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review added: 10/31/00



The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Special Edition - 1974 (1998) - MPI Home Video (Pioneer)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Special Edition Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/AA

Specs and Features

84 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with co-writer/director Tobe Hooper, director of photography Daniel Pearl and star Gunnar Hansen), 6 deleted scenes, 3 alternate footage reels, A Study of Filmmaking: Death of Kirk featurette, theatrical trailers (for original release, re-release, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, early rough draft of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation), 2 TV spots, blooper reel, props and set footage reel, film and production stills, poster and lobby art gallery, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (17 chapters), languages: English (DD mono & DD 2.0), subtitles: none

In the summer of 1973, a group of young filmmakers went into the burning Texas heat to make a horror film. They didn't have any delusions that they were making art and they didn't have the Internet to promote it. All they had were cameras, a crew and a desire to scare the shit out of everyone who would eventually see the film. And boy, were they ever successful. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is gritty, sweaty and putrid. You can smell it in your nose, taste it in your mouth and feel it in your bones. It's sticky, wet and stomach-churning. This is one of those flicks that goes up there with The Exorcist in terms of unwatchably horrifying. The movie just bothers me, man.

The story goes like this - a van full teenagers is heading across the Texas wasteland. Everything seems to be going okay for them... that is, until they pick up an odd little hitchhiker. He tells them stories of cattle slaughter, takes their pictures and, when he doesn't get paid for his handy work, he starts slashing out with a rusty razor. They naturally kick him out of the van, but their road to hell is only beginning. When they stop off for gas and a breather, they get hunted down one by one by a large man wearing the skins of his victims on his face. And his preferred weapon? Wouldn't you know - it's a chainsaw. Well, yee-haw!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an acquired taste. But it's a classic horror film. And if you enjoy scary movies and you haven't seen it yet, you should do so very soon. The problem is... well, maybe DVD isn't the way to go with this film. How do I put this... the DVD transfer is not all that great. It seems like something is slightly off. I just couldn't put my finger on it while I watched it the first time. But since I know Don May, Jr. pretty well (and he did the original transfer for laserdisc when he worked at Elite), I asked him what was giving me goose bumps about the video. So here's what Don had to say. It's pretty interesting...

Todd Doogan: Don, if Pioneer used the original transfer you did of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the DVD they put out, why doesn't it look the same?

Don May, Jr.: Well, they used Elite's transfer. But it's not really our transfer. I mean it is, but not really... if that makes any sense. Look at the DVD and the laserdisc side by side, and you will see a bunch of things different with them. The DVD was made from the transfer we did that didn't have any digital line removal - which we did do on the transfer we put out on laserdisc. Also, there is a bad optical effect on the DVD. When you look at the scene when Marilyn Burns is getting her fingers sucked on by Grandpa, she passes out. In the film, there is a dissolve that goes from the house to a full moon. On the laserdisc, the dissolve is smooth. It goes from the house to the moon and it's a nice dissolve. But look at the DVD - it "pops" instead of dissolving. The house will dissolve partway, and then POP… the moon appears. No full dissolve. A little back story on this. You see, to do the transfer, we had to make a new 16mm internegative from the original A/B roll negatives for Chainsaw, but there were no timing sheets or optical notes for that at all. RGB Optical went back and made us the new internegative. They had to do it all by hand and one of the dissolves got screwed up, which was something that happens - it's no one's fault. They just had to fix it and I noticed it during the transfer with Tobe. We finished the transfer as is, with the errors, and made a backup onto another digital tape. RGB Optical went back and made a new piece of film for the correct dissolve and we inserted it later on our master. We then sent the master out for line removal. When the project went to Pioneer, they got their hands on the backup tape that wasn't fixed, instead of the real master, I guess. The reason the lines were there was because Chainsaw was stored so horribly. I don't want to accuse any particular facility of storing it badly, but... it was in a brown paper bag just lying in a box. Granted, it was stored in a cold, climate controlled vault, but they could have put it in a better box or something so that it wasn't just laying in there. The movie was - the A/B roll was - put together with film glue and, as it was wrapped on the reel, the glue hardened over time and became imbedded on the reels. The reels were sticking together as they were being unspooled. It was scary. I was like, "Oh no! This may not be usable. This friggin' movie is a classic and the negative is totally ruined!" The glue splice marks near shot changes are what you see on the DVD. Shortly after some of the shot changes, especially the scenes later in the film with Sally running through the house, you will see these lines. When we made the internegative, of course, all those damn lines were printed onto the film. There was nothing we could do about it. We actually sent a reel of the A/B roll to Kodak because they have this chemical that swells the film element to try and remove debris. For this, it just didn't work - they tested a little piece and it swelled, but it wouldn't get rid of the glue. So we had to go back and digitally remove the lines, and we obviously didn't get every single one. Some go by so fast that you miss them, or we had to leave them because of the movement that was on screen. If you digitally remove the line, it would blur the image in the frame. There are a couple of scenes on the laserdisc that have that little blur because we tried to remove the line. I mean, what's the trade off? You either have white lines that go across the screen or you have blurs. We had to make a judgment call, and some stayed and some went. The DVD has ALL of the lines - all 180 of 190 of them - still present on the letterboxed image and that's disgusting to me. The funny thing is, the line removal place is credited on the DVD, but there's no line removal on it!

Well, there you go. Thanks, Don. The DVD is mastered from an in-progress work print. So, if you still want a definitive version of the film, break out your old laserdisc player and hunt you down a copy of Elite's laserdisc. If you don't care, well... the DVD is, for the most part, the same as the laserdisc (except for the transfer). The existing transfer is a bit soft and shows more grain that it should (even given that this is a grainy, grainy film). The audio is presented in both the original mono and a new Dolby Digital 2.0 track that both sound good and are on par with the laserdisc.

All of the original extras are here as well. Well, except for my favorite extra - the "baby on bones" tag that was at the end of the original scrolling laserdisc credits. Here, they take the credits and put them on cards. But all the rest is there. Fortunately, the incredibly insightful commentary track by the filmmakers is still here too. This is a really good track, just brimming with anecdotes and history. It's a must listen for any fans of movie making. There are some stories here that will drop your jaw. We also get some deleted scenes (6 of 'em), 3 alternate footage loops, the "Death of Kirk" study, a huge collection of trailers from the entire series, a blooper reel, a props and set reel and photo galleries. It's all very, very cool. The DVD even features a spooky menu screen Easter egg. Just wait for it to pop up on the main menu screen.

I don't think Pioneer even knows that this is a flawed print And yes, I'm being extreme when I say it looks bad. It looks okay, but since this was basically a work print, the DVD obviously could look better. The line removal work did clean up some of the picture and made for a better viewing experience. Thankfully, I still have my laserdisc to supplement this DVD. But if you don't, you could settle for this. Leatherface is waiting for you to dance, folks... he just needs your screams as the music.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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