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Dark Sky Films presents
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Ultimate Edition) (1974)

"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 Chainsaw Massacre."
- narrator (John Larroquette)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: September 25, 2006

Stars: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow
Other Stars: Allen Danziger, Paul Partain, William Vail, Terri McMinn, John Dugan, John Larroquette, William Creamer
Director: Tobe Hooper

MPAA Rating: R for (horror violence)
Run Time: 01h:23m:20s
Release Date: September 26, 2006
UPC: 030306629292
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A-A- A+

DVD Review

Some films transcend simply being entertainment, and get elevated into that very rare air of pop culture landmark. This film is one of them, a grim screamer of a low-budget title that gave rise to one of the most recognizable figures in horror (Gunnar Hansen's chainsaw twirling Leatherface), kickstarted the career of an underrated director (Tobe Hooper), and spawned more myths and urban legends about the blurry "based on a true story" lines between fact and fiction than just about any other horror film of recent memory.

And it scared people, too. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre rose up slowly like an ugly growth in 1974, drawn with a talented hand by Hooper, cast full of mostly unknowns, and swaggering with the unmitigated gall to f**k with the comfort levels of audiences, whether it be in theaters, drive-ins, VHS, laser disc or DVD. Even as the genre itself continued to push more daring boundaries of explicitness, it often came back to the old reliable The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as a genuine right-of-passage.

I'm operating under the assumption here you've seen Hooper's original. For my money, it should be like one of those required readings in high school, with as much analysis-worthy weight as a book like Silas Marner or 1984, It doesn't count if you've only sat through the Marcus Nispel remake—more eyecatching for Jessica Biel's tight white t-shirt than anything—or even any of the slightly sloppy sequels. And while I found some empty pleasure with the slick Nispel/Biel reworking as entertainment, the glossier, gorier darkness that it conveyed was almost the antithesis to Hooper's bootstrap ugliness, a film where less blood is spilled than you imagine, and yet the a very raw level of palpable, uncomfortable fear is there.

If by chance you've never partaken in the story of Leatherface, a saw, a meathook and a screwed-up clan of killers, then this new two-disc set from Dark Sky is like a 35-plus-years-in-the-making second chance, an opportunity to finally get it right. In short it's about "the tragedy which befell a group of five youths", but it's really a severe case of wrong place/wrong time, courtesy of a certain power tool. And this isn't some tacky reissue. The new transfer is exceptional, still rough and tumble like it is supposed to be, but brighter and more defined, so the experience will probably be refreshing no matter how many times you've seen it before.

We all need to have seen Citizen Kane, The Sound of Music and Star Wars—whether those particular films fall in our personal taste wheelhouse or not. They are representatives of "those" films, the ones that mean more as points of discussion over the years than they do necessarily as individual treats to be eaten once and then forgetten about. You may not like Vietnam films, but if you haven't seen Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now talking about "the horror", then you're missing something. Same with Hooper's film, itself a brutal unjoyride where poor Marilyn Burns spends so much time screaming that it's like a metal file scraping across an infected tooth. It's just not right, but it hurts too good to really care.

This film's grungy impact hasn't really softened over time, and even at just 83 minutes it holds up as a very dark film, with little in the way of redemptive qualities other than trying to freak the crap out of viewers. Yes, there have been better made horror films, but it's hard to think of one that gets under the skin as deep as this one does. One can overlook the shoddy old man makeup for the Grandpa character, because that's just one small part, and when we get those slow, bile-rising reveals of the interior of the Leatherface house the images latch on like an alien facehugger.

For years, it was the Elite/Pioneer release of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that was the ONE, the alleged peak for this title in this world of slipshod re-releases. I'm not getting rid of my copy just yet, but that's that completist in me. Dark Sky's appropriately titled "ultimate edition" more than lives up to its name, sporting new audio and video, along with extras that help spill the beans that maybe there is something more here than just a guy with a chain saw.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The big selling point for this new release is the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, struck from original 16mm negatives. The film still has Hooper's original coarse textures, no doubt a large part of the appeal, and the new transfer came under the guidance of Synapse Films head Don May Jr., which is the equivalent of having Michelangelo paint your ceiling. Nice work from May and crew, because there is a noticeable rebirth to the vibrancy of the colors, and while this will never, ever be considered a bright and cheery film, things like clothing and outdoor scenes just look more alive than they ever have in any DVD/laser version, including the (up until now) almighty Pioneer release.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: There are three audio choices, all in English, ranging from the original 2.0 mono, a new 2.0 stereo surround track and a brand new remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 surround presentation. I'm something of a purist, and the mono has always worked for me in the past when it came to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but I was pleasantly surprised by the dimension of the new 5.1 mix. The 2.0 stereo surround is the weaker of the three, not bad, just slightly more artificial than the 5.1, something that I found somewhat confusing. Still, no hiss or crackle, with clean voice quality on all three.

All the flavors are nice, but give me a clean mono mix for a film like this.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
5 TV Spots/Teasers
0 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Allen Danziger, Robert A. Burns, Tobe Hooper, Daniel Pearl, Gunnar Hansen, David Gregory
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Disc 1 of this hefty two-disc steelcase packaged set carries the feature film, split into 13 chapters, available with optional subtitles in English or Spanish. Also included on Disc 1 are a pair of TCSM trailers, five radio/TV spots (two radio, three TV) and a smattering of other Dark Sky horror trailers.

There are also two commentary tracks, one of which appeared on the previous Elite/Pioneer release. That track features director Tobe Hooper, d.p. Daniel Pearl and "Leatherface" Gunnar Hansen, and repeat or not, this is one of those "required" listens, if you haven't already experienced it. It is a solid compliment to the "new" commentary from cast members Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Allen Danziger and art director Robert A. Burns (two of the participants have since passed away, Burns in May 2004 and Partain in January 2005). If you were to lay both of these end-to-end the degree of insider info would stretch a long ways, and if the goodies ended here I'd still have walked away happy.

Disc 2 is where things go even deeper into TCSM, with a pair over 100-minute documentaries: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth! (01h:12m:46s) and Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw (01h:11m:37s). Do the math and that is a whole lotta chain saw talk, and it's all good. Strike that "good" comment. I mean excellent. It's dizzying, actually. These two works represent a cumulative overdose of interviews, background, behind-the-scenes footage, production anecdotes, and even looks at the inadequacies of the sequels. The sprawl of content on these two is just staggering, and without sounding like a chattery fool, I'll just go with these are easily worth the price of admission.

On the somewhat lighter side—if that can really be—is A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen (08m:02s), and who better to provide it than Leatherface. The same set of deleted scenes and outtakes (25m:52s) and a blooper reel (02m:22s) from the Elite/Pioneer set show up here, and Dark Sky has also dug up a set of outtakes from The Shocking Truth (07m:40s), just for good measure. Dr. W.E. Barnes Presents "Making Grandpa" is a set of production photos showing the makeup effects used to make the very young John Dugan into the very old hammer-wielding Grandpa. Disc 2 wraps with a comprehensive stills gallery, as if we needed anything more.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

Dark Sky is quickly becoming the Criterion of horror, and their royal treatment of one of the real classics of the genre is something to drool over. The big whoop here is the new anamorphic transfer, which retains Hooper's original gritty and grainy look that gave this its "real" feel, but with a rejiggered richness to color and image detail. To say this has NEVER looked this good is nothing short of an understatement.

I've run out of superlatives and exaltations. This is highly recommended.

 


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