“The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”
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 Chain Saw 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 Texas Chain Saw 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 woman’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 40th anniversary, The Texas Chain Saw 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 wringer.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre is presented in its non-original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25 mbps. I’ll admit that the move from 1.85:1 is not noticeable, it is important to note that there has been a change. This high-definition image presentation benefits greatly from a sweet 4K restoration. One has to remember the film was originally a 16mm project that likely used lower-quality film stock. Fortunately, the folks in charge of the restoration did not scrub the film clean of its grain. The color was also kept to its original film stock. All of this might be considered by some younger film fans. Trust me when I tell you that these are all a part of the genuine experience, and I’m grateful it was all retained. With that said, you’re not going to see inky blacks or smooth, glossy pictures. What you’ll see instead is a true film experience. Sharpness is so much more noticeable here that you can see the blood tube on the pocket knife the hitchhiker used to slice his hand in the beginning. Other scenes don’t hold up under this kind of resolution. The freezer scene looks particularly bad here. It’s genuine, and that’s more than enough for me.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 opens up the sound, but not so much that it ruins the original feel. Mostly you hear some passing cars in the surrounds. The climax adds an interesting effect in surrounds with a twirling sound as Leatherface spins in frustration with his chain saw. Dialog is great, as is the score. They tried not to muck with this a lot, and I’m thankful.
Deleted Scenes & Outtakes: These are mostly silent with no audio present. It is not your system.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – The Shocking Truth: (1:12:49) 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 for 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.
Flesh Wounds – 7 Stories Of The Saw: (1:11:42) This 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; participation from Hansen and Pearl is included. There’s more time spent on 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 its legacy.
Outtakes From Flesh Wounds: (7:39) “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.
A Tour Of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre House With Gunnar Hanson: (8:51) 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.
The Business Of The Chain Saw – An Interview With Ron Bozman: (16:27) This is an even closer look at the financial situation of the film. He’s candid about cast and crew members being misled about their shares in the film. He contends the misleading was not intentional, however.
Grandpa Tales – An Interview With John Dugan: (15:47) The actor talks about how he got involved and the experiences he had on set. He tears up when he recalls how badly Marilyn Burns was treated to make the film.
Cutting Chain Saw – An Interview With J. Larry Carroll: (10:25) The editor also did the driving stunts and worked as a gofer on the production.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: (20″19) A 2006 episode of the show that visits famous horror film locations.
Making Grandpa: (2:59) Another silent collection of stills that cover the makeup progression turning Dugan into Grandpa.
Collection of spots and galleries
Despite the menace of its title, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is actually very restrained in the gore department. What it also lacks, however, is the quality of mercy. Even the humor, of which there is a fair bit, is vicious and black, and serves to pump up the nightmarish absurdity that pervades the film like some kind of fever dream. This is the horror film in a close to pure state, a machine assembled for one purpose and one purpose alone: to put the audience through hell. The grittiness of the cinematography conveys an unpleasant home-movie feel, and the score is an industrial soundscape, when it isn’t a symphony of buzzing chain saw and relentless screams. One can only imagine the apocalyptic impact on audiences the film must have had in 1974. Even today, despite floods of imitators, the unforgiving intensity of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains unequalled.
Parts of this review were provided by various Upcomingdiscs contributors.