Despite the fact that the 90% of the film’s violence occurred off-screen, Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” managed to get banned twice in the UK, and is widely considered a “gore classic” even though there’s nary a chopped off limb in sight. Such is the power of suggestion, and such is the power of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
In a remote part of Texas, at the height of a merciless heat wave, a group of teens pick up an oddball hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who sickens the group with stories of his slaughterhouse days, passes around pictures of his kills, and, finally, pulls out a straight razor and slashes the hand of wheelchair bound Franklin (Paul A. Partain). The group dumps the hitchhiker, and make their way to Franklin and his sister, Sally’s (Marilyn Burns), grandfather’s house; a ramshackle cottage where they’d spent much of their youth. One of the young couples ventures off to a swimming hole, only to discover another house nearby. Low on gas, they decide to see if the owner would be willing to part with some, but, upon entering the house, instead find floors covered in feathers and teeth, a macabre collection of furniture and sculptures made of bone, and then, ultimately, the flesh-masked, chainsaw-wielding Leatherface and his cannibal kin.
Filmed on a shoestring budget (and funded by the profits from another notorious film of the era – “Deep Throat”), Tobe Hooper’s lo-fi masterpiece has earned its place as a classic in the annals of horror not because of what it is was audiences had seen, but, rather, what it is was they’d thought they had seen. Nifty camera tricks, unnerving sound effects, and grotesquely detailed and horrific sets give the impression of an ultraviolent film, but, in reality, Massacre is remarkably tame given its subject matter (the director was actually shooting for a PG rating!), and it’s a testament to Hooper’s strengths as a filmmaker that he was able to so effectively shock audiences with merely the implication of violence. Now, more than thirty years later, people still watch this film– even those who’ve seen it before – with their eyes half-closed, hands held up to their faces in anticipation of something that never comes, and then walk away from the film shaken and disturbed, convinced they’d seen something far worse than it actually was. Tobe Hooper made a film in which the horror begins on the screen but finishes in the imagination, thus letting his audience do half the work. If that’s not masterful filmmaking, I don’t know what is.
Dark Sky/MPI unleashes The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on Blu-ray in a 1080p transfer culled from the film’s original 16mm negatives and presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. One has to take into consideration the film’s age and, most importantly, the 16mm source when grading this one. The image is expectedly grainy, and there are some occasional jaggies and artifacts that pop up during the darker sequences, but, overall, the image is fairly crisp and there are some exceptional moments of detail and clarity (the scales of the armadillo on the road side, Marilyn Burns’ dilating pupil and bloodshot eyes, etc.). I did notice some instances of a rather unnatural purplish hue in the “moonlit” segments, but it’s also apparent on Dark Sky’s DVD release of the film, so I’m going to assume it was a color correction choice as my other copies of TCM are a bit more “washed out” and I couldn’t replicate the effect. Minor quibbles aside, Dark Sky Films have delivered a definite upgrade over their already superlative DVD effort, as this is the best visual representation of the film yet.
As important as the audio is to the mood of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, one has to remember that the original mix of the film was in mono (a digitally remastered version of which is included here). Therefore, the 5.1 Dolby DTS mix, while a bit more sonically enhanced, isn’t as true a representation of the film’s aural soundscape as the very nice 2.0 PCM Lossless track, which offers crisp dialogue, and faithfully recreates everything from the haunting slaughterhouse sound effects and subtle ambient drones to the purr of the chainsaw and Marilyn Burns’ ear-piercing screams. While, like the image quality, the soundtrack won’t necessarily make for great reference material, but its leaps and bounds better than in any previous release of the film.
Dark Sky has ported over all of the excellent supplements from their DVD release of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as well as a Blu-ray exclusive interview feature with co-star Terri McMinn called, appropriately enough, “Off the Hook”. Other extras include the excellent documentaries, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth”, and “Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw”. Rounding out the goodies are a pair of commentary tracks, a tour of the “Sawyer House” with Gunnar Hansen, deleted scenes ,“bloopers”, trailers, TV Spots, radio spots, and a stills gallery. All of the extras, including the Off the Hook interview segment, are presented in 480p, but the abundance and quality of material here more than makes up for the lack of any HD supplements.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is still one of the most frightening and intense horror films ever made, and, despite countless rip-offs and attempts to duplicate Hooper’s formula, still stands as the definitive “backwoods lunatics” flick. Dark Sky Films, who have already endeared themselves to horror enthusiasts with their exciting catalogue of forgotten gems and cult-classics, makes an impressive Blu-ray debut, here, with a title that’s a must-buy for any serious horror fan.