1986 / Director. Tobe Hooper.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Barmy. Absolutely bonkers. Bat-shit crazy.
In 1986, twelve years after the original film caused a worldwide stir, Tobe Hooper returned to Texas, with the aid of Cannon Films, to deliver a sequel to one of the most infamous films in cinema history.
This time, armed with a budget (and Dennis Hopper), Tobe Hopper opted to approach the film as an out-and-out black-comedy (something he says the original film was, though overshadowed by a grim, ultra-realistic verite lens) and a black-comedy he delivered indeed.
It sees the murderous Sawyer family on the run and taking refuge under an abandoned carnival where they continue to wreak bloody pandemonium on Texan society. It's only renegade (and possibly clinically insane) Federal Marshal, Lefty (Dennis Hopper), believes the family are still alive and responsible for the unexplained blood-letting and makes it his duty to track the Sawyers down and bring them to justice with the help of radio DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams).
Much like the abandoned fairground the family inhabit, part 2 is full of fun, bright, eye-popping, hallucinogenic imagery one minute and throws you neck-deep into a shadowy, grim, nightmare territory the next, a far cry from its predecessor's relentlessly stark and brutal oppressiveness.
This installment exists in a realm of utter hyperbole. Any sense of realism that may have followed on from part 1 has been abandoned. Naturalism has been left at the door - of another house. Elsewhere.
Every performance is a caricature in Tom Savini make-up effects. Indeed they are pushed so far outside the spectrum of normal it becomes a lunatic convention that can only be comical and farcical; it's no accident the Sawyer family live under a broken down carnival.
TCM is Hooper's bread and butter so it's interesting to see his evolution as a filmmaker, something that's evident in almost every scene. While the previous installment was like a brick to the face, here, in part 2, his boldness comes from his finesse in the film's quieter moments. Scenes are played out in single takes, his grasp of pace is more even-handed and his ability with actors is much clearer, even if they are anything but natural.
It's not all severe though. There are, believe it or not, laughs to be had even if they do end up being pitch-black in nature. If it's not the satirical stabs at Texas redneck culture then it's the family dinner recipes of 'eyeball pâté'. And all the while the movie is bloody brutal. That's what we've come to expect, isn't it? Given TCM2 has the reputation it does (until fairly recently it was banned in Germany, Australia and Great Britain to name a few), is it as bad as they would have you believe? - The answer is 'yes'.
Even now, 30yrs later, it still pushes boundaries. This, arguably, isn't a film that would ever be greenlit in today's climate. By anyone. Ever. It isn't remembered as fondly as it should be, and that's a shame. Fortunately the fans remember it. The fans remember the 'saw is family'.