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Texas Chainsaw Massacre 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
1974
Studio: 
Dark Sky Films1
Genre: 
Slasher
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
A
Aspect Ratio: 
1.78:1
Directed by: 
Tobe Hooper
Cast: 
Marilyn Burns
Paul A. Partain
Gunnar Hansen
Jim Siedow
Edwin Neal
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
5

When Dark Sky Films announced they’d be releasing a 40th Anniversary Blu-ray of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I have to admit I was very skeptical. We see this with marquee titles quite a bit, from seemingly annual releases of Halloween and Evil Dead variants, to the major studios slapping numbers on covers and releasing the same old version of the same film in five year increments. Oftentimes it’s a cash grab, plain and simple, and, while as a fan and consumer, I find it all quite irksome. However, as someone with a business background I just can’t fault a company for finding ways to keep making money off of their biggest assets as it’s precisely the reason they acquired the titles to begin with.

So, as I said, I was skeptical about this 40th Anniversary release.  After all, Dark Sky had already put out what I considered the definitive version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre just a few years back. How could they possibly improve on it, especially given the 16mm origins of the film? I mean, cripes, you can’t squeeze blood from a stone, right?

Well, I don’t know how they did it, but, boy howdy, they did, and they did it in a big way. With this new 4K scan of the film’s original negative, they’ve  taken their previous benchmark and damn near mops the floor with it, delivering an image so crisp, vibrant, and downright gorgeous that it literally gave me goosebumps. 

Now, as for my review, I’ve written about this film more times than I can count, so I’m just going to copy and paste my most recent review below. I do this because I’m lazy.  If you already know all you need to know about the film proper and could care less what I think of it, meet me on the other side…

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 makes their way to Franklin and his sister, Sally’s (the late 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 (Gunnar Hansen) 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.

Now, as mentioned previously, Dark Sky Films released this sucker as one of their inaugural releases way back in 2006 as an “Ultimate Edition” (and it was).  That set was loaded with goodies, and featured a transfer that, at the time, I described as being “as good as the film will ever look”.  Now, nine years later, I’m thrilled to admit that this 4K scan of the original negative (overseen by Tobe Hooper, himself) has made a liar out of me.  From the minute I saw that dead armadillo on the side of the road until Leatherface’s chainsaw ballet at the end, I watched this release with the biggest, stupidest grin on my face. I know it’s an overused bit of hyperbole in review circles, but, yes, it did feel like I was watching this film all over again for the first time, and it was good. Actually, it was better than good. It was…amazing.

There are scenes, here, where little details, like stray hairs dancing in the wind, the fine stitching in Leatherface’s mask, and even the pores in the bleached bone furniture are just jump out at you, and its fine details like this that really shine here. Yes, the image is still grainy and grungy (as it should be), but this newfound clarity is a revelation that’s immediately apparent.  It’s also important to note that this new restoration removes nearly every trace of dirt and debris from the image. I’m talking clean as a whistle, here, folks!

We get four audio tracks here, a 2.0 stereo PCM track, and 5.1 DTS HD MA track, both of which were carried over from the previous Dark Sky release, as well as new mono PCM track and a 7.1 DTS HD MA made specifically for this 40th Anniversary Edition, and, like the video, overseen by Hooper. This new track is a very expressive and well-balanced mix, but it’s still fairly center heavy, and not a huge improvement over the 5.1 track, but I did notice that dialogue sounded a touch cleaner and bass was a bit more robust.

Dark Sky offers three versions of this set; a single disc Blu-ray, a two-disc deluxe edition (the version reviewed here), and a really sweet Black Maria Boxed set, released in conjunction with Gorgon Video. Bonus features on the Deluxe edition include four feature-length commentary tracks, two of which were made specifically for this release.

First up we get a pretty staid commentary track from the old Elite laserdisc featuring Hooper, Gunnar Hansen, and cinematographer Daniel Pearl. I’ve heard this track before and I always found it to be far too low-key, with Hooper, especially, seeming somewhat disinterested in revisiting the film. The other previously released commentary track comes from Dark Sky’s Ultimate Edition and is a very busy track featuring actors Burns, Partain, and Allen Danziger ("Jerry"), and production designer, Robert Burns. Moderated by Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth director, David Gregory, it’s a fun listen, but there’s a lot of cross-chatter and the conversation goes off course quite a bit.

The two new tracks fare much better, with the first, featuring Hooper and Gregory, being a much more focused and lively affair, while the second commentary (once again featuring Daniel Pearl, as well as editor, J. Larry Carroll, and sound designer Ted Nicolau) is also moderated by Gregory, and delves into some fascinating stuff about the technical side of the film.

Much of the other bonus content has been ported over from the Ultimate Edition release, and, well, they didn’t call it the Ultimate Edition for nothing! There was literally hours of stuff to keep viewers entertained here already, but Dark Sky still found a way to add to it with a few brand new supplements, including never before seen outtakes, new interview with Ron Bozman, actor John Dugan, and editor, Carroll, and even a vintage episode of Sean Clark’s Horror’s Hallowed Grounds.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 40th Anniversary Edition is must-buy stuff. It improves upon Dark Sky’s already fantastic 2006 release in every way, and, unlike a lot of special editions, brings over all of the goodies from that release, and packs on a few more for good measure. Obviously, this is the new definitive edition of this film and comes with my highest possible recommendation!

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