The review which you are about to read is an account of a film about the tragedy which befell a group of five actors, in particular Marilyn Burns and her screen brother, Paul Partain. It is all the more tragic in that their acting careers never took off. But, had they experienced very, very successful careers, 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 summer. For them an idyllic summer film shoot became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to one of the most bizarre films in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Rather than dwelling on that cheesy introduction (was it really necessary? Probably not), I’ll head straight into the review. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the best horror movies ever made. I haven’t seen every horror film there is, so I can’t say that there definitely isn’t a better one out there. But if there is, I haven’t seen it.
The effects in the opening shots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre hold up very well in this Blu-ray upgrade. The beginning of the film has a very forceful impact; the sounds are discomforting and the images are disturbing. We’re then afforded a few minutes with the ‘good’ characters from the film. They bicker and joke and lure us into believing that we’re on safe ground. Then they pick up a hitchhiker, out of sympathy for him having to stand roadside in sweltering heat. Then things get weird.
The Hitchhiker is a twisted, trippy creation, a crazy human warped into almost cartoon proportions. Expertly played Ed Neal, the Hitchhiker sets the kids onto their journey into hell. If his juddery description of working in a slaughterhouse is a little uncomfortable, the moment when he slices his own hand open is flat out un-nerving. The character sets the scene perfectly for the madness that proceeds.
Rather than continuing a run through of the film, I’ll just go through and mention what needs to be said. The rest of the cast of villains are also terrific. Jim Siedow plays the father figure of the Sawyer family. Coming across as a sinister Walter Matthau, The Cook is a seemingly sympathetic character, occasionally dropping his guise to indulge in violent sadism. This grounded portrayal is important in maintaining the film’s tone and prevents things from going ‘too far out’.
Gunnar Hansen’s portrayal of Leatherface is actually quite masterful. Deprived of using his face and speech for expression, the character still comes across as complete, owing to his authentic movement and bizarre sounds. Despite numerous others playing the role, Hansen is still the definitive Leatherface.
People will often remark of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that its genius lies in how little violence and gore it shows. ‘It’s scarier because you have to imagine it for yourself’ goes the theory. Well, that’s not strictly true. While the most grisly stuff does take place off-camera, there’s still plenty of gore and violence on display. The early scene where Leatherface strikes a character with a hammer is very explicit in what you see. That said, it’s also very effective.
The highlight of the film is the dinner party scene. If you’ve seen the film already, most likely you’re nodding at the moment. The scene is the most disturbing piece of cinema I’ve ever seen. The combination of weird visuals, bizarre events and mind-melting sounds combine to send the human brain into overload.
With the release of Paranormal Activity, I keep hearing people say ‘I didn’t find it scary because I don’t believe in ghosts’. Other people will respond ‘It’s the idea of monsters and aliens that I find scary, so I found that The Thing terrified me’. I think that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre shows that, regardless of the subject matter, if a horror film is well shot, well acted and effectively uses sound design, it will be scary, regardless of the subject matter. Atmosphere is the most effective tool a horror filmmaker has, and this film creates a relentlessly terrifying atmosphere.
Before mentioning the picture quality upgrade for this disc, it’s worth noting that this is a low budget horror movie made over 30 years ago. It’s only ever going to look so good. That said, this is an impressive transfer. The detail in the picture is greatly improved from the DVD releases and the colours look vivid. The scenes set in the Texas sun are quite a sight to behold.
The film features heavy grain throughout, although it is particularly noticeable when scenes take place at night. Whether this bothers you is for you to decide. It’s an old movie, it features some grain, what are you gonna do?
The film also sounds better than ever. Overall, it’s a significant improvement over the most recent DVD release.
Extras-wise, this disc features everything from the three disc DVD edition. No more, no less. There’s plenty to see, including two feature length ‘making of’ documentaries. The better of the two, ‘The Shocking Truth’, charts the film from its creation through to the last of the original batch of sequels. The other, ‘Flesh Wounds’, features seven segments of varying quality covering, basically, everything that ‘The Shocking Truth’ misses.
Elsewhere on the disc there are interviews, trailers, deleted scenes (nothing to get excited about) and two commentary tracks. Of all of the interviewees, Kim Henkel (co-writer of the film) comes across as the most interesting person involved. I would like to have heard him featured on a commentary.
So, is it worth the upgrade? Probably. If you don’t have an up-to-date version, then there’s enough bonus features here to entirely fill an empty brain with Chain Saw Massacre trivia. The picture is great, but it’s never going to be up there with the most pristine transfers. But if you’re unsure, it’s a film that we’ve seen released again and again, so if you hold tight; you might find that an even more definitive edition gets released.
The Film:The Disc:
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Seriously Ultimate Edition is out now on Blu-ray.