Release Date(s)1974 (September 16, 2014)
Studio(s)Vortex (Dark Sky Films)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
I’m often asked what my favorite horror movie is. My answer is usually The Exorcist. It’s an extraordinarily well-crafted film, deeply fascinating on multiple levels, and a movie I’ve watched countless times and never tire of. But favorite is not the same as scariest and when someone specifically asks what’s the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, my reply without hesitation is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Allow me to set the scene for my introduction to Tobe Hooper’s classic. I was in high school, hanging out with a friend. Somewhere around midnight, we decided, with the stamina that only high school kids have, that we wanted to rent a couple of “videos” (as we called them back then). So we drove into town and rented two movies from the only place that was still open at that hour: 7-Eleven. Remember when convenience stores had a paltry selection of rentable VHS? No? Jeez, I’m old.
Our late night’s entertainment consisted of A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2 and, you guessed it, TCSM. We watched Freddy first and, after it failed to live up to our expectations, popped in our second feature. By now it was somewhere around 3:30-4:00 in the morning. So by the time Leatherface was spinning that buzzing chainsaw around and around in the Texas daybreak, the sun was coming up for real outside. Believe me, rural Montana is pretty much the same as rural Texas when it comes to isolation. The only thing we don’t have is the heat. Unlike pretty much every horror movie I’d ever seen up to that point, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre seemed not just plausible but likely, the inevitable result of picking up weird hitchhikers and poking around strange houses.
I’ve frequently heard people say that TCSM has a “documentary-like” feel to it, which I don’t think is entirely accurate. It feels real, thanks primarily to the fairly extraordinary, naturalistic performances of its cast. The young victims, led by the late Marilyn Burns, seem like real people having real conversations, an all-too rare accomplishment for this genre. More terrifyingly, the TCSM family (Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface, Edwin Neal as the Hitchhiker, Jim Siedow as the Old Man and John Dugan as Grandfather) seem real, possibly because it’s somehow easier to think that the camera just found these people. I mean, the alternative is that this is all the product of somebody’s imagination and somehow, that just makes it worse.
That imagination, of course, belonged to director/producer/co-writer Tobe Hooper. In concert with co-writer Kim Henkel, cinematographer Daniel Pearl, art director Robert A. Burns and the rest of the crew, Hooper crafted a masterpiece of dread. No detail is overlooked, from the makeup to the sets to the camera angles to the sound design. The movie is unsettling from the get-go, slowly builds tension and a sense of profound unease, then explodes, coming after you without mercy. An important distinction between this and other horror movies is that this isn’t the story of a killer hunting down its prey. In TCSM, the victims find their way to the slaughter on their own. This makes the events of the film both more believable and more frightening. They’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For its 40th Anniversary, TCSM was given a brand-new 4K transfer restored from the original 16mm film elements. Naturally, this has not been without controversy with the aspect ratio altered from 1.85:1 to 1.78:1 and concerns over clarity and color. I’ll leave better eyes than mine to judge such matters. As far as I’m concerned, this is a spectacular transfer and the best this movie has ever looked. Audio options run from a newly created 7.1 mix all the way down to the original mono. The 7.1 version is very, very good, although my personal preference for this particular movie is the mono. Regardless of which version you prefer, I doubt you’ll find much to complain about.
This combo pack includes two Blu-ray discs and two DVDs with identical bonus content. Disc one packs in a whopping four audio commentaries: two previously released tracks (one with Hooper, Gunnar Hansen and Daniel Pearl, the other with actors Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger and Paul A. Partain with production designer Robert Burns) and two newly recorded tracks (one with Hooper alone, the other with Pearl, editor J. Larry Carroll and sound recordist Ted Nicolaou). That’s a whole lotta commentary by any standard and if you can make it through all four, you’re a better person than I. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have them all but jeez.
The bonus disc includes a number of previously released extras, including the essential 2000 documentary The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth and the equally interesting 2006 doc Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories Of The Saw. Additional featurettes include Gunnar Hansen’s tour of the TCSM house and interviews with actress Teri McMinn, production manager Ron Bozman (who would go on to be the Oscar-winning producer of The Silence Of The Lambs), actor John Dugan, editor J. Larry Carroll and make-up designer Dr. W.E. Barnes. You also get an assortment of deleted scenes and outtakes (about 15 minutes of which are new to this release), a blooper reel, deleted scenes from The Shocking Truth, a still gallery, three trailers, three TV spots, two radio spots and the TCSM episode of Sean Clark’s Horror’s Hallowed Grounds.
If somehow that’s still not enough for you, Gorgon Video has a limited edition Black Maria version. Packaged in a replica of the Black Maria semi, it comes with a mini-poster, Leatherface apron and a cool-sounding exclusive bonus disc: Friedkin/Hooper, a conversation between Hooper and William Friedkin shot at L.A.’s Cinefamily.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has lost none of its power over the past 40 years. It remains a uniquely terrifying horror film, one of the genre’s true masterworks. The film more than deserves a truly special 40th Anniversary release and Dark Sky has delivered the goods. This release should be an essential part of any horror lover’s Blu-ray library.
- Adam Jahnke
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