Twelve years. That's how long it took sequel-obsessed, cheap horror-obsessed, and above all in the '80s, horror sequel-obsessed Hollywood to release a follow-up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Six years after the slasher floodgates opened, five years after the sequel boom started with Friday the 13th, Part 2, five years after Halloween II, and even three years after Psycho II. It wasn't until 1986, deep into the slasher movie's first period of irrelevance, that the world finally got The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It was not worth the wait.

The story goes that Bryanston Distributing, the company that released the original in 1974, went out of business rather quickly after that film came out (but not before depriving the filmmakers of nearly all their rightful income), for the very good reason that Bryanston Distributing was a Mafia front. That led to the exact clusterfuck of ownership issues that you'd expect it to, and the upshot is that nobody actually owned the rights to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the turn of the '80s. Exploitation filmmaking abhors a vacuum, and it came to pass that the sequel rights were picked up by Cannon Films, the company owned by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.

Golan-Globus, or the Go-Go Boys, are legendary figures in the history of American independent filmmaking, and I could not possibly do their legacy justice in the space of twice this review. The part that's important for TCM 2 is that they were famous for making desperately cheap action movies that completely sucked, and grabbing the sequel rights for any unwanted properties they could pick up for a few bucks. In a remarkably prolific life spanning most of the '80s, Cannon was responsible for such deathless work as American Ninja, Cobra, Death Wish 3 and the infamous Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. The fact that their stab at TCM 2 should turn out to be wretched therefore isn't a surprise. The surprise comes elsewhere, and it's one of the great cautionary tales of how not to make an '80s horror movie.

In a nutshell, the creators of the sequel to a film noted for its savage depiction of a family of cannibals decided that the best approach to take would be if they made their new film a comedy, and that is exactly how it was written by L.M. Kit Carson (the co-writer, impossibly, of Paris, Texas). That's the first half of the problem. The second half is that Tobe Hooper came back to direct, after twelve years of surpassing gruesome and punishing horror flicks (and Poltergeist, a PG-rated collaboration with Steven Spielberg that is surely one of the strangest combos of filmmakers ever), and it turned out that he didn't have the first idea how to direct a comedy.

The idea of a funny TCM sequel isn't ipso facto a terrible idea. Deliberately funny slasher movies exist, and a couple are even supposed to be pretty decent - I haven't seen them, and thus cannot comment - and the notion of a filmmaker returning to his greatest triumph with the specific intent of reworking it in a completely new tone and style is maybe even a little bit exciting. But TCM 2 isn't funny, in a particularly aggressive manner: the whole movie shrieks and whoops and plays for the seats behind the back seats with the biggest, zaniest humor that Cannon's money could buy (the killers drive a car with a woogah-woogah horn, for Christ's sake), and at every step of the way it's powerfully unamusing, and when super-duper wackiness is unamusing, it feels like having nails driven into your ears. And since TCM 2, rather oddly, doesn't even attempt to work as a horror film above and beyond the comedy - every last gore scene is played for a laugh - there is absolutely nothing to distract us from the sheer misery of watching oblivious clowns cracking awful jokes.

The film opens with a sure sign that we're in for a long haul, bad comedy or no: it has an opening crawl that flatly contradicts the first movie. There, we were told, the events that took place over Sally Hardesty's very bad day led to "the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history." Now we find out that Sally Hardesty-Enright (the name change serves a false purpose: Sally's uncle is a character in the new film, but for all it matters he could have just as easily had the last name "Hardesty") fell into a coma right after reaching the cops, who could never find the least trace of a cannibal clan in the back country, and apparently, "officially, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre never happened." Has any good sequel ever started by getting the details of the first movie wrong? Or just the crappy cash-ins?

As the film proper gets going, the huge gulf between the first film and the second is revealed in all its glory. Perhaps you remember how TCM started with a terrifying whirlwind tour of the obscenities done at a graveyard. Well, TCM 2 starts with two awful kids (Barry Kinyon and Chris Douridas) harassing a radio DJ on their giant '80s car-phone. Long story short, they're tying up the phone lines at KOKLA (Where four call letters just aren't enough!) during the genre-defying show hosted by "Stretch" Brock (Caroline Williams) and produced by L.G. McPeters (Lou Parry) when their road-hogging ways lead them to the wrong side of a battered pickup with a man in a ramiliar leather mask standing in the bed, wielding a chainsaw and a dead body as a kind of giant puppet. The film's only actual slasher-type moment occurs when Leatherface (now played by Bill Johnson, whose presence is incalculably less than Gunnar Hansen's) chops the driving kid's head off during a physically unlikely car chase. Stretch and L.G. get the whole thing on tape, and are helpless as it airs live.

The next day, at the site of what is being called a "car accident," we're introduced to rogue cop "Lefty" Enright (Dennis Hopper, whom we cannot in good faith say is slumming here), the only lawman in the state who actually believes in the clan of chainsaw cannibals. (My God: "Stretch", "Lefty"; we must be in Texas!), and Sally's aforementioned uncle. His actions there bring him to Stretch's attention, and she tries to play him the death tape: for a reason that can't even be explained as trying to pad out the screenplay, he demures.

