Partially based on the exploits of serial killer Ed Gein, Tobe Hooper's second film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) almost needs no introduction. This wildly popular and influential horror classic has seen its share of imitators over the years...but unfortunately, most of them completely miss the original message. On the surface, it's the story of kids in peril; doomed to be the victims of a cannibalistic "family" in rural Texas, we watch their lives end or change dramatically, one by one. Yet it's also a thinly-veiled critique of the meat industry, as our hapless young heroes are led to slaughter.
Director Tobe Hooper became a vegetarian during production---and it's not hard to see why---but one gets the feeling that his choice was a long time coming, as evidenced by the on-screen clues. Almost every aspect of our victims' grisly fates is similar to doomed cattle: the innocent approach, the lure, the quick dispatch, the dissection. Finally, the feast. Yet The Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn't nearly as graphic or gory as its plot or title imply; after all, most of the horrific violence happens off-camera. This was a conscious decision: Hooper deliberately eased up on the blood in hopes of securing a "PG" rating which, in hindsight, seems almost laughable. Upon its original submission to the MPAA, Massacre was branded with an "X" and, on appeal, settled for an "R". I agree with the MPAA's decision...and if you also consider PETA's support of the film, that makes two times that I'm inadvertently setting up camp with questionable outfits.
Either way, the film did big business for a low-budget production, bolstered by a tongue-in-cheek "true story" tagline and gritty 16mm visuals. Pound for pound, it was the undisputed champion of independent films until John Carpenter's Halloween captured the crown four years later. Yet the horror genre exploded in popularity years before The Texas Chain Saw Massacre tore into theaters, thanks to earlier productions like George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead, Wes Craven's debut film The Last House on the Left (a remake of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring), William Friedkin's The Exorcist, and, of course, the contributions of Alfred Hitchcock. For many horror fans, though, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains the genre's pinnacle during one of cinema's most important, dark, and challenging decades.
As such, Hopper's most memorable film has been released on home video a number of times...and, for the most part, each successive attempt has been better than the last. Dark Sky Films released a 2006 Ultimate Edition DVD and a similar Blu-ray two years later. Now, just in time for the film's 40th Anniversary, they've dissected and pulled together segments of earlier releases, shrink-wrapped the finished product, and shipped it out for mass consumption. Enjoy!
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Shot on the cheap using 16mm stock, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre looks as grim and gritty as ever. Far removed from the smooth digital appearance of most modern films, it's just a beautifully ugly experience. Image detail is about as strong as the source material will allow, thanks in part to a brand new 4K master that easily outpaces Dark Sky's own 2006 Ultimate Edition DVD and its subsequent Blu-ray counterpart. Like many previous releases, the framing is also opened up to 1.78:1 (as opposed to the film's original 1.85:1), but the differences are negligible. The film's relatively natural color palette is right in light with other films of the era: slightly faded and thick, which also heightens the atmosphere. Dirt, debris, and digital imperfections are largely absent, letting the film's naturally ragged edges show. Simply put, it's a fantastic presentation that die-hard fans and curious newcomers will certainly appreciate.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
If nothing else, this Blu-ray release gets points for giving us plenty of options. The two most noteworthy ones are the original LPCM 1.0 Mono track and a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 remix; these lossless tracks should satisfy purists and those looking for a more modern experience. As for the former, this entirely front-loaded affair sounds crisp, clean, and natural, giving the viewer a more authentic grindhouse experience that still shocks and surprises at almost every turn. The remix is tastefully done with all the strengths and weaknesses you'd expect: some channel pans and rear effects sound more than a little forced (traffic), while others fit in quite nicely (crickets, other background effects and, of course, the Chain Saw). Low end activity is sparse but rears its head on occasion. I enjoyed both of these tracks for different reasons, so the bottom line is that I appreciate having so many choices and I'd imagine that most fans will too.
