Posted on August 31, 2020

“Blood Opera”: A Celebration of Stretch Brock

Sara McCartney

Imagine a Final Girl. She’s probably a teenager, virginal, with a hint of androgyny in her haircut, her outfit, or her name. When theorist Carol Clover identified the trope of the Final Girl, she noticed these commonalities, but there was one who was a little bit different. Stretch Brock (Caroline Williams), Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s DJ heroine, is no teenager and no virgin. In his response to Clover, Jack Halberstam called her “the most virile, certainly the most heroic, and definitely the most triumphant final girl.”[i]

Check out the official trailer for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2:

Released in 1986, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is an odd duck of a film. Released twelve years after the original, it traded the groundbreaking first film’s veracity, grittiness, and nihilism for an absurdly comic tone that was very colorful, very silly, and very ‘80s. Clover argued that the parodic style suggested a genre in decline.[ii] Really, the cycle of the horror icon often tilts towards comedy. The more iconic the monster, the more they attract parody, tribute, and marketing opportunities. The monster is domesticated into a sort of postmodern object, accumulating cozy, silly, or commercial associations and declining in scare factor.

Horror franchises have opted to be in on the joke ever since Abbott and Costello started running into Universal monsters, and it’s not unheard of for a franchise’s original creator to refashion the franchise into comedy – think Evil Dead 2 or Bride of Chucky. As Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 director Tobe Hooper insists, the comedy was always there, in the manic dinner scene and in the bitchy bickering between heroes and villains alike.[iii] I understand why fans of the original might not care for the sequel, but to me Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a perfect photonegative of its predecessor, gaudy where the first was restrained, laughing where the first one screamed, heightening the black comedy and dulling the frights in a way that’s more unnerving than comforting.

Leatherface brandishes his brother’s corpse like a piece of gruesome haunted house décor in the film’s violent opening sequence

At the center of it all is Stretch, a rock DJ who accidentally records the audio of a chainsaw massacre when a pair of prank-calling yuppies are sliced down by Leatherface and company. The first film’s final girl, Sally (Marilyn Burns), was among the most ineffectual of her peers, surviving through luck and endurance rather than smarts and savvy. Sally’s opposite, Stretch actively seeks out the film’s horrors. She shares her recording with the vengeful Lefty, a cowboy-hatted Dennis Hopper and uncle to Sally, and follows the murderous Sawyer clan to their hideout. While Lefty has a grudge against the Sawyers for killing his kin, it’s Stretch who becomes the film’s true action hero, slicing her attacker down and, in the film’s final shot, performing a rendition of Leatherface’s iconic chainsaw dance from the original film. As Jack Halberstam puts it, Stretch’s dance “transforms the monster itself into an orgiastic celebration of the queer and the dangerous.”[iv]

Stretch’s Victory Dance (left) & Leatherface swings his chain saw in frustration at the end of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (right)

At times, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 feels like gaudy funhouse reenactment of the original film, such as when it retreads the infamous dinner scene as if out of a sense of obligation. Halberstam suggests that this heightened style “calls attention to cinematic production, its failures and its excesses,”[v] as self-consciously fake as the original was meticulously real. The Sawyers are even located beneath an abandoned roadshow attraction, while the landscape is peppered with knowingly clichéd signs counseling drivers to “remember the Alamo” and other historical battles. The film locates itself in a sort of manufactured Texas, a Texas-as-carnival-attraction. Like horror parodies before and since, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s tone allows it to both break horror rules – its grown-up final girl, its all-male cohort of victims – and render explicit the implicit dynamics of the slasher film.

Stretch and the Sawyers reenact the first film’s climactic dinner scene

Stretch herself is a keenly un-naïve final girl, her operatic terror suggesting a woman who knows she’s playing a part. As Halberstam puts it, “Stretch is a screamer alright, but her screaming is a Diamanda Galas-like soundtrack to her own blood opera.”[vi] So we are treated to scenes of Stretch screaming, hiding, and fleeing but when, inevitably, she can run no more,[vii] she fights back not only with violence but with words, humorously puncturing the script of killer and victim. “Let’s talk about it,” she says to Leatherface (Bill Johnson). “Are you pissed off? […] I’m tryna be open with you. It’s nobody’s fault but I just can’t do this,” reducing the final girl’s flight to parodic lover’s quarrel.

