The latest Blu-ray the Hard Way explores some of the new (and old) features making their way into the gorgeous 4K restoration of Tobe Hooper’s horror classic.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Release date: September 23, 2014 (USA)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow
Running time: 83 Minutes
MPAA rating: R
The Texas Chain Saw Massacreis as much myth as it is movie. In his new commentary track for Dark Sky Films’ 40th anniversary disc, director Tobe Hooper shares an anecdote about being unable to convince a fan that the movie wasn’t based on a true story. And he’s not alone: in his book, Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made the World’s Most Notorious Horror Movie (which is a must-read, by the way), Leatherface actor Gunnar Hansen recalls having to disabuse a yet another young fan of some of the myths about the flick. In spite of its lack of graphic violence, fans remember Leatherface putting the saw to his victims on-screen, or seeing the hook go through Terry McMinn’s character Pam.
In a way, Dark Sky’s four-disc set is a celebration of the curious legend of Chain Saw, a low-budget 1974 indie that made piles of money (but not much for the poor UT Austin film students and theater types who shot it), has spawned dubious sequels and spin-offs, and became a worldwide phenomenon/cultural touchstone/choose your own superlative. It’s hard not to see this as a disc assembled by fans for fans, a kitchen sink approach which has gifted us with a pristine transfer that still maintains the Texas grit of the film while also recycling some mildly fannish bonus material from previous discs.
The first disc contains the gorgeous 4K restoration of the film. While I can’t offer a point of comparison with any film prints of the movie, Dark Sky has somehow avoided DNR-ing this disc to hell. It’s clean print of Chain Saw which still maintains enough of the grain to give the movie its legendary documentary-style texture. Scenes like the opening cemetery sequence with the moist corpse formation just pop out at you, lurid horrors made even moreso with digital clarity.
The disc also includes four commentary tracks, two of which come from the 2000-ish DVD release. The first features Tobe Hooper, Gunnar Hansen, and Daniel Pearl while the second features stars Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, and Production Designer Robert Burns. New to this disc is a chat with Tobe Hooper whose memories of the production seem to line up with the many stories told about the film over the years. The director is kind of uneasy, it seems, with some of the more extreme methods it took to get Chain Saw shot, although he sounds apologetic when it comes to some of the trials and tribulations his cast suffered (often at his hands). The second, slightly more technical track includes cinematographer Daniel Pearl, Editor Larry J. Carroll, and sound man Ted Nicolauou.
The second disc includes three documentaries, a couple of which have been seen/used elsewhere. That’s not really a complaint, just be aware that some of the content here is in standard def.
Some of the highlights: The hour-long The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth is an admirably comprehensive hour-long doc about an 83-minute movie and its legacy, with plenty of juicy anecdotes from its stars, its director, producers, and wonderfully cantankerous production designer Robert Burns. I believe this doc made its debut on the 2000 disc, and while it offers a wealth of information about the movie and its sequels, it’s hard not to overlook some of the shakier aspects of the production like the hammy VO that tries to ape John Larroquette’s opening narration or the shots of the Third Reich when discussing the 28-year ban of the film in Britain.
Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw (from Red Shirt Films) and A Tour of the TCM House With Gunnar Hansen likewise lean heavily on the film’s legacy, although the former is valuable for its chat with cinematographer Daniel Pearl who gets personal about his experiences with the film and how he spent years trying to escape it (before helping make another one in 2003).
There’s so much more, including outtakes from the Shocking Truth doc, stills, a trailer for the restoration disc, additional solo interviews with stars John Dugan (Grandpa), Production Manager Ron Bozman, and actress Teri McMinn (Pam, who did not care for his high-riding shorts in the film). The third and fourth discs include the DVD versions of the film in case you need ’em.
Dark Sky’s set is comprehensive, a historical look back at what remains a deeply effective piece of sicko horror (and I mean that in a good way). The 4K restoration alone is worth getting the disc for, but for fans (or would-be fans), the numerous docs and features with the people who made it offer a chance to see just how the legacy of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was born.