Color, 1986, 100m.
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson, Ken Evert
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Arrow Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), MGM (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1986, 100m.
Twelve years after the massive commercial success of The Texas Chain Saw Masscre, director Tobe Hooper returned to his old stomping grounds for the inevitable sequel courtesy of an unexpected company: Cannon Films, who had been ripping up the box office with Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson hits and even courting respectability with the Oscar-nominated Runaway Train. Following the successful but controversial Poltergeist, Hooper entered into a multi-film deal with Cannon, with this film falling in between a pair of ambitious and completely insane sci-fi films, Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars. Cannon had high hopes for this sequel (which switches Chainsaw to a single word), and press coverage heavily emphasized the participation of both makeup effects maestro Tom Savini and acclaimed screenwriter L.M Kit Carson (Paris, Texas), as well as the film's proclaimed desire to make satirical mincemeat of the selfish yuppie generation. That last aspect was almost entirely removed from the final product, but the result was still a surprising mixture of extreme black comedy and baroque horror that confused many fans at the time but soon accounted for its substantial cult following. Increasibgly, the film also earned an X rating from the MPAA so staunch they insisted there was no coherent way to cut it down, and censorship hassles plagued it in many other countries as well (with many outright banning it). The unrated theatrical release proved to be a disappointment at the box office, but the film has since become warmly regarded by horror buffs with a reputation that seems to get better every year.
Though the state authorities have refused to acknowledge the rampage of Leatherface and his family, the ensuing years have been filled with strange incidents of people vanishing in the more remote areas of Texas. The crisis hits a fever pitch when two obnoxious yuppies are attacked by a marauding truck, and the entire ordeal is heard through a cell phone by radio DJ "Stretch" Block (Williams, giving one of the best scream queen performances of the decade). Meanwhile Lieutenant "Lefty" Enright (Hopper) has had enough with the law's incompetence and decides to hunt down the cannibalistic clan himself. Leatherface makes an appearance at Stretch's radio station, along with his manic Vietnam Vet accomplice, Chop Top (Moseley). However, thanks to a crafty bit of manipulation by Stretch, Leatherface realizes his chainsaw might have other uses than carving flesh... The whole twisted scenario winds up at a massive underground, bone-laden hideout where the family, led by the first film's Cook (Siedow), has constructed a profitable chili business selling fresh, peculiar meat products.
Shot on one of the most notorious rushed schedules in history thanks to the brilliant folks at now-defunct Cannon, this film suffered from literally having script pages stuffed under doors every night during shooting. Under the circumstances, Hooper and Carson pull out a few showstopping sequences and some hilarious one liners, mostly from Moseley in a scene-stealing performance that has to be seen to be believed. The film's third act can't help but suffer from its repetitive scenes of people (one of them noticeably lacking skin) sulking around underground, but it manages to rally up again for a memorably daring finale that plays a game of explosion interruptus and makes especially memorable use of the Texas flag for its final shot. A major factor in the film's current popularity may also be the fate of the franchise in the following years, with some inferior sequels and a wholesale, multi-film desecration from Platinum Dunes in the '00s making it clear just how daring and ahead of its time Hooper's choices here really were. Weirdly enough, this film was also ripped off wholesale in the Platinum Dunes remake of Friday the 13th courtesy of the underground lair and maniac seduction scene, which has to be one of the more peculiar examples of genre plagiarism in recent memory.
The video history of this film is a bit weird, so just bear with this for a bit. The much-loved Media issued this on VHS in the U.S. in its full unrated form, and a later VHS edition from Video Treasures appended 11 minutes of extra footage from a longer VHS workprint that had been floating around on the collector's circuit. Most of it details the Sawyers' night of yuppie hunting with the Joe Bob Briggs cameo, which was much touted at the time but failed to materialize in the final cut (though John Bloom's name stayed in the credits). The first DVD in 2000 came from MGM in the US and the UK (where it with only a trailer as an extra, though the anamorphic transfer was the best to that point (even if the Ultra Stereo audio didn't fare remotely as well). In 2006, MGM revisited the film as a special collector's edition (the white cover with the chainsaw art) containing new excellent new audio commentaries, a solo one with Hooper (moderated by David Gregory) and a second with Moseley, Williams, and Savini (moderated by Michael Felsher), which is very rambunctious and useful if you want to pick up on all the little in-jokes tucked away throughout the film. The Hooper one is more sedate and production-oriented as he walks through the process of writing and directing the film, essentially with a Cannon Films gun to his head. Then there's the whopping 81-minute documentary "It Runs in the Family," which features Carson, Moseley, Williams, Bill Johnson, actor Lou Perryman, Savini, and more, which walks through the entire process of the film from conception through release. Essential stuff, and it's especially great to get Carson on the record about the sometimes backwards nature of writing the scripts with some scenes written in after they'd been filmed! Check out Williams' thoughts on the range of screams she had to develop for the film, too. Also included are the trailer and deleted scenes, back after several years of unavailability, along with an alternate, more atmospheric unused concept for the opening titles.
