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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Dark Sky Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/16/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/22/2014
In my recent review forNeighbors, I wrote about how some movies break the mold and everything which comes after is simply a pale imitation. Few American films have achieve this feat like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Despite the fact that the film is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, every week I get a press release for a new movie which offers nearly the exact same plot as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "A group of people go into a rural area for weekend fun and run afoul of dangerous locals." is the general synopsis of these films and many have attempted to put their own spin on it, but they are all clearly derivative of the original. To celebrate the milestone of the movie's fourth decade of existence, Dark Sky Films has released what may be (for the time being) the definitive edition of the movie.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre introduces us to a group who are traveling across Texas in a van. Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair-bound brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain), want to visit a cemetery in the area, as there have been news stories about vandalism and they want to ensure that their grandfather's grave is intact. Along for the ride are Jerry (Allen Danziger), Pam (Teri Mcminn) and Kirk (William Vail). Following their trip to the graveyard, the group heads for Sally and Franklin's ancestral home. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal), who says some very bizarre things and then assaults Franklin. Once they reach the abandoned house, the group splits up. Jerry and Pam wander off to investigate a strange sound in the distance and find themselves knee-deep in a nest of psychopaths, which sets off a chain of events that will affect everyone in their group.
Yes, this is seemingly the millionth time that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been re-released, but given the number of wannabes (not to mention the pointless remakes and reboots) which have come along over the years, it's important to re-visit the movie. I can still clearly remember the first time that I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I had worked myself up, convinced that it would the goriest movie ever made, and when that was far from the case, I was disappointed. I then watched the movie again and began to see the brilliance which Director/Co-Writer Tobe Hooper and Co-Writer Kim Henkel infused into the movie. First of all, I think that when most people think about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, they remember a cheap-looking, amateurish movie, but this is inaccurate. While it's true that this is a low-budget movie, Hooper proves that he truly had a good eye for visuals and he overcomes the budget by saturating the film with moving camera and odd angles. Simply look at the long shot as the hitchhiker is picked up or the way that the camera follows Pam as she leaves the swing. Hooper is using these shots to shape our view of the events in the movie. And, let's not forgetting the film's enigmatic opening, which has "arthouse" written all over it.
Secondly, while the movie may not be the gorefest that little Mike was expecting, it remains one of the most disturbing movies ever made. Hooper and Henkel achieve this by letting things build slowly. The movie is never boring and there are enough beats in the first half to keep the viewer interested. But, what begins as odd, with the opening sequence, continues to get weirder and weirder, as Hooper creates a real sense of dread. However, it's the finale which really drives the point home as we realize that the family is truly insane and they don't value human life on any level. Leatherface is often lumped in with Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kruger, but the family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is something completely different. They may be over-the-top, but these are real people, who live to kill and cannot be reasoned with. In fact, they seem confused when the victims beg. This, combined with the brutality of the third act, really help the movie to get underneath your skin. The movie also manipulates us with the Franklin character. As he is in a wheelchair, we should feel sorry for him. But, he's such a whiny, annoying character that we begin to hope that he becomes a victim, which creates an odd sense of guilt in the viewer.
I'm sure that there are plenty of young people who view The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as an "old movie", but it's a very important movie. It was a keystone in creating the modern "Cinema of Fear" and it forever changed our view of backroads. Why hasn't Tobe Hooper ever been able to re-create the total package which he brought to the movie? That's a discussion for another time. The important thing here is that forty years later, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues to be a powerful movie and a great example of DIY American filmmaking spirit.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre shakes things up with that window-washing guy on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Dark Sky Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. This release has a new 4k digital transfer. I feel certain that many devotees feared that this would clean the movie up too much, as the film's look has a lot to do with its effect. I'm happy to say that it did not. The picture still shows a noticeable amount of grain. This is an inherent by-product of the movie being shot on 16mm film. The big difference here is that the colors are very bold and that the nighttime scenes are no longer overly dark. It almost seems odd to be able to see what is happening during the chase through the woods. The level of detail is good, although some shots do look soft, and there is a nice sense of depth here. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz an and average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Unlike many "re-constructed" tracks, this one actually provides some surround sound, most notably during the chase scene. The film's odd score also sounds good here, as it fills the speakers. There are also some nicely done stereo effects, most notably with noises coming from off-screen.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Blu-ray Disc contains a wealth of extra features. Disc 1 offers four AUDIO COMMENTARIES. The first has Writer/Producer/Director Tobe Hoooper, Gunnar Hansen and Cinematographer Daniel Pearl. The second offers Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partan, and Production Designer Robert Burns. The third one has Hooper going solo. The fourth brings us Pearl, Editor J. Larry Carroll and Sound Recordist Ted Nicolaou. The remainder of the special features are found on Disc 2. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth" (73 minutes) is a feature-length documentary from 2000 which features a wealth of interviews with the filmmakers and cast, as well as some production-stills and on-set photos. The piece traces the film from the beginning through the release. "Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw" (72 minutes) is a documentary from 2006 which tackles the making of the film seven angles: Pearl, the house, Edwin Neal, a look at the actors from the film who are deceased (at that time), Make-up Designer Dr. Barnes, Cons, and Hansen. "A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen" (8 minutes) shows how the house was re-modeled from 1993 to 2000, and then Leatherface himself shares memories of the house. "Off the Hook with Teri McMinn" (17 minutes) has the actress sharing her memories of the film and her most infamous moments. "The Business of Chain Saw: An Interview with Production Manager Ron Bozman" (16 minutes) is a 2008 production in which the veteran producer shares his memories of working on the movie. "New Deleted Scenes & Outtakes" (15 minutes) is a reel of cut footage (presumably newly discovered or released) which is presented without sound. (But, we do get to see that the shooting title was "Leatherface".) "Grandpa's Tales: An Interview with John Dugan" (16 minutes) has the actor who wore the old-man makeup describing his experiences on the film. "Cutting Chain Saw: An Interview with Editor J. Larry Carroll" (11 minutes) allows him to share his recollections about how the film came together. There is then another reel of "Deleted Scenes & Outtakes" which runs 25 minutes. These do have sound and we get a mixture of actual deleted scenes and some novelties which appear to be test shots. The "Blooper Reel" (2 minutes) feels oddly out of place. "Outtakes from 'The Shocking Truth'" (8 minutes) offers additional interview footage from the documentary. "Horror's Hallowed Grounds: TCSM" (20 minutes) has host Sean Clark touring famous locations from the movie. "Dr. W.E. Barnes Presents 'Making Grandpa'" (3 minutes) is a collection of stills showing the Dugan's transformation into Grandpa. The extras are rounded out by a Still Gallery, three TRAILERS, three TV SPOTS, and two RADIO SPOTS.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long