Undaunted, Stretch and L.G. head out to report from the site of the state chili championship - KOKLA (Where four call letters just aren't enough!) apparently being so popular that they can't even afford both a DJ and a reporter - where the reigning champ has been re-crowned. The victor is a certain Drayton Sawyer, recognisable to us as the dad from the last movie, particularly since he is still played by Jim Siedow, the only returning cast member. To me, that's the second clue not just that TCM 2 is going to be a bad movie - the way that the wacky opening scene focused on jokes [sic] instead of the great Tom Savini's make-up effects already proved that - but a bad sequel: it takes as its launching point the almost invisible moment from the first film where Drayton sells the kids some chili with, as we find out soon enough, human meat in it. That brief scene is transformed here into the Sawyer family chili empire, which is apparently known throughout Texas.

Oh, and his name is Sawyer, get it, Sawyer, aren't they clever, oh God I hate everything.

We find out pretty quickly that Drayton's has another son that we never saw in the first film, Paul "Chop Top" Sawyer (Bill Moseley, who'd actually have something like a career in the years following this film, including a hefty role in Rob Zombie's TCM-inspired duo, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects), and he is insipid. In a film already unwisely unbalanced with mirthless comedy, Chop Top is the comic relief, a 'Nam vet with a metal plate in his head and a demeanor like a caffeine-addicted howler monkey. I imagine that he's supposed to have the same unhinged lunacy of Edwin Neal's hitchhiker from the first movie, only funny this time. He does not. He is the worst part of a film not suffering for worst parts.

At Lefty's request, Stretch plays the death tape on the radio every hour, with the apparent FCC-defying rationale that a request isn't the station's responsibility. Tomorrow, I want you to call up your local Radio Disney affiliate and demand that they play "Fuck Her Gently". They'll have to do it - it's a request! Standards & Practices can't touch that!

Um, anyway, so for her troubles, Stretch's workplace is invaded by Chop Top and Leatherface, who kill L.G. in a long, long scene played for maximum laffs [sick]. Leatherface falls in love with Stretch, though, and leaves her while letting his brother think that she's dead. This gives her the opportunity to follow them to their secret underground base hidden on the premises of the abandoned Texas Battle Land theme park, and for Lefty (who we saw earlier buying a whole bunch of chainsaws in the only scene that actually dragged a laugh out of me in the film) to follow her.

That gets us almost exactly to the half-way mark of a 101 minute film. What remains is so endlessly repetitive and completely stolen from the earlier film, it makes you want to cry, vomit, or both at the same time. Stretch falls into a room full of grisly trophies and is found by the Sawyers, where she is taken to the now-traditional Dinner with Grandpa (Ken Evert), while Lefty runs around the caverns screaming and destroying support pylons with his chainsaws, hoping to bring down the Sawyer compound. That's it, for fifty minutes. This is easily the worst part of the film, where Hooper's unquenchable eye for terrifying set design (the mummified corpse of Grandma would have been at home anywhere in the first TCM) and the story's essentially nihilistic contours crash against Carson's silly, empty-headed script and Hooper's evident belief that noisy bellowing = teh funny. It fails according to every measure that can be taken.

Frankly, it's hard to figure out what's going on here. "A comic film about a DJ and a rogue cop chasing a family of psychotic cannibals to their underground lair" isn't the plot for any movie ever made to rake in piles of money, yet Cannon was nothing if not a company devoted to the sure thing at the box office. It's not a slasher film by even the most generous definition of that term (well, if "a violent horror film made in the '80s" is the most generous definition, then it is, but let's be reasonable) and it takes as its protagonist a thirtysomething woman, two rather unconventional tricks for a horror film of the period to play, if the goal is a cash grab, as TCM 2 so plainly was. I don't even know that we should call it a horror film; the comic elements are at least as pronounced. It's a weird chimera that shouldn't be, and since it most obviously is, it's just awkward to look at.

It's not even well-crafted; Daniel Pearl's revolutionary cinematography has been replaced by the anonymous proficiency of Richard Kooris, who apparently retired for 19 years after this film came out; Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell's punishingly minimal score has been replaced by Hooper and Jerry Lambert's upbeat, synth-heavy music that feels like a cross between a Mega Man soundtrack and 1960s pornography.

The very best thing I can say about TCM 2 is that it doesn't work, but it doesn't anti-work, like the worst of the Friday the 13th pictures. The acting, camera, lighting, scenery, are all serviceable, within the confines of what Hooper and Carson's script required ("Act like a moron. Showcase people looking like morons to the best of your ability.") It would be, at worst, a tedious '80s mediocrity, if only it weren't the sequel to one of the masterpieces of the '70s; I might go so far as to say the gulf between TCM and TCM 2 is the biggest drop in quality between two consecutive films in a series in the whole history of the cinema. Try as I might, I can't find a single positive thing to say about this film, which is the worst of many worlds, all of them painfully dissonant.

Body Count:: Eight, twice the original; except that four of them are caused by a single grenade, off-screen, and still only 25% are from a chainsaw. It's not like The Texas Cannibal Massacre wouldn't have sold tickets, Tobe.

Reviews in this series
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper, 1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Hooper, 1986)
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (Burr, 1990)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (Henkel, 1994)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Nispel, 2003)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (Liebesman, 2006)
Texas Chainsaw 3D (Luessenhop, 2013)