Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The (1974) (Steelbook) (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)1974 (February 28, 2023)
Studio(s)Vortex/Bryanston Distributing Company (Dark Sky Films)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
Few horror films have been as successful, as revered, and as imitated as Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a film that the director later admitted was meant more as a satire, but the horror was so unrelenting that audiences at the time saw next to none of the humor in it. Hooper would later make a sequel that was more aggressively constructed as a horror comedy, but the original stands as one of the most ferocious films of its era.
Tobe Hooper’s 1974 Ed Gein’s-extended-family-gone-terrifyingly-awry was also a well-made piece of filmmaking, which is why it’s lasted for nearly fifty years. Whether they were aware of it or not, audiences were also subliminally terrified by the filmmakers themselves. After all, what kind of people would make something so maniacal and grotesque that felt like a documentary and managed to turn the backwoods American family into something that should be feared? Steven Spielberg might have scared people out of the water with Jaws, but Tobe Hooper scared them out of the South, the dark roads, and the desolate areas of the country where the only thing that was keeping you safe was a full tank of gas. It was a time when the world was feeling less and less secure, slowly drifting away from the idea that all you needed was a good job in a decent neighborhood (being a white man certainly couldn’t hurt) and you could achieve everlasting bliss. That was never the truth, but many were coming to that realization, and it’s reflected in the films of the 1970s.
As time went on, Leatherface and his trusty chainsaw became all time horror icons. There’s hardly any haunted house attractions in the world that aren’t armed with someone in a mask wielding a chainsaw. However, we tend to forget that it’s also the other members of Leatherface’s insane family that add to the terror. That feeling of being stuck in a hopeless situation and that there’s no one to help you or sympathize with your plight, and the only way out is your own will to survive. All of that stems from the four members of this crazy clan of cannibals, all of whom want to make barbecue out of you, and if you want to escape, you’re going to have to jump through a plate glass window and run screaming for your life. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
Horror fans raised on a gluttonous diet of increasingly simpler, or even more complicated horror films, might be dismissive toward The Texas Chain Saw Massacre upon their first viewing. It’s a simple premise by any decade’s standards, but it’s the quality of the material that stands up. It doesn’t help that the film was sequelized and remade, becoming a franchise almost by accident, meaning that those who’ve seen its later iterations may not be as affected by it. But for the rest of us, that initial stunned feeling of seeing it in a theater in 1974, or later on VHS when your parents weren’t around and you were able to rent it without restriction, can rarely be equaled.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was shot by cinematographer Daniel Pearl on 16 mm film using Bolex HR 16 and Eclair ACL16 cameras, and blown up to 35 mm with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 for theatrical distribution. Dark Sky Films presents Turbine Medien’s director-approved 4K restoration of the original 16 mm camera negative on Ultra HD, graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included). Up until Blu-ray, Chain Saw never really had a pristine presentation. Indeed, it was shot on troublesome film stock with splotchy grain due to the 35 mm blow-up process, and even though what’s presented here showcases variances in grain and weaknesses in the original camera negative, it’s still a potent presentation that’s organic to its source. There’s speckling throughout, but it’s an otherwise clean picture with a bitrate that primarily sits between 70 and 80Mbps. The new HDR grade, which was absent from Turbine’s previous UHD release of the film from 2018, deepens blacks and widens the gamut of the color palette, improving contrast and bringing a richness out in every hue, especially red. The film could benefit from further restoration work, but at what point would the overall aesthetic be lost? It shouldn’t look perfect, and this presentation certainly doesn’t aim for that. It aims for authenticity, and sails over it.
The main audio option is English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), but also included are DTS-HD Master Audio tracks in 7.1, 2.0 stereo, and 1.0 mono. Subtitles are also included in English SDH. This is an excellent selection that offers nearly every sound experience of the film previously and currently available, although the 5.1 track from Dark Sky’s previous Blu-ray release has been left in the digital dust. The 7.1 and object-based tracks offer additional spread for sound effects and score, providing occasional panning whenever a vehicle passes in front of the camera, while clean stereo and mono experiences are present for purists.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on 4K Ultra HD sits in Steelbook packaging alongside a 1080p Blu-ray, which also contains the bulk of the extras. The cover features the original theatrical poster artwork, while the inner packaging features a picture of the family during the dinner scene. Also included is a double-sided poster, featuring the original theatrical artwork on one side, and Jason Edmiston’s excellent poster artwork on the reverse. A standard version is also available. The following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE (UHD – FILM)
- Audio Commentary with Marilyn Burns, Paul Partain, Allen Danziger, Robert A. Burns, and David Gregory
- Audio Commentary with Tobe Hooper, Gunnar Hansen, and Daniel Pearl
- Audio Commentary with Tobe Hooper and David Gregory
- Audio Commentary with Daniel Pearl, J. Larry Carroll, Ted Nicolaou, and David Gregory
DISC TWO (BD – EXTRAS)
- The Legacy of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (HD – 82:45)
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary Q&A (Upscaled HD – 54:09)
- Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (SD – 72:49)
- Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw (SD – 71:42)
- Gunnar Hansen’s Chainsaw House Tour (SD – 8:03)
- Off the Hook with Teri McMinn (HD – 17:02)
- The Business of Chain Saw (SD – 16:26)
