• Texas Chainsaw Massacare, The

    Released by: Dark Sky Films
    Released on: 9/26/2006
    Director: Tobe Hooper
    Cast: Marilyn Burns, Teri McMinn, William Vail
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    The Movie:

    In 1974 two nobodies from Texas wrote a script loosely based on the exploits of cannibalistic madman, Ed Gein. Interestingly enough, the Gein story had been mined before in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, a movie that went on to change the face of horror movie history. Ironic, then, that this little 16mm low budget feature debut from director/co-writer Tobe Hooper and co-writer Kim Henkel would likewise change the face of horror movies in much the same way as Hitchcock’s film did a decade earlier. This time, however, the take on the Gein mythos would be on of considerably more brutality, and the resulting film has rightly earned itself a reputation as one of the scariest and most intense films of all time.

    It’s a story that horror fans know off by heart at this point. Four teenagers – Jerry (Allen Danziger), Pam (Teri McMinn), Kirk (William Vail), Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain) – pile into a van to go visit a grave out in the middle of the country. Along the way they run out of gas and pull over at a roadside gas station/barbeque joint only to find that the place is dry and they won’t be able to fill up their vehicle until the next morning.

    In true horror movie fashion, one by one they head out from the relative safety of their vehicle to either get gas from somewhere else or find help and of course, soon enough their numbers start thinning. It seems that something is very, very wrong at the run down old house not too far from the gas station and when Sally eventually finds herself there trying to track down her friends she winds up being held captive by a family of cannibals comprised of a strange hitchiker they’d picked up earlier (Edwin Neal), an older man (Jim Siedow), a huge dim witted maniac named Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) and their invalid Grandpa (John Dugan). From this point on, Sally’s life is made to be a living Hell and she’s in for a night that she’ll never forget.

    From the opening narration (courtesy of John Larroquette of Night Court fame!) and text scrawl to the beginning shots of a sun baked graveyard, The Texas Chainsaw has an atmosphere about it that can only be described as wrong. The film wreaks of dead animals and unclean sweat stained miscreants and it’s one of those rare movies that is completely disturbing even when things during the more subdued moments. Granted, there’s really very little character development for either the teenagers or the family that ultimately takes them down – snippets are dropped here and there, enough so that we can distinguish them from one another, little more. What matters here is what happens far more so than who it happens to. Thankfully, Hooper was savy enough even at a young age and with relatively little experience to pace the film right so that we don’t really notice the lack of character development as we’re too busy having the crap scared out of us to care.

    The first half hour or so of the movie builds nicely. We know from the moment that they let the hitchiker into their van that they’ve been marked and his actions inside with his knife confirm it. From there, we know it’s going to all go downhill fast for these friends. The man at the gas station knows it too and while he half-heartedly encourages them to come on in and have some food, it’s hard to notice that there’s something rather sinister about the man and his mannerisms don’t do a very good job of hiding that. Of course, the very simple premise of just wanting to gas up the van and move on is one that anyone who has ever run out of gas can relate to so in that respect we’ve got all the build up we need. There’s a feeling of abandonement that the movie captures very well during these building moments early on and it serves to set up the final half of the movie quite well.

    And what a final half it is.

    The last part of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is horrifying. From Marilyn Burns’ manic performance as the screaming and completely terrified Sally to Hansen’s volatile chainsaw wielding madman to Neal and Siedow as the slackjawed but sinister yokels all the way to Dugan’s turn as the literally blood thirsty patriarch of the clan, this is a half hour of raw, unadulterated horror in its purest and most visceral form. All that filth and sweat and that unclean smell that permeates the first part of the film serves as only the mildest form of foreshadowing and watching this film even more than three decades after it was made its safe to say that it has lost none of its power. Remakes and Rob Zombie inspired knock-offs have their place alongside the original but none of them can come close to the intensity that Hooper and his colleagues were able to capture with this film. Everything from the arid cinematography to the decayed look of the set design to the completely unnerving score to the almost improvised and all too genuine performances adds up to what is damn close to the perfect horror movie.


    Pioneer’s previous region one release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a mixed bag as it used the incorrect master from Elite’s restored laserdisc release of the film and as such, it didn’t look as good as that laserdisc release. That being said, it was widescreen (even if it wasn’t anamorphic) and it certainly looked better than the previous VHS releases that had been available for years.