Other options include a slightly scaled-back DTS-HD 5.1 remix and a LPCM 2.0 track; both cover "the middle ground" nicely, so I can't imagine anyone finding too much to complain about here. One other note: you can't switch between mixes on the fly using the "Audio" button on your remote, but you can switch between them on the pop-up menu.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
has featured a number of cool packaging gimmicks over the years, from Pioneer's Special Edition "meat pack"
to Dark Sky's steelbook
. This new edition looks pretty cool, but a few minor problems will keep it from pleasing everyone. For starters, it's DVD-sized and will not
fit on shelves measured specifically for Blu-ray cases. It also features two overlapping hubs with Blu-rays on one side and DVDs on the other, which makes this a little bulkier than necessary. There's also no booklet or printed material (aside from a flyer for the forthcoming "Black Maria" edition, which almost feels like a slap in the face, really), although a summary of the included supplements is printed on the back. The slipcover and digipak design cleverly replicates Leatherface's infamous "sliding door" entrance, which is neat.
The menu interface (seen above in DVD form) is smooth, easy to navigate and loads quickly, although the clips used the film pretty much give everything away if you haven't seen it already. Separate sub-menus are included for chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus features on the second disc. Overall, it's a simple, no-nonsense design.
There's certainly a lot to dig through here, but anyone who purchased earlier editions of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
(especially the 2006 Ultimate Edition DVD
or Blu-ray) will be familiar with much of it. The most substantial recycled extras include two Audio Commentaries
(one with director Tobe Hooper, actor Gunnar Hansen, and cinematographer Daniel Pearl; the other with production designer Robert Burns and actors Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, and Paul Partain), two feature-length Documentaries
("Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth" and "Flesh Wounds"), a House Tour
with Gunnar "Leatherface" Hansen, and a short but interesting Interview
with actress Teri McMinn.
Smaller recycled extras include a collection of Deleted Scenes and Outtakes, a Blooper Reel, more Outtakes (from "The Shocking Truth" documentary), two Still Galleries, and a collection of Trailers, and TV/Radio Spots. Though some of these older supplements look a little rough around the edges, they're well worth a look for new and seasoned fans alike.
A handful of new extras are also here. Two recent Audio Commentaries---yes, there are four in all---feature comments from director Tobe Hooper (flying solo), as well as one that brings together cinematographer Daniel Pearl, editor J. Larry Carroll, and sound man Ted Nicolaou. Like the other two, these can be a little dry (especially the Hooper track), but there's plenty of good information buried here...if, you know, you aren't worn out from the other two already.
Other new supplements include separate Interviews with production manager Ron Bozman, actor John "Grandpa" Dugan, and editor J. Larry Carroll (10-15 minutes each). A few bits and pieces are repeated from the various commentaries...but, like the other extras, you'll get a nice glimpse behind the scenes of an extremely loose production. A handful of New Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (15 minutes) has also been unearthed, although the original sound elements could not be located so they're presented silently (a commentary during these would've been nice). Finally, an early 2006 segment of Horror's Hallowed Grounds" (20 minutes), hosted by genre superfan Sean Clark, offers a whirlwind tour of some of the film's most memorable landmarks. This is a well-rounded and comprehensive collection of goodies, but they vary in overall quality and production value. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions are included.
The odds are that any self-respecting horror fan has seen the original, influential Texas Chain Saw Massacre more times than they can count, but even those completely new to the film should at least be passively familiar with everything it brought to the table in 1974. 40 years later, it still has the power to amaze and repulse audiences, even in the wake of a near-infinitive number of imitators. Likewise, this horror classic has been issued and re-issued on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray many times over, and I'd also bet that said self-respecting horror fans have several copies to their name. Dark Sky's new 40th Anniversary Edition aims to overtake all previous versions and succeeds: serving up a new 4K scan of original film elements, a slew of audio options, and a comprehensive set of bonus features, there's plenty to dig through in this four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Die-hard fans may want to wait for the forthcoming "Black Maria" edition on October 14th, but everyone else should run through the woods screaming to grab a copy. Highly Recommended, obviously.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and reviewer by night. He also does freelance design every so often. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person. He's also worn glasses since childhood, so take those visual ratings with a grain of salt.