stomped and spit on. (The film, from which the MPAA demanded extensive cuts, has been released unrated and no one under 17 is to be admitted.)

But it's done with such style and energy, such bursts of red-hot invention and anarchic, madly irreverent satire that sometimes it almost scorches you out of your seat. Kit Carson's screenplay--defying anyone's notions of proper slasher-movie sequels--is a wicked sendup, not only of some half-mad Texas byways but of horror movies in particular and modern American culture in general. And even of sequels. (It ends like the first, but with the scale pumped up into lunatic grandiosity.)

Carson co-wrote "Paris, Texas," where he helped reveal a landscape as desiccated as Antonioni's--an arid desert of the soul. This movie shows the hell below the desert: a brutal arena of cars, radios and battery-operated weapons, a world without limits, of unrestrained appetites and savagery, consumption gone cuckoo.

Seizing this vision, Hooper directs it with more sheer confidence and gusto than anything he's done since "Poltergeist," and his cast spews a manic comic drive. Hopper does a hilarious mad hero, a chainsaw-wielding Captain Blood. Williams is so lively and personable, you flinch when she's in danger. The Sawyers themselves--Bill Johnson as Leatherface, Bill Moseley as Choptop, Jim Siedow as Cook--are loathsomely comic creep-lords of a super-vile kingdom.

The movie occasionally descends into vile taste. It even has a couple of those habitual recent horror movie flaws: the "idiot plot" scenes. (Why does Stretch follow the killers into their park, alone and unarmed?) But, as with the original, Hooper digs right into the down-home craziness of the situation and, buoyed by Carson's stream of gonzo wisecracks, takes a poker-hot prod at conventional notions of progress and civility. Most slasher and horror movies are obscene jokes. At its best, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2" is a joke on the obscenity around it. It carries movie nightmare, innards writhing, right into the belly--and the belly-laugh--of the beast.

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