    Thankfully, Dark Sky’s release absolutely destroys all other previous incarnations of this film. The transfer has been completely restored by Don May Jr. of Synapse Films and is presented here in its original aspect ratio, enhanced for anamorphic displays and properly flagged for progressive scan playback. The first thing that you’ll notice is how much more detail is present in the image. While the film was shot on 16mm and has always had a bit of a ‘dirty’ look to it – as it should and as it still does even on this release – there’s so much more to see in this new transfer. Textures are more defined, you can make out little details around the family house that were previously lost in the shadows and you can see a lot more detail in the faces of the performers.

    The colors are also much more defined on this release. Previously things looked a bit muddy and not as defined as they could have been but here they really stand out and look much more natural than ever before. The seediness that makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre work is still completely intact and the grain and grit of the movie comes through completely unscathed but the overall clarity has been so drastically improved that comparing this disc to the previous Pioneer release is like night and day.

    There are three primary audio tracks on this release – the original mono track, a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, and a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track, each one in the film’s native English language with optional subtitles available in both English and Spanish. If you’re a purist, the mono track fits the bill nicely but if you’d rather enjoy the surround sound option the 5.1 track is very well done and nicely remastered so as to add some pretty eerie directional effects to what is already a creepy mix to begin with. The subwoofer gives a few key scenes some added depth and the rear channels are used to fill things in quite effectively but only occasionally – the stereo track doesn’t sound a whole lot different than the true surround mix. Everything sounds good, but you can’t help but feel that there definitely could have been more done with the 5.1 track here. Regardless, there aren’t any problems with hiss or distortion and the levels seem properly balanced throughout.

    Seeing as this is a ‘two-disc ultimate edition’ it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find that the extras in this set are spread across both discs. Here’s what you’ll find and where you’ll find it:


    First up is a brand new audio commentary from the cast of the film including Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Allen Danziger who are joined by make up man Robert A. Burns and moderator David Gregory. This track is pretty remarkable in that shortly after it was recorded both Partain and Burns passed away, instantly giving this discussion some historical significance. Even with that aside, it’s an interesting talk with Burns in particular having a really sharp memory and a lot of stories to tell about her involvement in the film. Gregory keeps things moving at a quick pace and when things slow down he’s fast to interject with another question which seems to keep the participants pretty interested in telling him about their experiences. This track makes for a great companion piece to the other commentary included on the disc as it’s obviously skewed towards the performers’ perspectives. It’s interesting to see how experiences differ in terms of being in front of or behind the camera while a movie is being made, particularly on one that had as grueling a shoot as this one did.

    From there, take the time to listen to the second audio commentary courtesy of Gunnar Hansen, Daniel Pearl and Tobe Hooper. This is the same track that was on the Elite Laserdisc and the Pioneer DVD but it’s a fascinating discussion even if you have heard it before. This commentary also has some historical significance as it documents the first time that these three men had sat down with one another since the movie was made back in the seventies. This lends it some enthusiasm as well as an interesting air of nostalgia while it plays back but this is far from a fluff piece as it’s packed with information. They discuss the rating of the film and the original title in addition to working with some of the actors, shooting on location in the house and some of the issues that crept up on set while the movie was being made. There’s also a really good sense of humor in this track that shines through in a few spots, particularly when Hanson has the stage. Most of us have heard this track before as it’s been re-issued a few times before but revisiting it proves to be a very enjoyable experience never-the-less.

    Rounding out the extras on the first disc are two theatrical trailers for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, three television spots for the film and two radio spots. Dark Sky has also included trailers for Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, Jim Van Bebber’s The Manson Family, Henry Portrait Of A Serial Killer and Henry 2: Mask Of Sanity. Stylish animated menus are included for the feature as are chapter stops.


