Pioneer // 1974 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 3rd, 2000
Who will survive? And what will be left of them?
One of the most horrifying films of all time, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has gone from 16mm independent film to full-blown horror classic. Tobe Hooper's nightmarish vision from 1974 is a grim and unsettling tale that paved the way for such indie fare as Halloween and Re-Animator. Pioneer has released The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a special edition that is a "cut" above the rest.
Five teens have decided to take a little ride into the country in rural Texas. Little do they know the terror that awaits them. While on the road they stop off to wander around and be generally nosy (you know, the usual funny, wacky things kids like these do in movies like this...THAT GET THEM KILLED!). While being second rate Hardy Boys, they happen upon a house in the middle of nowhere (or, as I like to call it, Texas) and run into Leatherface (played effectively by Gunnar Hanson, with no relation to the band) and his family of misfits, the Sawyer clan. These are the type of folks who obviously peed in their own gene pool.
After cutting up a few of the kids for Christmas cookies, Leatherface and his family o' fun decide to make a meal out of one of the last surviving victims (Marilyn Burns). She, surprisingly, is not thrilled by this prospect (and she vocalizes this politely and calmly by stating "AHHHHHHRRGGHH!! DON'T CUT UP MY SPLEEN!!!"). However, like a prom date who doesn't know where to keep his hands, Leatherface doesn't take no for an answer, becoming a demented Energizer Bunny...he keeps going, and going, and going...
Based loosely on the real life tale of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein (wait, they have serial killers in Wisconsin? The same people who gave us cheese curds have SERIAL KILLERS?!?), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been hailed as a masterpiece of its genre, and as controversial as Pamela Anderson's boobs. Because of the title, many claim this to be one of the goriest films every made (these are the same people who thought Clambake was "X" rated). In reality, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre shows little blood and hardly any gore. Instead it relies upon atmosphere and timing to implement the scares, thoroughly engrossing the audience in a world more terrifying than they can possibly imagine (unless, of course, they live in Idaho).
As a horror junkie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre SHOULD have been a movie I'd seen long ago in my adolescent years. However, it somehow escaped my viewing until my later college years. The lost time did not diminish the power of this movie. Make no mistake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre IS one of the best horror films around. Why Tobe Hooper didn't go on to make more films like this is a mystery (well, there was Poltergeist, but there seems to be some debate as to who actually directed it...Hooper or producer Steven Spielberg).
The film was shot on 16mm film stock, and for once the small amount of grain present seems to add to the realistic horror taking place on screen. The actors playing the teens do a fair job, but that's all inconsequential; Leatherface and his clan are the real stars here. Such horrible and grotesque people, this is what your mother was talking about when she said don't sit too close to the TV. Apparently, she was right -- it does cause brain damage. These people are living proof.
The plot is nothing original (teens chased through creepy settings by a guy who looks like he needs a date REAL bad), but like the original Halloween, the set-up exists to propel the terror happening to the characters (and the viewer). As you watch, you don't care that you've seen this a million times before; you care that you haven't seen it this well done in a long time. Hooper may have fizzled out as a director in his later years, but he has truly made a mark for himself in the horror genre with this one original film.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, but, alas, is non-anamorphic. The film looks very good, supervised by Hooper himself when the original camera negative was transferred for this DVD version (I read that in the liner notes...unfortunately, I don't have that vast amount of knowledge on this subject). There are small amounts of grain (though, as stated, I think this is not so much a hindrance as an advantage), and sometimes blacks run into grays. However, keep in mind that the budget on this cost about as much as the donuts did for the catering truck on Scream 3, so lets not nit-pick. You're not going to find a better print of this film around, so if you're a fan, this is really your only (and best) option.
Audio is presented in two ways: mono or stereo surround 2.0. The stereo mix was redone for the DVD, and the mono track was the original soundtrack as heard back in 1974 when the film premiered. The mono track is just as it should be. It's a hollow recording, with little bass and is very...well, very old. Dialogue is sometimes hard to hear and the sound is generally centered. The stereo surround track (also supervised by Hooper) is decent, with dialogue a bit muddled but sound effects more directed. If you're looking for my opinion, this will be the one time where I think the mono track is your best bet. It seems to fit better with the overall feel of the film (very documentary-ish).
For extras we have a great plate waiting for us. To start with we get a commentary track by director Hooper, star Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface) and director of photography Daniel Pearl. The track may be no fun-frolic like the one on Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, but it is filled with nuggets of information about scenes and actors. If you're a casual fan you might get bored easily, but for diehard fans this will be a great treat.
Deleted scenes, alternate footage and outtakes are also included, which are interesting if not a bit longwinded. Much of this footage is given introduction notes, making the footage more viewable. Alternate footage includes such tidbits as close-ups of the corpse in the graveyard at the beginning of the film (how lovely). The deleted scenes are fun to watch, especially of Leatherface putting on make-up. The outtakes, probably the least fun of this group, are just screw-ups, such as a wheelchair falling over, or someone flubbing their lines (and they aren't as witty as the Grumpy Old Men outtakes. After one actor misses his line, he retorts with a witty "god-DAMN!" Comedy. my friends, at its finest). Most of the footage is very grainy and in decent to fair condition, so don't be surprised if it's not even close to the look of the original film.
Also included are trailers to the other three Chainsaw films, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (directed by Hooper as well), Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Fun to watch for hardcore fans only.
There is an interesting little "thing" called "A Study In Filmmaking," which is an unedited scene in the movie with some liner notes. The notes say (I'm paraphrasing): "When a scene is shot, the film is comprised of a number of shots edited down into a coherent scene. The following shots are shown to give you an idea how much footage is used just to get one scene for a film." Basically, they could have made a long story short and just said "it takes a butt load of film to make a movie," but apparently someone decided to take the long way around.
Rounding out the extras are some theatrical trailers and TV spots, some still photos and some poster/production materials for the film. Give it a look if you're going to go into the advertising business.
There really is not a whole lot of negative to say about this disc. Aside of the fact that it's non-anamophic, the image is in very good shape, the sound is decent, and the extras are bountiful. Some of the acting gets a little campy (such as the wheelchair-bound Franklin), but otherwise this is a very good horror film filled with images of terror that will make you stare at the ceiling in the dark just before you fall asleep (or, that may be kidney stones...if so, turn off your DVD player and contact a physician).
Final complaint would be that most women will not (and I repeat) WILL NOT watch this film with most guys. They won't even watch this film with most girls. If you're looking for a sure fire way to go home with out any hootchie cootchie that night, then by all means, make your date watch this movie.
For the price of around $24.99, you can't go wrong with this DVD version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This is THE definitive version of the movie, with loads of extras and a nice transfer by Pioneer. Leatherface can hold his own with the likes of Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers (although he has a way to go in the number of sequels he has). A fun rental for the Halloween holiday, or any holiday for that matter ("Hey Pa, go carve us up the turkey, hang some mistletoe and throw in Chainsaw, will ya?").
Free to go cause general mayhem and destruction on the DVD community. Always remember, the saw IS family. Court dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2000 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track
* Deleted Scenes
* Blooper Reel
* Alternate Footage
* Still Photos
* Posters and Collectables
* Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots
* "A Study In Filmmaking" Scene Dissection