As part of October, the scariest movie month of the year, MovieBabble is looking back at one of the most prominent horror franchises out there: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. The following article is part three of the retrospective. To read part one, click here. If you need to catch up on part two, check it out by clicking here.
In part two we dived into how Tobe Hooper continued (and in this timeline, ended) the Sawyer family saga. We also took an in-depth look at the message of eighties that accompanied the chainsaw bloodshed. Even though I was planning to go straight to the third film in the franchise, I felt that there was still a lot more to say about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
I wanted to dive into the making of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and how it wildly differed from the method-acting insanity that the cast and crew endured in the making of the first one. There was less suffering this time around — the scream queen in part 2 did not need to bleed for real this time (phew).
I also want to pay attention to what the film could have been. Even though I adore this film — it’s the one I’ve seen most of all the Texas Chainsaw movies — I know the film could have been better had it not been compromised by its financiers. Character development, emotional depth and even gory Tom Savini effects were removed to shorten the runtime so there was a possibility for more screenings, and more importantly, more money.
And finally I want to look at Tobe Hooper’s career in general and how he was like many of his 70’s peers, a creative visionary who dared to make risks throughout his career. Some worked, some didn’t. But his contributions to cinema outside of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are unfairly disregarded.
The Difference in Working on a Big Studio Film
To state one obvious reason why it was much more fun working on TCM 2 is that there was more money to spend. Not that there wasn’t any pressure — apparently they had to rush production in order to accommodate Canon’s desired release date — but there’s less stress when you know that money can be thrown at any obstacle. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was not a massive studio blockbuster production, but it certainly was in comparison to the first one.
There was no elaborate prop department during the making of the original film. In order to create the macabre environment — meaning the necessary gore and dead animals — they went to the local slaughterhouse. Even when the flesh of the dead animals began to rot, they had to leave it there. To replace all the props would simply be too expensive. The first film feels more realistic because, well, it is! The filmmakers had no choice. They had to do with what they could afford.
In TCM 2 an extensive crew was hired to sculpt and create the macabre underground layer of the Sawyers. There was no need to surround themselves with rotting flesh. Everything could be fake and still look solid.
Just look at the mask of Leatherface from the first to the second film. The difference is astounding. The first one looks worn-out and dirty; there’s a sloppiness to it. Leatherface is obviously not a master sewing artist. The second one, devised by the great Tom Savini, looks like it was designed by a fashion artist.
This is not a criticism of the sequel, as stated in part 2. The point is that the Sawyers are affluent in this sequel, so this will show everywhere, especially in the beauty of Leatherface’s mask. But it makes a difference to the nature of the film. Since Hooper wanted to make a dark comedy, the film is superbly successful with this idea at its core.
But if he wanted to recreate the terror of the first film, I don’t think it would have been possible, because the desperation and madness that imbued the making of the first one was gone.
Marcus Nispel’s 2003 remake came remarkably close yet it still missed the grit of the original. No matter how good the performances are or how gruesome the surroundings, the polished quality on the screen does ultimately influence the horror you feel — but more on that in the future.
In a big studio film, you can hire the most organized people to make a shooting schedule. In a low-budget movie, you will have to make do with crewmen with less experience and this can cause massive delays — and ultimately money. Hooper had none of the restraints of the first film and thus he was more relaxed. (Not to mention he was much more fun to be around.)
The Man Who Loved his Montecristos and Dr. Peppers…
In the documentary It Runs in the Family, the cast and crew reminisce lovingly about Tobe Hooper. They talk about how he was always open to listen to the suggestions of the cast and crew. He would allow for reshoots simply because he had so much fun watching the performers do their thing.
They’d talk about his smoky voice and how he’d always be chomping a Montecristo cigar and gulping down endless cans of Dr. Pepper. His love for Dr. Pepper was so infamous that Tom Savini even bought him a beer hat, putting Dr. Pepper liquid in it instead of an adult beverage so he could constantly drink while having his hands free.
Bill Moseley was especially doting of Hooper. This is understandable since this film was his first break and he had Hooper to thank for being in the movie. Hooper had seen his short film, The Texas Chainsaw Manicure, which parodied his classic film. This silly little movie impressed Hooper so much that he created the character of Chop-top especially for him. Hooper trusted Moseley so much that he permitted him to improvise much of his dialogue. Many hardcore fans of the film consider Moseley’s performance to be the highlight.
The film also gave a major boost to Caroline Williams’ career and both her and Moseley became horror icons because of their involvement in this film. But besides the boost the film gave the people involved, Hooper’s open attitude to the cast and crew’s ideas led to a great environment for creative minds. They were not just in the mercy of a meticulous director, they were being listened to, they could bring in their own ideas. They felt compelled to do their greatest work. Savini himself considers his work on the make-up of Grandpa as one of the best works of his career.
What Could Have Been…
For all my love for TCM 2, I do sometimes have to consider what could have been, especially knowing all the scenes that were drastically cut from the film. It’s hard to choose what’s the most tragic cut. There were many little scenes, such as humorous dialogue between the Sawyers, that I’m sure most fans would have wanted in the film.
But even gore was cut out, and not even to appease the MPAA. Canon, a film company that was already struggling to make ends meet then, wanted to suck as much money from this TCM sequel as possible, so they ordered the film to have a 90-100 minute running time just so they could have more showings of the film in theaters. These gory deleted scenes would have seen Leatherface and Chop-Top collecting their ‘meat.’
