Here’s the funny thing about trying to tackle a big movie-watching project like this starting in September: the movies appearing on streaming change wildly when October finally hits. So, when it came to watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, I wound up running into a few problems. It wasn’t streaming anywhere for free, so I figured I’d buy a copy. The Blu-ray I grabbed on Amazon wound up not playing on my player, so I rolled over to FYE and got a DVD copy. This doesn’t sound like an epic journey, per se, but it took about a week! And now that movie’s streaming on both Hulu and Amazon Video.
This particular five pack of films all came out in 1986 and 1987 and features only one franchise kick-off accompanied by four part 2s. Only one of those sequels features the original director returning and only one could avoid the label of “bonkers” in my opinion. Let’s jump in.
As mentioned above, I started this group with Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. This one famously features Tobe Hooper returning and diving deeper into the dark humor he (and apparently no one else) saw in the first film. It was also a Cannon picture, which meant that — as anyone who’s seen Electric Boogaloo knows –the budget got axed during production. I’ll be diving into this one a little more heavily because I’ve never actually written about it.
Anyway, the story revolves around Dennis Hopper’s Lefty trying to find the Sawyers for what they did to his niece and nephew in the first film — Franklin and Sally. He soon meets up with Caroline Williams’ Stretch, a DJ who inadvertently recorded one of the Sawyers’ murders during her show. Eventually they both come into conflict with the murderous family and even wind up at their new home, an abandoned theme park that they’ve updated with their corpse-oriented design style. Craziness and nods to the previous installment ensue.
I wasn’t sure how I would react to this one because it had been so long since I’d seen it, but I really liked it. It’s such a wild turn to go from seeing Drayton’s shift from being this wolf in sheep’s clothing in the first one to a goofball out in the world winning chili cook-offs with his people infused recipes. I’m not overly familiar with Hooper’s films, to be honest, but I like how he embraced the humor and insanity of these characters and just went with it.
In comparing this film to the others, this one features a lot of interesting firsts. It’s the first to feature a protagonist in this film looking to avenge victims from the first. I would also say that it’s one of the most wild jumps between the feel and tone of a classic film to a sequel that’s considered more of a cult classic. I get why some people wouldn’t dig it, but I’m all in.
The 1987 films kicked off with the January release of The Stepfather, though I’m now realizing that that’s the LA premiere date and there was an actual wide release on June 5. I first saw this film, directed by Joseph Ruben and starring Terry O’Quinn, the captivating Jill Schoelen and Shelley Hack eight years ago and really enjoyed it. I still find it a tight, well-crafted thriller with a killer cast that takes you on a wild ride.
Looking at Stepfather in the context of these other films, I’d say it’s a bit of an outlier. In and of itself, I’d probably lean more towards calling this one a thriller instead of a full-on slasher, but the franchise element puts it in that category easily. It’s also worth noting that we spend a lot more time with the killer in this one compared to the others. Oh, and while there is a kid element in the form of Schoelen’s teen girl trying to figure out the deal with her stepdad, most of victims come from the adult world. Finally, this film also features a family member seeking revenge on his dead family members, but it’s from that incredible opening scene instead of a previous film. He does seem more pointless to the plot the more I think about the story, though.
1987 continued with a strange release of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 in April. I was probably looking forward to watching this Lee Harry-helmed film the least of the bunch, not because it doesn’t have a weird charm, but because I actually gave it a watch last December and had just seen the first one a few weeks prior. Here’s the great thing about this film, though, especially if you just watched the first installment, you can just fast forward right through all the re-used footage, of which there is a ton.
This one’s about Eric Freeman’s Ricky, the younger brother of the first film’s Billy. He’s locked up because, well, crazy runs in the family. He recaps much of the film — even scenes he couldn’t possibly remember given his status as a baby — while in an asylum because he went on one of the wildest rampages in film history. SNDN 2 is basically known for two things, the aforementioned reused footage and Freeman’s…unique delivery, often accompanied by some of the most pronounced eyebrow work ever seen on screen. I actually like this movie, but would recommend just watching it instead of the first to get the full effect.
I’ve actually written about the next film, Slumber Party Massacre II TWICE before, once in 2008 and then again in 2010. Like a lot of things in my life that I may not have liked much or even laughed at in my high school or college days, this Deborah Brock-helmed film become strangely nostalgic now that I’m halfway through my fourth decade.
As far as the project goes, this one marks the first time a slasher franchise decided to switch gears so completely by not only making the killer supernatural, but also aping a different franchise. In true Roger Corman fashion, the first one echoes Halloween while this one jumps into full-on dream killer Freddy territory with pretty good results and some impressive gags. Along those same lines, I find this 50s greaser Driller Killer wildly un-scary. It’s hard to look past the silliness of his dance moves, but if you do, you also scratch your head at why the filmmakers went with that particular archetype — already 30 years old when this film came out — instead of the far more socially relevant punks or metal heads of the day. I’d actually find it really interesting to dive a little deeper into the connections between these two films and how a young girl’s perception of horrifying events may have created this creature in her mind that became so powerful that it could invade the real world.
And finally, we have Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2, directed by Bruce Pittman. This movie was actually filmed as its own thing with any connections to the first film — like the setting of Hamilton High — being either coincidental or added in later. That explains why there’s no reference to the events of the first film and it goes so far to build its own mythology about a free-spirited girl in the 50s who got murdered and now haunts the halls of her old school.
With that in mind, this film features far more connections to Carrie and the Nightmare on Elm Street films which makes it easy to draw connections between this film and Slumber Party Massacre 2 which also seemed to jump between types of horror films between parts. Unlike it’s fellow ’87 release, though, this one features a well-made synthesis of those elements that makes for a wild, fun ride.
That sums up these next five movies pretty well, I hope. I realized that doing this kind of a project without the three main franchises that inspired so many followers and copy-cats makes it a little difficult to make obvious comparison points because my memory’s a little fuzzy on them, but it’s still interesting to see how these films worked off of one another and how even very similar elements in films can come off as wildly different thanks to performance, execution, editing and even score or sound design.