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Scream Factory release: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2”

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Welcome to another Scream Factory blu-ray release review. This time, we’re chomping at the bit to write about the 1986 sequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. The Collector’s Edition set was released on April 19th, 2016

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Packaging

This being a high-end Scream Factory effort, the studio has offered the works. The 2-disc set (there are so many supplements included that most had to be shipped onto a second disc!) arrives in a blu-ray case in which the discs are housed on each of the interior panels. The paper slipcover is, as per usual, reversible. The interior showcases the film’s satirical theatrical poster that emulates the 1980’s classic The Breakfast Club, whereas the front cover features brand new, commissioned artwork that aims for more of a horror-centric angle. It’s quite detailed and beautiful, so to speak, highlighting a key scene that arrives late in the film. The same original artwork adorns the cardboard slipcover. Overall, it’s a wonderful product to hold in one’s hands.

 

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The feature presentation

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2

Written by L. M. Kit Carson

Directed by Tobe Hooper

U.S.A., 1986

Set 12 years after the first film, the plot kicks in when a radio DJ ‘Stretchy’ (Caroline Williams) listens live on her rock and roll request show as two annoying yuppies that called in are hacked to death by old Leatherbreath himself (Bill Johnson, who puts in a surprisingly effective comedic, physical performance). She soon makes the acquaintance of a renegade Lieutenant, nicknamed ‘Lefty’ (Dennis Hopper), who has been tracking the Sawyer family for years since they killed some of his relatives. While initially reluctant to work with Stretchy, Lefty eventually gives in, knowing that she could come in handy against the likes of Leatherface, his brothers Chop Top (Bill Moseley), a mentally unstable war veteran, Drayton (Jim Siedow), who is also the business oriented brains of their operation, and decrepit grandpa.

Few would argue against the original Chain Saw Massacre as being anything but a classic of the horror genre. Its influence lasted for decades afterwards, still reverberating today when horror movies opt for grimy, gritty, gross-out realism. With respect to the sequel, which was filmed and released a full 12 years later, the debate is still wide open. It has been equally lambasted and praised, sometimes for the very same reasons, such as not paying one iota of respect to the tone of the original. This goes far beyond the Alien vs Aliens debate. True, those films venture into different genres overall, yet they adhere to a recognizable tones and aesthetics. Massacre Part 2 is truly nothing like its predecessor.

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For one, Tobe Hooper, who has gone on record stating that the original is peppered with elements of dark humour (many have struggled mightily to pinpoint said moments), is willing to embrace the premise’s inherent preposterousness. While the first film successfully depicted how nightmarish an encounter in no man’s land with a family of cannibals would be, the fact of the matter is that the movie featured a collection of off-kilter, crazed individuals, one of whom has the head-scratching proclivity of wearing his victim’s dried facial skin as masks and wields a chainsaw. The potential for schlocky silliness is sky high, with the filmmakers fully acknowledging and giving in to said zaniness for the 1986 followup. Subtlety is tossed into the garbage bin in favour of slapstick, wild colours emanating from bright lights, obnoxiously loud characters, and a potential love angle between dear Leatherface himself and one of his potential victims. For those that hold the tone and attitude of the original near and dear to their hearts, fearful of anything that would tarnish its reputation, stay far and clear from Massacre Part 2.

Does such a stark departure hurt the film and its legacy? Yes and no. To be painfully honest, it depends on how the filmmakers play their cards, and in this case the results are a mixed bag, if maybe mildly pushing towards the positive side of things. For starters, the second half features a wealth of genuinely excellent set design. After setting up the characters of Lefty and Stretch in locales that resemble the real world, director Hooper transports the action over the Sawyer family’s underground lair, resting beneath an abandoned theme park celebrating the great battles Texas has been involved in throughout its history. Through a combination of clever cinematography, clever editing and serious dedication from the production crew, the Sawyer domain is quite a thing to behold. Both awash in shadow and weirdly lit with the help of a legion of multi-coloured Christmas-like light bulbs and candles, the cavernous headquarters is a feast for the eyes, to say nothing of the ostentatious decorations, most of which appear to represent odes to the family’s previous kills. It looks fantastic and gives the film a considerable jolt after a somewhat pedestrian first half. The entire cast seems to feed off the location’s energy, with everybody putting in committed performances. It’s all proverbially turned ‘up to 11’, but unquestionably committed.

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Much has been written and said already about Dennis Hoppers participation in the endeavour. He is, simply put, a fascinating thespian to behold in Tobe Hooper’s playground. Starting the film off as a Texas Lt. that looks to be somewhat serious about the investigation into the chainsaw murders, Lefty eventually transforms into a bull-headed, one-minded wreaking ball, much like Leatherface himself, only that Lefty is out to stop the villains rather than kill innocents. Once again, the most obvious adjective that comes to mind is ‘committed’. Is it an actually good performance? Under the circumstances, given the sort of film Hooper has concocted…maybe. Jim Siedow as Drayton, the award winning chef (if only the judges and public knew what the secret ingredient of that chilli was!) practically steals the show. Drayton is a hard worker, earning the family all its funds, unlike dunderheaded Leatherface and deranged Vietnam War veteran Chop Top. He takes his business seriously and has plenty of pride to spare. From the vitriolic insults he launches at his two useless brothers, to his adamant claims of being, as a small businessman, constantly given the shaft by forces greater than himself, Siedow chews through his dialogue, pun fully intended.