Plenty of slasher films posit a sexually charged relationship between killer and victim or killer and final girl, but Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 abandons subtext for text. In Stretch’s first confrontation with Leatherface, he runs his inactive chainsaw over her thigh and crotch before shuddering orgasmically. No virgin innocent, Stretch recognizes the psychosexual dynamic at play[viii] and eggs Leatherface on, asking him “how good are you?” It’s this savvy that allows her to survive. In another scene, Leatherface places the skin of a victim on Stretch’s face in a moment of apparent recognition and identification between the two,[ix] much to Stretch’s revulsion. But when Stretch leatherfaces herself of her own volition, seizing the chainsaw and reenacting Leatherface’s dance, it is a moment of survival and triumph, repurposing the monster’s iconography for her own use. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, killer and final girl are costumes, roles to be exchanged and negotiated, and Stretch knows it.

None too subtle…

To Clover, Stretch’s triumphant chainsaw dance is “a moment of high drag,”[x] an un-womaning of Stretch for the benefit of the male viewers who identify with her. Halberstam is critical of Clover’s “limiting gender look”[xi] and failure to imagine queer and female spectatorships. One such spectator can be found in Sarah Kurchak, who, as a teenager, recognized herself in Stretch: “I wanted to join her while flailing about in my own ambiguous rage.”[xii] While Kurchak saw herself in Stretch’s gendered anger, there are a multiplicity of readings available of Stretch’s performance. Halberstam insists that “Stretch’s lethal performance of gender with an edge is not high drag but an intense blast of interference that messes up once and for all the generic identity codes that read femininity into tits and ass and masculinity into penises.”[xiii] After all, Stretch obtains her phallic chainsaw not from one of the male characters but from the lap of the family’s mummified grandmother, and her body is titillating and semi-exposed even as it is violent and virile.

This film introduced fans to the iconic Chop Top (Bill Moseley)

So why, for all her humor, her sexiness, her mold-breaking performance, does Stretch and the movie that starred her occupy such an overlooked place in the canon of slasher films and final girls, especially outside of horror scholarship. Though Caroline Williams made a cameo in the franchise’s third film, and though Leatherface’s brother Chop Top, introduced in this installment, is a fan favorite and turned out to be a career-making role for actor Bill Mosely, Stretch herself has never made an onscreen return to Texas. The Massacre franchise has an even messier canon than most horror franchises, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which kills off every character but Stretch, poses a problem for sequels. Perhaps Stretch is just too lethal, too successful a survivor for her own good. As the ever-expanding Halloween franchise reminds us, no matter how fierce a heroine, the killer always has to come back, but Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 ends with Stretch taking Leatherface’s place. Stretch annihilates the slasher formula just as she slashes open Chop Top’s abdomen, and it’s hard to imagine future films in the franchise knew what to do with her. The very thing that makes her so exciting means she just has to be one of a kind.

Shout Factory has released Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 on Blu-ray:



[i] Jack Halberstam. “Bodies that Splatter: Queers and Chain Saws.” Skin Shows, Duke University Press, 1995. pp. 142.

[ii] Clover, Carol. “Her Body, Himself.” Men, Women, and Chain Saws. Princeton University Press, 1992, 26.

[iii] Keith Phipps. “Interview: Tobe Hooper.” The AV Club. October 11, 2000.

[iv] Halberstam, 143

[v] Halberstam, 153

[vi] Halberstam, 142.

[vii] Clover notes that slasher films often feature a “penetration scene” in which the heroine’s hiding spot is invaded by the killer, forcing her to fight back. This scene usually marks a turning point in the Final Girl’s arc. pp. 31

[viii] Clover, 28.

[ix] The identification between girl and monster is a mainstay of horror cinema, as noted by Linda Williams. “When the Woman Looks,” 1984. Horror: The Film Reader, edited by Mark Jankovich, 2002. pp. 61-66.

[x] Clover, 58.

[xi] Halberstam, 143

[xii] Sarah Kurchak. “Nothing Has Prepared Me For The Reality of Womanhood Better Than ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.’” Electric Lit. November 14, 2017.

[xiii] Halberstam, 160.


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