'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 Chain Saw Massacre.'
What is there left to say about Tobe Hooper's 1974 horror masterpiece "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?" Although the shoot was arduous, filmed during a Texas summer where temperatures routinely shot over 100 degrees, the film was inspired in so many ways. Hooper came up with his story of five kids' run-in with cannibalistic maniacs having been haunted by stories told by Wisconsin relatives when he was very young (it wasn't until after he'd made the movie that he learned that the maniac who dug up graves and made lamps and furniture from human remains was Ed Gein), but it was also invested by the troubling events in an America that had just experienced the Manson murders, the Vietnam War, Watergate and gas shortages. The 'tragedy that befell five youths' (Hooper directed narrator John Larroquette to go for an Orson Welles-like sound) quickly earned a notorious reputation, and yet the film contains hardly any gore (there are exactly four scenes where we see blood let - the Hitchhiker's (Ed Neal) cutting of his own palm, his razoring of Franklin's (Paul Partain) arm, the pricking of Sally's (Marilyn Burns) finger and Leatherface's (Gunnar Hansen) chainsaw hitting his own leg).
But Hooper and his art director Bob Burns conjured up a picture of hell in rural America, aided by the inspired performances of Shakespearean actor Jim Siedow as the conflicted older brother of the demented Hitchhiker and mentally disabled Leatherface, whose three human skin masks dictated his changing personas. Burns used rotting animal carcasses and real human teeth and skeletons to dress the Texas farmhouse. Hooper went to incredible lengths to devise the nerve-shredding score. Young cinematographer Daniel Pearl devised one of the most astonishing shots in cinema history with his wide angle lens tracking under a swing to follow Pam (Teri McMinn) to her appointment with a meat hook. Both Hooper and his cinematographer came within inches of a live, running chainsaw to capture the infamous Leatherface 'dance' which ends the film. The movie has been hugely influential over the past forty years, but never equaled (Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects" comes closest).
Now Dark Sky Films has issued a 40th anniversary, 4K scan DVD/blu-ray combo collector's edition release of the film and it is, in a word, remarkable. This is a film I have seen probably more than any other and yet I saw numerous things I'd never seen before, like the W.E. Slaughter family name sign hanging over the gas station/barbecue door or the animals on the wallpaper of a child's bedroom in Sally's grandfather's old house. And yet more pixels doesn't mean the film's been gussied up - it still looks like a film shot in the 1970's. This is a brilliant transfer and is the only one that has used the original 16mm film that went through Pearl's camera. (Hooper also supervised a new 7.1 surround sound mix for this release.)
And it is positively packed with extras. There are four commentary tracks. The previously available Tobe Hooper, Gunnar Hansen and Daniel Pearl one is full of anecdotes, insider filmmaking tidbits (it's particularly illuminating listening to Hooper talk about how he cut the film to increase a sense of dread and hilarious to hear he actually hoped to get a PG rating) and general jocularity. Another prior track is with Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul Partain and production designer Bob Burns. The new Tobe Hooper commentary made for this release (he's 'interviewed' by his 'Making of' director) isn't as much fun, but it's not simply a repeat either, with Hooper talking at length about his collaborators and just how he made the now unmistakable sound which opens his film. Another new commentary comes from cinematographer Daniel Pearl, editor J. Larry Carroll and sound recordist Ted Nicolaou. The film may only run 83 minutes, but there is so much lore, so many tales to be told, that it really does support multiple tracks.
Other goodies include 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth,' a lengthy doc on the making of the film in which we see the farmhouse before and after and hear how and why an armadillo replaced the dead dog of the script. Gunnar Hansen conducts a tour of the house, which was moved to Kingston, TX and became a restaurant. 'Flesh Wounds - 7 Stories of the Saw' is a hodgepodge which includes an interview with Pearl, one with Ed Neal, then sidetracks to an 'in memoriam' (too early to include Burns) and some fan conventions. There are deleted scenes and a blooper reel which appeared on previous editions, but also new cuts, like the first Leatherface 'dance' when Sally ran into the gas station. John Dugan, the eighteen year-old who portrayed the 108 year-old grandfather, also gets an interview as well as a segment on his makeup.
The four disc set will be like Christmas for any fan of the film, but Dark Skies has also issued a 'Black Maria' edition which comes housed in a reproduction of the Black Maria truck and includes everything above plus a poster, Leatherface apron and exclusive bonus disc featuring a conversation between Tobe Hooper and "The Exorcist's" William Friedkin (www.gorgon-video.com).
This new set should please any film lover, but it is absolutely essential for fans of the horror genre.
Robin gives The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 40th Anniversary 4K Scan DVD/Blu-ray Combo Collector's Edition an A.
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