The story is very simple, which is one of the elements that gives the film its raw power. Agroup of young adults in a VW minivan make the mistake of picking up a demented hitchhiker.They manage to dump him, but he marks their van with his own blood. Shortly, the make themistake of stumbling upon what turns out to be the home of the hitchhiker, Leatherface, and therest of the psychotic brood. Most of the cast is killed off by the halfway mark, at which point thefilms …urns into the one of the longest, most unrelieved woman-in-jeopardy sequences in cinemahistory, as lone survivor Marilyn Burns is pursued, captured and tortured.
Despite the menace of its title, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually veryrestrained in the gore department. What it also lacks, however, is the quality of mercy. Even thehumour, of which there is a fair bit, is vicious and black, and serves to pump up the nightmarishabsurdity that pervades the film like some kind of fever dream. This is the horror film in a closeto pure state, a machine assembled for one purpose and one purpose alone: to put the audiencethrough hell. The grittiness of the cinematography conveys an unpleasant home-movie feel, andthe score is an industrial soundscape, when it isn’t a symphony of buzzing chainsaw andrelentless screams. One can only imagine the apocalyptic impact on audiences the film must havehad in 1974. Even today, despite floods of imitators, the unforgiving intensity of The TexasChainsaw Massacre remains unequalled.
The sound comes in both the original mono (sounding very clean and strong) and aremastered surround. The liner notes boast that this is a “true directional surround track,” but infact it’s just another 2.0. As remixes from mono go, this is a pretty decent one, though there areinstances of inappropriate surround effects. The chainsaw roars are fabulous, though. Thereis some distortion present, but let’s remember the low, low budget of the original. It’s not likethe source material was a Dolby wet dream to start with. I could wish the mix a bit louder,though. Crank that volume knob for max effect.
I quote from the liner notes: “this letterboxed high-definition SuperScan release minimizesthe film grin and gives detail and sharpness not possible with standard film-to-tape trasnfers. TheFilm’s look was redesigned to reflect Hooper’s original vision of higher contrast images andcolor. The hot sun now casts an amber hue upon the dry Texas landscape… the night sequencesare a moody mysterious blue… house interiors are dark and evil, like Hell itself. During the lasthalf of the film, you will be totally immersed in the intended absolute blackness of thisnightmarish motion picture.”
Well. Does the transfer live up these goals? Yes and no. The look of the colours is very muchas promised, and the grain is largely gone (though some might argue that the graininess was partof the gritty realism of the film). Either way, on a regular TV, this looks great. On 16×9, the storyisn’t quite as wonderful. The transfer is not anamorphic, and blowing the picture up to fit thescreen results in a very noticeable loss in picture sharpness. Yes, the original print was 16mm, soexpectations need to be reigned in. Still, anamorphic treatment would have made a considerabledifference here.
Lots of good stuff here. The commentary is by director Tobe Hooper, DP Daniel Pearl(whose gorgeous work on the remake has the unfortunate effect of diminishing intensity) andLeatherface Gunnar Hansen. Their talk is very enthusiastic, and loaded with behind-the-scenesmemories. There are 6 deleted scenes, which have no sound, but are accompanied by scriptexcerpts and on-screen explanations. The same goes for the 3 alternate scenes. “A Study inFilming” shows all the shots that were later edited down to create the death of Kirk scene (again,there is, naturally, no sound). There are 4 trailers and TV spots, along with 3 sequel trailers (onebeing a rough cut promo real for Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Theblooper reel has extremely rough picture quality. There is also a 6-minute montage of footagethat examines the wonderful props and sets in detail. The two photo galleries are of film andproduction stills, and of posters and lobby cards. The menu’s main page is fully animated andscored.
If you already own the Pioneer DVD, don’t get this one: it is exactly the same disc with adifferent cover. This is one of the most important horror films every made, and belongs on everyfan’s shelf. Still, the lack of an anamorphic transfer means that we have yet to see the definitiveDVD of this masterpiece from hell.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scenes and Alternate Footage
- “A Study in Filming”
- Trailers and TV Spots
- Props and Sets
- Film and Production Stills
- Posters and Lobby Cards