On the topic of Drayton’s hateful claims of always receiving the short end of the business stick, perhaps that is where Massacre Part 2’s secret genius lies. From a political and economic standpoints, the 1980s are revered by some, and reviled by others, especially from people living in Great Britain and the United States. Cultures of excess, very right-wing governments, countries opening up their borders for trade that often aided the establishment, maybe there is something to Drayton’s ramblings after all, about how unfair life was back then, how the ‘little guy’ often got swallowed whole by the economic policies that ran rampant back then (and still do today, in many respects). No one will start arguing that Drayton is not as bad as he looks, but the loon just might have a point. Beneath the outlandishness lies some food for thought, cannibal-style.

 

Video and audio

Freshly peeled off facial skin never looked this good on blu-ray. When Scream Factory invests in a Collector’s Edition set, many of the project’s aspects pay of handsome dividends, the picture often being one of them. Preserving the ever-important film grain, the new 2K scan from the interpositive negative print gives Massacre Part 2 new life. The inherently vibrant colour palette sings in this 1080p transfer, and all the stomach churning details of effects guru Tom Savini’s work are glorious to behold, if one likes to see the sorts of images Hooper’s film has to offer. The level of detail is very strong throughout, as is the level of sharpness. Frankly, one might be forgiven for believing the film was shot much more recently than 1986. That’s how impressive this new transfer is. It’s absolutely disgusting.

Praise can be sung for the audio track as well, provided one can hear any positive feedback over the roar of Leatherface’s weapon of choice. The DTS-Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is an expertly balanced, finely tuned beast. Dialogue is never overtaken by sound effects or the music. Screams are piercing, crashes boom, evil laughs produce shivers down one’s spine, and the chainsaw effects will make the viewer look behind to make sure Leatherface hasn’t paid them a visit in the living room. Little else can be said about the blu-ray’s technical merits other than that Scream Factory has treated the film with tremendous care.

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Supplements

There are some blu-ray release that call into question why they are labelled as ‘collector’s editions’ at all. Last year’s Mad Max and the recent Death Becomes Her are two such examples, both light on extras nor featuring transfers that are significant improvements over previous editions. Then there are the likes of Escape From New York, Halloween II, Prison, and Army of Darkness that make one simply utter ‘woah’. Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 can now be added to that second list.

Frankly, an entire weekend would be required to properly dig into each and every one of the blu-ray’s supplements. As previously stated, Scream Factory has gone the full nine yards for Massacre Part 2, requiring a second 50GB disc to house most of the extra content. In fact, one would need the equivalent of an entire 8-hour work day just to be done with the first disc. Anyone familiar with Scream Factory bonus material knows full well that the studio strives to create informative and entertaining supplements, so any fears that the endless list of content written on the back of the packaging represents but 3 or 4 minute fluffy featurettes can be safely put to rest.

For starters, one can watch the film once in its new, beautiful 2K scanned transfer, then 3 more times for each audio commentary track, one of which is new to the release. A conversation between director Tobe Hooper (who is a very laid back, soft-spoken individual) and the DVD producer of the original release, a tripartite conversation between actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special effects artist Tom Savini, and finally a track with a quartet of guests: D.O.P. Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, script supervisor Laura Kooris, and property master Michael Sullivan. Not done there, disc 1 has about 30 minutes of interview outtakes that were cut from a documentary housed on the second disc, deleted scenes, promotional trailers, and an alternate opening credits sequence (although it has not been remastered and looks quite terrible).

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Assuming that doesn’t satiate one’s thirst for behind-the-scenes content, because why would it, move on to disc 2! The aforementioned documentary, titled It Runs in the Family, lasts just shy of 90 minutes (in standard definition, sadly, but still a quality look at the making of the film.), a new high-definition collection of interviews culled together with the makeup artists that worked on the film (this lasts about 45 minutes), new interviews with the two actors that play the doomed ‘yuppies’ in the opening sequence (18 minutes), a new interview with the film’s editor (17 minutes), and a new episode in the running series Horror’s Hallowed Grounds in which charismatic, affable host Sean Clark revisits the shooting locations (25 minutes). Lastly, Scream Factory tossed in the old HD master that was used for the original MGM blu-ray release from a few years ago. It’s a curious inclusion given how vastly superior the new Scream Factory transfer looks and sounds, but one supposes completists will be happy.

If anyone can get by all of that (yours truly listened to the Tobe Hooper commentary, watched the outtake interview bits on the first disc, the alternate credit sequence, the effects and makeup interviews on the second disc, the first half of It Runs in the Family and the Horror’s Hallowed Grounds episode), there can’t possibly be anything left to learn about the movie! The Criterion Collection does this for wonderful foreign, art house masterworks. Scream Factory does it for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. ‘Best of both worlds’ type of set-up, if you will.

 

Final Scream

As far as the package itself is concerned, Scream Factory delivers what might be considered one of their best blu-rays ever, and one that could comfortably fit in a top 10 home video releases list by the year’s end. With regards to the film, well, that depends on what one wants in a Chainsaw Massacre movie. If no-nonsense horror is what pushes one’s buttons, then perhaps the Tobe Hooper directed sequel is not the cup of tea to seek. If one appreciates gaudy, schlocky, irreverence decorated with horror ingredients, then the film is right up one’s alley. Even if one is not entirely sold on the movie, but can appreciate at least certain aspects, the blu-ray is still a worthy addition to their library given the care and effort Scream Factory has invested.


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