MGM eventually got around to releasing a Blu-ray of the film in 2012, essentially porting over the extras from its second DVD edition verbatim to support a new HD transfer of the film itself. The improvement over the SD predecessors was significant, though a significant amount of damage and debris still popped up at times. A cleaned-up version of that same source was utilized by Arrow Films for the title's Blu-ray debut in the UK in 2013, which ports over all of the extras from the MGM Blu-ray (two commentaries, doc, trailer, and deleted scenes, but the three-disc edition (which features a DVD as the third disc) packs some new goodies on its first Blu-ray as well. A 13-minute "Behind the Mask" interview from Red Shirt Pictures with Leatherface stunt man Bob Elmore, who ended up acting some of the more indelible scenes in the film (sometimes in unbearably humid weather), has some pretty revealing stories about hauling around that heavy chainsaw and doing the dance scene with Williams. The 29-minute "Still Feelin' th Buzz" features an insightful appraisal of the film's charms by Stephen Thrower, who's always worth watching. However, the main reason to grab this release for Region B-capable fans in the second disc, an amazing treasure trove of Hooper's early work. What's on it? Hooper's silent (music-only) 1965 short "The Heisters," the very elusive counterculture feature Eggshells from 1971 (which is pretty incredible if you love experimental films from this era, with lots of visual motifs that would be explored in 'Saw), an audio commentary for the feature with Hooper and Louis Black, a High Rising video interview with Hooper about his cinematic salad days, and a hefty trailer reel for pretty much everything Hooper directed up until his more recent straight-to-video work. The first limited edition also comes with a 100-page bound book with essays by John Kenneth Muir, Joel Harley, and Calum Waddell.
However, that British release turned out to be far from the final word on the subject. In 2016, Scream Factory tackled Hooper's splattery sequel with a two-disc Blu-ray edition that compiles almost every preexisting extra while packing in a heavy dose of new bonuses and no less than two different HD transfers, one per disc. The first Blu-ray contains a fresh 2K scan of the film from the interpositive, and it looks fantastic. The improvement here is substantial with skin and clothing textures reading more clearly, and most significantly, the color temperature is more natural with some of the heavily saturated redness of the older HD version now dialed back to look closer to the film's 35mm appearance in theaters. (Check out the comparison frame grabs below from the older version.) The main audio options her are 5.1 DTS-HD MA and 2.0 DTS-HD MA, with the former sounding much punchier. In addition to the preexisting audio commentaries by Hooper and the cast and Savini, there's a frank and often very entertaining new one with director of photography Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, script supervisor Laura Kooris, and propery master Michael Sullivan. They don't pull any punches about the stress of the actual production, especially when it came to the demands of Cannon itself, while Williams sounds like she got a much rougher ride than one might assume from her own commentary. The main video extra on disc one is 30 minutes of unused footage with the late Carson and Perryman from the making of "It Runs in the Family," including some fun sound bites about winning a big award at Sitges, meeting Golan and Globus, discovering unlikely fans including Kathy Bates, the connection betweent his film's soundtrack and Pulp Fiction, the disastrous first week that had to be reshot, the pitfalls of drinking coffee through a straw, how to hock a loogie on camera, and much more. Also on the first disc are six still galleries (B&W stills, behind the scenes, Jason Guy's personal candid, color stills, posters and lobby cards, and some very cool special effects behind-the-scens shots (with Savini aplenty), the U.S. and Japanese theatrical trailers, and over three minutes of TV spots. Tucked away in a "More Bits" menu option are a 43-minute(!) raw reel of behind-the-scenes ootage, the discarded opening title sequence, and the familiar 11 minutes of deleted scenes.
On we go to the second Blu-ray, which features the older, DP-approved HD transfer, presumably to avoid a Halloween-style situation with people constantly debating over the merits of multiple transfers. Audio options are the same 5.1 and 2.0 options with English subtitles. There's also a substantial amount of new video material here kicking off with the 42-minute "House of Pain," an in-depth look at the effects team of the film working under Savini with Bart Mixon, Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale, and John Vulich recalling the production process (which afforded the rare opportuity to create everything on-site in Austin) with plentiful making-of footage offering some context. If you want to find out how they did the "yuppie head slice," look no further. Helpful hint: be sure to watch all the way after the end credits! In the 19-minute "Yuppie Meat," actors Chris Douridas (ironically now a KCRW radio host!) and Barry Kinyon recall their brief but unforgettable role as Leatherface's first victims in the film, from current Malibu realtor Kinyon's transition to this from modeling (not surprisingly) through the turbulent process of learning their lines as they were being rewritten on the spot. Both are great storytellers and seem to remember every single thing from their experience on the film; terrific stuff. Editor Alain Jakubowicz gets his say in the 17-minute "Cutting Moments," which actually turns out to be a rewarding slice of Cannon history as he talks about working on the Israeli hit Lemon Popsicle through numerous Golan-Globus productions in America including Invaders from Mars and The Delta Force. There's also another "More Bits" option here housing the older extras, in this case the full "It Runs in the Family" doc, a 24-minute "Horror's Hallowed Grounds" revisit to the film's Texas locations (some hilariously different than the way they're shown in the film), and the "Behind the Mask" Elmore interview. Needless to say, if ever there was a good case for double dipping, this insanely stacked edition is it.
OLDER HD TRANSFER FRAME GRABS