SUMMER SEQUEL-A-THON 2015

PART ONE: WHO'S LAUGHING NOW?
 
Following up a popular film for one reason or another is a process that can often have mixed results, as this little movie marathon shows. It's to be expected a lot of the time with horror and schlock that another movie will end up being a let down - that spike in quality on part two which leads to the third entry dropping the ball doesn't happen that often when things are not planned out. While we touched on this before in the last b-movie excursion, that was generally made up of one-offs and stories that don't have the loose ends to ever receive a part two. Others were just too strange to need one... But that doesn't always stop sequels arriving, so let's get right into some of those which just couldn't be left alone.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a ridiculous movie. While the original has always been known for a its low budget grit and overall grim atmosphere, Tobe Hooper either wanted to try something new rather than repeat himself, or felt that his ideas about dark humour had been lost because of the bleak tone. This time around he went all out to provide a film which is almost completely absurd with the violent moments being part of a film packed with garish 80s colours and scenery chewing characters. The presence of Leatherface was previously rather unnerving but now he's turned into a cartoonish oaf who dances about while waving his chainsaw. Seriously, check out that hip movement.

Likewise the other cast members are all trying to outdo each other in the overacting stakes, with the father of the cannibal clan shown to be obsessed with winning prizes and gaining profit from his secret recipe chili. His other son Chop-top is some kind of brain damaged hippie complete with a metal plate in his head covered by a bad wig. Just in case you missed it they have him scraping bits of skin from it with a coat hanger in every scene. A local radio host comes across their murder spree and soon turns into another screeching heroine, while Dennis Hopper provides an unhinged police sheriff so obsessed with catching the gang he decides to beat them at their own game by arming himself with even more chainsaws than they have. It's not something which really works as a horror movie, but it's always entertaining for just being so out there. But it's also easy to see why Cannon films who wanted a repeat of the first movie, might have felt a bit let down.


In a similar case of shifting tones, Basket Case 2 goes in a direction which is slightly different than its predecessor by proving a lot more overt comedy. While the first feature was a revenge story that could have not been any less grimy feeling, this time around it's a lot more out there as Duane and his twin brother are taken in by a home for others sharing similar physical disadvantages. Rather than aim for realistic prosthetic appliances and makeup, this consists of a wide array of different designs which results in a lighter feeling to the story in which they fight off those trying to exploit or expose them as freaks. Like the original there is still an undercurrent of social satire but this focuses more directly on standards of normality, something which the protagonist eventually struggles with once he starts to feel that he doesn't belong with the group who are hiding away from reporters and other prying eyes.

Annie Ross is great as the friendly aunt running all of this, particularly when she gets in the mood for retaliation against the less unsympathetic characters. Kevin Van Hentenryck is not exactly a great actor but he's still fine within this story. It frequently becomes absurd and the general theme of humanity being skin deep is basically one-note but it's generally fun without going to the more extreme measures of the original. The lack of bite may be work for or against it depending on what you're looking for but it keeps the premise from being stale.


On the subject of rehashes, Child's Play 2 doesn't do that much different to the original, at least to begin with. And while in Basket Case 2 the return of the title character is pretty far fetched after their apparent demise the first time around, the reconstruction of Brad Dourif's killer doll is even more absurd with the count down of his plastic body turning to flesh apparently being reset. But that didn't stop them doing the same thing a few more times in this series. That being said this is a lot of fun, Chucky is still an entertaining character, poor Andy is still traumatised by the murderer's attempts to steal his body, and everyone else does their part before they become toy fodder. It's all pretty well made with some good horror direction and practical effects, you know from the opening shots that they are putting a decent effort into a silly premise.

The first half or so is pretty much the same kind of thing as before, with the emphasis on atmosphere and sudden murder scenes. It's still a slasher despite the fantasy elements. But the unexpected turn into madness towards the end is what makes this memorable. Escaping their foster home the heroes find themselves in a factory for the Good Guy toy itself, and things get out of control with assembly line machines making for some great set pieces. Like the other movies mentioned here this point is where the turn into comedy takes hold, but it works as a finale. Alex Vincent is still a fair child actor, and his new friend Kyle does the whole teen girl with attitude thing without being irritating. And it's much more imaginative than the third installment. Hi-de-ho!


Last, but not at all least it's impossible not to talk about Evil Dead II when listing films in which horror and comedy go crashing into one another. The Evil Dead itself did have that descent into madness right at the end as crazy music started playing and blood poured from the pipes, but aside from some hammy actors they weren't aiming for real laughs from what I could tell. This time around the creatures are more ridiculous, the characters are more overblown and the violence becomes nonsensical as litres of green and black goo are sprayed across the set. While there is still a clear lack of budget things are done with more finesse and it's easy to see why everyone thinks of this entry when looking at the series. With flying eyeballs, possessed hands and chainsaw montages, how can anyone forget it?

Bruce Campbell holds the film together having to act by himself for a considerable part of the running time, with slapstick and crockery smashing coming to the fore. It stalls a little when the other visitors to the cabin arrive but once Ted Raimi makes his appearance as the possessed Henrietta it gets going right away and makes for some of the best moments. A few scenes have been remade as the footage from part one was not available, and while I prefer the mirror gag in the original most of this works better as a recap. It kind of goes without saying but this remains one of the easiest examples to cite of part two being the best in a trilogy or franchise - or how to redo what came before with more imagination and skill; even if most will have a soft spot for Army of Darkness when the sinister atmosphere has been replaced altogether. In this they have the balance perfected.

(Part 2) (Part 3) (Bonus)