In the film we only saw two poor yuppies getting on the wrong end of Leatherface’s chainsaw. Originally many more would have found their doom during the Sawyer’s nighttime hunting session. A lot of great Tom Savini effects were removed from the film in the process. A neat cameo from midnight movie critic Joe Bob Briggs — scenes that Briggs had apparently written especially for the film under consultation with Tobe Hooper — was also cut.
But perhaps the most tragic cuts were the scenes establishing Lefty and Stretch’s deeper relationship. While there’s enough reason to care about both characters in the film, I do think these scenes especially could have strengthened the emotion during the finale. Seeing the affection Lefty has for Stretch at the end, as he sees her being held hostage to the Sawyers would have been so much more effective.
In these deleted scenes, it would have been established that Stretch was Lefty’s illegitimate daughter. It would have become part of the film’s theme surrounding family. It would have given, as Caroline Williams and co-screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson confided in the It Runs in the Family documentary, a lot of heart. But Canon didn’t care. They were the money-men and their decisions mattered the most in the end. This subplot was cut out, and though the end result is still something to treasure, I think a lesser movie was the result.
Several of these deleted scenes could still be found in DVD releases but I still hope to have a different cut one day, with these deleted scenes restored in HD glory and added into the movie. It would be the ultimate version of TCM 2, closer to Hooper’s original vision of the movie.
There’s very little chance of this happening, but who knows. If Clive Barker’s original cut of Nightbreed could come out, then why not this version of TCM 2?
An Ode to the Great Tobe Hooper
Perusing through memorials of Tobe Hooper written after his death, there seemed to be a definitive trend: he had reached his cinematic peak with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All other films that followed under his direction pale in comparison.
It would be an opinion recycled by many. They would cite his blunders — such as The Mangler or Djinn — as examples of how the great director had fallen. After the eighties, he would slowly tumble from mainstream attention.
His horror brethren still managed to make an impact in the nineties, sometimes even in the twenty-first century. Wes Craven managed to do this with his Scream franchise. The renewed interest in zombie-horror films gave George R. Romero a chance to do three new Living Dead films.
There would be no hit for Hooper like that. No memorable return to form. For many, it seemed like Hooper was closer to a one-hit wonder. A horror-director version of Orson Welles, you could say. He reached his creative heights too early in his career. Many articles surmise that Hooper simply wasn’t a great director. Even his contribution on Poltergeist is dismissed, with articles stating that any successful element of the film is all due to producer Steven Spielberg.
While there’s no denying that TCM is his most influential film, the one that most people will remember, I think his Canon films are greatly under-appreciated. It shows a cinematic talent that didn’t just get lucky with his one low-budget film.
There’s no simple answer, however, about why Hooper never managed to make something as memorable as any of his Canon films, but it is easy to speculate about these things. During my research I came across one ludicrous article stating that he never was that good in the first place. The idea was that he just got ”lucky” similar to how Lucas got lucky with Star Wars or M. Night Shyamalan got lucky with The Sixth Sense.
Bret Easton Ellis always said that writers have a limited amount of work in them. Some have fifty books inside them, some have only a few. Perhaps Hooper’s creative base ran dry. Perhaps he had lost his edge. Perhaps it was old age.
Perhaps it was also personal issues. Hooper had been struggling with addiction issues. Hooper, like so many of his time, fell victim to the snowy glaze of the eighties. There were reports of regular substance abuse issues, leading to studio conflicts — rumor was that him leaving the director’s chair of 1981’s Snake-thriller Venom was a subject to one of those cases.
Personally, I think it has more to do with the kind of artist he was. He was someone who truly belonged in his era. Similar to how George A. Romero had struggled to make an impact outside the seventies and eighties, Hooper just couldn’t find his way inside the corporate system of Hollywood. He a true blue-independent filmmaker. He thrives by playing outside the system. If you let him play, he might create something beautiful.
But in order to make him thrive, producers needed to make chances with him. That’s what Canon did. Outside his Texas Chainsaw sequel, all of his movies lost money — and even the financial prosperity of TCM 2 was underwhelming to projections.
Hooper’s films simply stopped making money. And when your movies stop making money, that’s when Hollywood stops returning your calls. And when Hollywood stops returning your calls, it’s not easy to continue making the movies you want to make. You have to make compromises.
I don’t think Hooper’s career outside the eighties was a failure. I think he has made plenty of entertaining films outside of this era, and I think the word “failure” is being thrown around too loosely anyway. When it comes to movies, it’s hard to predict the end result. You might have the perfect formula, all the right talent and money to make cinematic magic happen. And yet, the result might still be painful. We’d all be lucky to have had his creative freedom, to be in charge of so much amazing talent and be able to deliver such amazing cinematic projects.
But I do think that TCM 2 was his last great film. And if that movie had made money and had been better understood, perhaps the discussions surrounding the second half of Hooper’s career might have been kinder. Great films come and go and they are not always understood. TCM 2 was one of them.
He could have gone the easy way many times, but throughout most of his career, he just continued making the kind of movies he loved. While he was certainly not a consistent director, I think the greatness he left behind outweighs any of his supposed lackluster efforts. If any of us could contribute to any art-form like Hooper did, even with films like Funhouse, Salem’s Lot, Lifeforce, Poltergeist, Invaders from Mars, and yes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, we’d all be so lucky.
In part 4 we will take a look at the second sequel of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, when the rights were in the hands of New Line Cinema. Yes, the house that Freddy built.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise? Comment down below!
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