    The second disc is where you’re going to find the bulk of the extra features, starting off with David Gregory’s exhaustive documentary, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth. Though this has been released before, its inclusion here adds a lot of value to an already stacked package as this seventy-five minute documentary peels away pretty much every layer surrounding the history and making of the movie. With much of the film’s history already so well documented in various books and in the two commentary tracks on the first one, it’s interesting to see here that Gregory focuses on the seedier side of the movie’s roots by way of examining the film’s distribution history and exposing some of what really happened with the people who bankrolled it. Additionally, pretty much every cast and crew member who could be wrangled up appears here to tell their story in front of the camera and so through this piece we’re able to learn even more about the film. Additionally, this documentary also spends quite a bit of time talking about the three sequels that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre spawned so we not only get a look at Hooper’s first film and its follow up but also the underrated Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Kim Henkel’s completely awful The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (starring Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellwiger!) from 1994 as well. In addition to interviews with cast members like Gunnar Hanson, Marilyn Burns, and Edwin Neal we also get segments with director Tobe Hooper as well as Kim Henkel and more as well as some thoughts from Jim Van Bebber who does quite a good job explaining some of the film’s influence on his work.

    If one feature length documentary weren’t enough, Dark Sky has also provided Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories Of The Saw, which is Mike Felsher’s seventy-two minute seven segment look at various aspects of the film and its history. Covered in this piece is Daniel Pearl’s involvement in the film as cinematographer which culminates in a really interesting comparison to his work on the original film versus his work on the 2003 remake. Tim Harden, who is the president of the official Texas Chainsaw Massacre Fan Club is interviewed and he speaks at length about his love for the film before telling us some interesting history behind the house where the movie was shot. W. E. Barnes was the effects man who did the latex parts for ‘Grandpa’ in the film and here he explains how his work as a plastic surgeon came in handy while working on the film and he’s followed by a very candid segment with Edwin Neal who we all know as the ‘hitchhiker’ character. Neal basically just cuts loose and gets really animated as he does some bits that border on stand up comedy before spilling his guts as to what it was like for him to have worked on the film. From there we see a sombre tribute to Jim Siedow and Paul A. Partain, both of whom passed away before this documentary was made. This is made up of some quotes and thoughts on the two men and it makes for a nice way to recognize their involvement in the film. Footage of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre reunion that took place at the Cinema Wasteland Convention is up next, and it includes some interviews with the convention organizer, and things finish off with an interview with Gunnar Hansen who covers what it was like to be Leatherface and gives us a good idea of what his experiences during the shoot were like. When it’s all said and done, this is yet another interesting, entertaining and very comprehensive look at a few different aspects of the production.

    Those who have owned the Pioneer release or the laserdisc will be familiar with the twenty-five minutes worth of outtakes and deleted clips from the film that Dark Sky has carried over. They’re presented as one big piece rather than broken down into individual clips but this material is worth sitting through if you haven’t already done so to get a glimpse at some of the interesting footage that didn’t make the cut. There’s a fair amount of roadkill footage in here so those with a soft spot for animals might be put off but some of the shots such as those of an armadillo and a rotting dog corpse really do set the mood of the film quite well. Also included here is a blooper reel that clocks in at just under two and a half minutes in length. This is moderately amusing material as are the clips from the Shocking Truth documentary that find a new home alongside the original film’s

    Rounding out the extras on the second disc is an eight-minute long segment where Gunnar Hansen takes us on a modern day tour of the house used in the film. It’s interesting to see what the house is like now compared to what it looked like in the movie, the differences are quite drastic and Hansen provides some humorous on camera commentary over top of the shot on video footage. A still gallery of behind the scenes photographs and promotional material accompanies a second still gallery that documents how W. E. Barnes applied the make up for grandpa to John Dugan’s head.

    The only things missing from the extras on this release are the A Study In Filmmaking featurette from the previous Pioneer DVD and the 1988 documentary The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – A Family Portrait but even with these omissions there’s still nothing to complain about. Dark Sky has assembled an amazing array of supplements for this release. Both discs are housed in a very attractive metal case, the see-through plastic inside housing the two DVDs on one side so that the cover art on the reverse of the exterior is plainly visable when the casing is opened – a nice touch rounding out an exceptional package.

    The Final Word:

    A landmark horror film if ever there was one, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has lost none of its power over the last three decades and it stands firmly at the top of the heap of truly classic fright films. Dark Sky’s new two-disc set looks and sounds fantastic and the extras are not only exhaustively comprehensive but genuinely interesting as well.