- Deleted Scenes & Outtakes (SD – 25:23)
- Granpaw’s Tales (HD – 15:48)
- Cutting Chain Saw (HD – 10:47)
- Blooper Reel (SD – 2:21)
- Outtakes from The Shocking Truth (SD – 7:41)
- Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (SD – 20:21)
- Dr. W.E. Barnes Presents “Making Grandpa” Gallery (HD – 55 in all – 5:30)
- Still Gallery (HD – 28 in all – 2:48)
- 40th Anniversary Trailer (HD – 1:38)
- Trailer #1 (SD – 1:42)
- Trailer #2 (SD – 1:30)
- TV Spot #1 (SD – :34)
- TV Spot #2 (SD – :33)
- TV Spot #3 (SD – :33)
- Radio Spot #1 (SD – :32)
- Radio Spot #2 (SD – :31)
On Disc One, there are four audio commentaries. The first was recorded in 2006 with actors Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Allen Danziger, production designer and art director Robert A. Burns, and moderator David Gregory. It’s a fun commentary as the five watch the film together. Even though they tend to talk over and interrupt each other, they have a good repartee and answer Gregory’s questions dutifully. The second audio commentary was recorded in 1996 for the Elite Entertainment LaserDisc release featuring director Tobe Hooper, actor Gunnar Hansen, and cinematographer Daniel Pearl. It too is a lighthearted commentary, although they do fall into the trap of watching the film while they talk about it. But on the whole, it’s the most enjoyable and informative track of the lot. The third commentary was recorded in 2014 and features Tobe Hooper and David Gregory once again, delving further into the film as Gregory asks Hooper questions while they watch it. The fourth and final audio commentary was also recorded in 2014 and features Daniel Pearl, editor J. Larry Carroll, sound recordist Ted Nicolaou, and David Gregory. It’s a drier track than the others, but still manages to offer new perspectives and information.
The rest of the extras can be found on Disc Two. Phillip Escott’s The Legacy of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was produced for Second Sight films and features interviews with a number of filmmakers and critics about the film, analyzing its place in horror and treating it as a piece of filmmaking, Participants include Mick Garris, Fede Alvarez, Adam Marcus, Jamie Blanks, Marcus Nispel, and Jill Gevargizian, among others. It begins from a fan’s perspective and spends a little too much time reveling in the greatness of the film, but eventually gets more interesting as it slowly evolves into an exploration of its thematics and how its perceived in popular culture today. The 40th Anniversary Q&A took place on July 21, 2014 at the Vista Theater in Los Feliz (Los Angeles) at The Cinefamily theater, and features a conversation between Tobe Hooper and William Friedkin. It opens with both of them having their handprints put in concrete outside the theater before having a back and forth with each other about the film before it’s screened. The Shocking Truth was directed by David Gregory for Blue Underground in 2000 and features interviews with the people behind the film, as well as the sequels. Participants include Tobe Hooper, Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Kim Henkel, Ted Nicolaou, Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Jeff Burr, and William Lustig, among many others. It’s the definitive document about the making of the film and has been since its original release.
Flesh Wounds was produced by Red Shirt Pictures in 2006 for Dark Sky Films and specifically speaks to members of the Chain Saw filmmaking family one by one. They include cinematographer Daniel Pearl, TCM fan club president Tim Harden, actor Edwin Neal, special makeup designer Dr. W.E. Barnes, and actor Gunnar Hansen. In addition, there’s an In Memoriam section devoted to actors Paul Partain and Jim Siedow, and art director Robert A. Burns, as well as footage from Cinema Wasteland and Texas Frightmare shows. Gunnar Hansen’s Chainsaw House Tour was also produced in 2006 and features the actor taking us on a tour of the filming location as it stands today. Off the Hook features an interview with actress Teri McMinn from 2014, which was a big deal at the time as she had walked away from the spotlight and hadn’t spoken about the film since its release. The Business of Chain Saw features an interview with production manager Ron Bozman about his experiences making the film. The Deleted Scenes & Outtakes are a mix of various elements with and without sound, including alternate takes of the corpse in the graveyard that opens the film, as well as additional dialogue in the van, and the original introduction of the main cast which started on a dead dog instead of a dead armadillo.
Granpaw’s Tales features an interview with actor John Dugan about his role in the film. Cutting Chain Saw offers an interview with editor J. Larry Carroll about the circumstances involving how the film was put together. The Bloopers are brief but do reveal that the crew managed to have some fun while making the film. Next are a brief series of outtakes from The Shocking Truth documentary and an episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds from 2008 featuring Sean Clark taking us on a tour of the filming locations in Texas. Dr. W.E. Barnes Presents “Making Grandpa” is a still gallery composed of 55 images, all featuring the makeup process for turning actor John Dugan into the character of Grandpa. Another still gallery features 28 images of behind-the-scenes moments. Closing things up are the film’s 40th Anniversary trailer, two of the film’s theatrical trailers, three TV spots, and two radio spots.
Since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been released a myriad of times on home video, it’s had various extras packages to accompany it. While this new release certainly has a large set of bonus materials to go with it, there are a few things missing. Most of it boils down to brief featurettes and interviews, but missing from Turbine Medien’s UHD releases is an isolated score audio track (in 7.1 and 5.1), a set of newly-found deleted scenes and outtakes, the original version of the A Family Portrait documentary, and The 5 Minute Massacre featurette.
Dark Sky’s 4K Ultra HD of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the finest release of the film state-side to date. Turbine Medien and Second Sight may offer even more bells and whistles, but Dark Sky has a very nice budget release option for those looking for great quality, but not one that will break the bank. For them, this release comes highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons
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