Marilyn Burns, Paul Partain, Allen Danziger, Teri McMinn, William Vail and Gunnar Hansen individually may not be that well known. Collectively, many people might confuse them with some group of lawyers or something. But film history has afforded them a higher place in memory past their initial endeavors. You see, back during the middle of a particularly oppressive heat wave in 1973 Texas, this group, directed by a then-fledging auteur in Tobe Hooper, combined to make what is widely regarded as one…of the best films in horror movie fame, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
A group of young teenagers is driving through a sleepy Texas town when they decide to pick up a hitchhiker. The behavior of the individual does enough to scare Sally (Burns), her brother Franklin (Partain), and their friends Jerry (Danziger), Pam (McMinn) and Kirk (Vail), so they decide to ditch him, but they’re almost stranded out of town and not sure of where to go or how to get there. So when one of them enters a house, a behemoth of a guy wearing a mask nicknamed Leatherface (Hansen) bludgeons him with a hammer. Slowly but surely, the kids are picked off and killed until they dwindle to a precious few.
I mean come on, it’s the friggin’ Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there should be no need for me to recap it. But a couple of things I do want to mention about it; first, the dread I had in watching it again. I haven’t watched it in a long time and remember not a lot about it, but to those virgins to the film, they’ve heard so much about the film over the years, and that’s the power of word of mouth. For such a presumably gory film, there’s not too much blood that you see, and the killings are usually pretty quick. The buildup in so many peoples’ minds about what the film is helps to make it a suspenseful experience.
While I did catch some of the humor in the film, the other thing that impressed me was (as warped as it may be), Leatherface, Grandpa and the gang are all family. Leatherface is even the mother of it, at least the later scenes show it, when he wears a women’s wig and makeup on his mask. There’s even a charm bracelet in some of the scenes. That doesn’t make him any less of a menace, don’t get me wrong. I’m just trying to be a uber-introspective film critic for a second.
All in all, coming up on the film’s 35th anniversary, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre still provides the viewer with ample shock and suspense, with very little letup over the last two acts. The experiences of Sally, Franklin and the gang are your own, and when you’re done, you feel like you’ve been put through a ringer.
Aside from the film’s original mono, there’s a 2 channel stereo mix and a 6 channel one to boot. While the mono inclusion was mighty thoughtful, I went for the 5.1 soundtrack almost immediately. And for a redone soundtrack, it’s not too bad. There’s no low end fidelity for the subwoofer to get excited over, but there’s just enough panning of some sound effects to really get you involved in it. During the part where Leatherface chases Sally outside the house, the chainsaw idle goes from the left rear to left front, it sounds pretty good.
The biggest thing the film boasts is a new transfer (done in high definition according to Dark Sky) from the original film elements. It’s been a virtual coon’s age since I saw the last (or most recent version of the film, but I was pleased with the transfer. It appears to be clearer than what I remember, and the film grain still remains present. I’m sure the canisters were probably sitting underneath a rapidly filling ashtray or something, so this picture is nice to look at.
Just in time for the film’s 32nd anniversary, Dark Sky films has added a second disc to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so the film can breathe a bit with the added space on the first disc. The first disc retains a couple of commentary tracks, the first is with Burns, Partain, Danziger and art director Robert Burns. The group has been to quite a few conventions together I’m sure, and the conversation is very jovial, and the moderator that was employed was probably not needed. Each of them (with Burns’ exception, as she’s not too lively) all recall their own thoughts about the product and have fond memories for them. The second track includes Hooper, Hansen and director of photography Daniel Pearl (no, not THAT one). The second commentary features the trio discussing their thoughts on the production of the film. Hooper seems to be the one who conducts the conversation, not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just a little hard to differentiate between his voice and Hansen’s. All three do seem to remember the Texas heat in August, that’s for sure, and perhaps still being stunned by the heat find them watching the film more than anticipated. But they still have a fun time recalling some of the things that occurred in the film. A gallery of trailers, TV and radio spots complete the first disc.
There are a pair of documentaries that run a little over an hour each that are the highlights of this second disc, the first being a documentary called “The Shocking Truth”. This documentary has interviews with the cast and crew, as they recall their work and expectations for it. Apparently, the production had run out of cash at one point, so they came to an agreement with a producer for some money. The problem was that the producer had some ties to a “perfectly legitimate business”, and the crew never saw much of the money that they were due for the film. The documentary appears in non-anamorphic format, which is a minor disappointment, but it’s not horrible. The studio method of financial accounting is discussed, along with some ample time to the sequels it’s spawned (along with participation by some of the parties in them), along with a bunch of on-set footage from each. I’m presuming that this was filmed by a fan of the film, and it takes its time and covers just about everything you could think of. The second documentary, entitled “Flesh Wounds”, is broken down into seven parts, and appears to be all-new for this edition. Some of the participants from “The Shocking Truth” are deceased and there is a bit of a tribute in the documentary, and participation from Hansen and Pearl is included. There’s more time spent to the legacy of the film and the conventions and fan clubs that it’s spawned, and there’s a small tour of the house, which still stands in Texas. Peers like makeup wizard Tom Savini discuss the film’s impact on them, and the piece ends with a long look at Hansen and what he’s done before and since the film. All in all, this was another good look at the film and it’s legacy, and both are solid complements to the feature.
Next up, Hansen tours the house from the film. The footage starts with how the house looked before its conversion to a restaurant, and it flash forwards to several years later, with some cameramen accompanying Hansen as he recalls how the house used to look. It’s a little too long, but for fans of the film, it’s quite enjoyable. Next are some deleted scenes and outtakes from the film which were ported from the original disc, about 25 minutes worth, and there are new outtakes for this disc, which comprise an additional three minutes. “The Shocking Truth” has some outtake footage in it that didn’t make the original cut, about eight minutes, and there’s a making of look at how the family grandpa came about, using stills from the conversion of actor John Dugan to the role. There’s also a stills gallery with posters and other film memorabilia.
At this point, I hope that this is it when it comes to definitive Texas Chainsaw Massacre DVD releases. And with two hour-plus documentaries, two pretty decent commentaries, I hope the door is closed on the house. A definite must buy for fans of the film and genre, a safe upgrade from the previous version, and an appointment for any movie fan who generally likes to be scared.
Special Features List
- Director/Actor/Cinematographer Commentary
- Cast Commentary
- “The Shocking Truth” documentary
- “Flesh Wounds” documentary
- Deleted Scenes
- Documentary Outtakes
- Tour with Gunnar Hansen
- Stills Gallery
- TV/Radio Spots