THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE seems to be going the route of horror films like THE EVIL DEAD and HALLOWEEN; we are getting plenty of releases of the same movie and only sometimes are there new and worthwhile bonuses and/or a great new transfer. Fortunately, this 40th Anniversary Edition of the film provides a fantastic, all-new, 4k digital transfer along with a newly created 7.1 surround sound-mix supervised by director Tobe Hooper to go with some all new features and commentaries. All of that said, getting to see one of the granddaddies of horror films be treated with such respect on Blu-ray is a great way to support a film that continues to stand the test of time as a scary, shocking and violent (but almost blood-free) story about unknowing teenagers interacting with the wrong family.
The plot is fairly straightforward and already well-known by anyone with even a casual association with this film. During a hot summer in Texas, five friends travel in a van to visit a gravesite in an effort to investigate reports of vandalism and grave robbing. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who proves to be a bit of a wacko as he eventually cuts himself, cuts one of the friends and sets a photo on fire all while inside the moving van. A little later, the group stops to refuel, but finds there is no gas currently available. There is a helpful gas station attendant, though, with some information about the area. Eventually the group finds themselves passing time at the homestead they were eventually going to travel to, only to find that it has been abandoned. They explore the house, with some wandering off to another nearby home. Curiosity gets the better of some of them, as they get far more than they bargained for by entering the other home, leading to the discovery of a rather unsavory character.
I am being a bit broad with the last part of the plot description, but most know what is going on. The towering figure known as Leatherface does not take kindly to strangers and whether it is with his bare hands or a chainsaw, the man is hell-bent on stopping, capturing, imprisoning and eventually eating anyone in his path, with the help of the rest of his family of course. I may not be all that scared by slasher films in general, but the idea of an unstoppable force doing a full sprint at me with a chainsaw is terrifying and Tobe Hooper’s film easily captures the visceral quality of the scenarios presented, along with the bizarre nature of the horrible people that make these innocents suffer.
While credit has certainly been given where it is due, I really do want to emphasize how fantastic the production quality of this film is, given the low-budget and independent nature of this film. Tobe Hooper, his cinematographer Daniel Pearl, and a lot of other very exhausted crew members did there damndest to make this movie work and they really pulled off something that has been highly influential in the 40 years since its release. Putting aside some elements that don’t shine as brightly (some of the acting of the eventual victims for example), this is a down-and-dirty horror film that gets away with a lot, despite having so little to work with.
One of the best ways to really describe its impact, in terms of the thrills meshed with the limited tools at Hooper’s disposal, is in addressing the lack of gore. When you think THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, there may be an insistence on the idea that this movie is full of blood and gore, but there really is not much — save for some minor spray you would find in any PG-13 films of today and the actual blood coming from Marilyn Burns’ arms, as she runs away through various bushes for multiple takes to make the film work. This is a film much more about the implication of violence, rather than actually showing all the grisly details of what is taking place in Leatherface’s backroom and there is plenty of effective filmmaking to credit for this.
Honestly, there are so many more avenues I could go down in an attempt to explain the brilliance of this film, the cultural impact, and even the various theories on the themes in this film, but suffice it to say that THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE deserves to be held up high on the list of horror greats. It is a movie I love, certainly one of my favorites of the genre, and one that has easily left a big mark on the genre as a whole. For even more thoughts on this film and the franchise as a whole, check out my friend Brandon Peter’s blog, where he wrote a whole retrospective series on these films.
The key to making this film work on Blu-ray is to preserve the actual look and feel of the times and circumstances under which this film was made. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is not a pretty movie, as it’s a low budget film, shot on 16mm back in the 70s. This new 4k transfer does exactly what it needs to in an effort to make this film look as good as it can, while preserving its inherent visual aesthetic. The film’s Blu-ray does fine work at registering the level of depth. The black levels are nice and deep. There are a few instances of color in the sunbaked world this film is set in and when they appear they pop (namely the color red). Characters all look clear and nicely textured in a way that matches the rest of the film throughout. Really, there is little to complain about, given the age and nature of this film, matched against this fantastic new transfer.
While not as out and out fantastic as the 4k transfer, the new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack does a pretty fantastic job of representing this intense experience from an auditory standpoint. While lacking a more traditional score, the sort of sounds and atmospheric elements are definitely very present throughout this feature and do a good job of providing a dynamic experience. The buzzing of the chainsaw makes for a great way to experience the true quality of this soundtrack, but just as effective is taking listen to the sounds of the flash bulbs used as a jarring sound effect throughout the film. Dialogue comes through mostly loud and clear throughout, which is a great way to keep the early portions of the film accessible enough, before the real soundtrack exercises begin for one’s home theater system.
While there are a lot of supplements carried over from the previous releases of this film, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE does a fine job of offering a lot of new material for this 40th Anniversary release, chief among them being two brand-new commentaries, housed within this nicely designed Blu-ray package, which has been designed as a tri-fold case, containing all four discs (2 of those discs are DVDs) and some nice artwork.
4 Audio Commentaries – 2 of these have been carried over, but all of these tracks are well worth taking a listen to for those that want to know everything they can about this film and a wide array of other related knowledge. The tracks include:
- Writer-Producer-Director Tobe Hooper, actor Gunnar Hansen, Cinematographer Daniel Pearl
- Actors Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger and Paul A Partain and Production Designer Robert Burns
- NEW Commentary with Writer-Producer-Director Tobe Hooper
- NEW Commentary with Cinematographer Daniel Pearl, Editor Larry J Carroll and Sound Recordist Ted Nicolaou
- New Deleted Scenes & Outtakes – Presented in HD, but silently, due to missing audio.
- Grandpa’s Tales: An Interview with John Dugan – Only 15 minutes, but a great piece from the actor who played Grandpa in the film, giving him the chance to be very open, honest, and explicit about his experiences with the film and its legacy since.
- Cutting Chain Saw: An Interview with Editor J. Larry Carroll – Another very solid interview regarding the life on the set and the challenges of the film’s production.
- Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: TCS – A tour of the areas in the film.
Old Supplements (mostly presented in SD):
- THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE: The Shocking Truth – A fantastic retrospective documentary that goes over the production of the film and more.
- Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw – Another great documentary going over the film from the perspectives of various people involved with the film.
- A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen – Pretty straightforward, but entertaining.
- Off the Hook with Teri McMinn – A discussion with one of the key players in the film.
- The Business of Chain Saw: An Interview with Production Manager Ron Bozam – An interview taken from the perspective of someone involved with some of the lesser known aspects of the film.
- Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
- Blooper Reel
- Outtakes from “The Shocking Truth”
- Dr. W.E. Barnes Presents “Making Grandpa” – A look at the production and makeup design, when it came to Grandpa.
- Still Gallery
- TV & Radio Spots
Discs 3 and 4 contain DVD versions of the film and features.
THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE has been given a spectacular new release that emphasizes how great the Blu-ray format can be for older films. While many of the big releases of today come with an expected great level of audio/video quality and plenty of extras (though Marvel is being a bit stingy these days for their big films), it takes a lot of effort to make these older releases shine unless it’s coming from Criterion or Shout Factory. Fortunately, this classic horror film has been given plenty of respect in terms of every aspect one looks for on Blu-ray, making it well worth a purchase for any fan of this film, let alone anyone curious about it.