No other film could occupy this place in The Open Man’s spotlight on movies for Halloween, because no other horror movie — or maybe any movie period — uses the Red River Rivalry as a plot point.
Twelve years after the iconic original, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 opens with two loud, drunk frat boys road-tripping from Austin to Dallas for the Red River Rivalry. A pitfall of sequels, and especially sequels in the horror genre, is that studios insist on replicating the story of the original. Blame this mindset for depriving us of the awesome storyline Tom McLoughlin had planned to follow the fun and hilarious Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.
Well, it’s evident in the first few seconds of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 that Tobe Hooper had no intention of just rehashing the groundbreaking storytelling of his original. The beer-swilling and prank-calling road trip to Dallas and the Red River Rivalry sets the tone for a relentlessly absurd and wildly entertaining 100 minutes.
A viewer anticipating a film similar in style or tone will be disappointed, and possibly even bewildered. I attribute such expectations to the film’s tepid reviews. Here’s Roger Ebert’s assessment:
“Part 2 has a lot of blood and disembowelment, to be sure, but it doesn’t have the terror of the original, the desire to be taken seriously. It’s a geek show.”
In The Open Man’s review of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I noted that many of the film’s frights are a byproduct of the time. The imagery of the original shocked audiences in the early half of the 1970s, but a decade of ante-upping on gore altered viewers’ expectations. Ebert notes the “blood and disembowelment” in the context of the first film’s terror; added to the line “the desire to be taken seriously,” I believe he and others missed one of the integral themes to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 — which is a bit perplexing, considering the movie poster paid homage to The Breakfast Club. That alone is a vast deviation.
It’s not attempting to recreate the frights of the original, nor is it seeking to be taken seriously. The over-the-top violence functions as a pretty spot-on satire of the [d]evolution of the genre in the 1980s.
Remember, TCM 2 hit theaters in 1986, two years after the grim and brutally violent Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter — a film Roger Ebert excoriated.
In the same way the first TCM offered commentary on our dietary habits and the strangulation of small-town America, the sequel effectively lampooned the horror movie genre. Of course, that’s not to say the first movie’s subtext on meat consumption is completely gone from the follow-up. The Red River Rivalry plays a role in that, too.
Whether intentionally or not, the satire on horror is played up in the context of lead villains Leatherface and Chop Top. The duo can be seen as avatars of the two most iconic villains of 1980s horror, with the silent Leatherface as Jason Voorhees (who is, himself, a retread of Michael Meyers); and the trash-talking Chop Top as Freddy Kreuger.
Chop Top is an especially excellent villain, mirroring the role his brother, the Hitchhiker, played in the original. Like the entirety of the film, however, Chop Top amps up the insanity on his performance tenfold. A Chop Top-led spinoff would have been awesome — and a concept was in pre-production in the late 1990s.
Copyright issues prevented the film from becoming a reality, which is probably for the best now. A Platinum Dunes-produced Chop Top movie would completely eschew the comedy and satire, instead making Chop Top gritty and real, with a stereotypical backstory and legion of one-dimensional teenage chodes to off.
I also strongly doubt we’d get a storyline involving the Red River Rivalry.