The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - The Ultimate Edition Blu-ray Review
PictureWith such a film as this - grainy, muted and shot on 16mm - you could be forgiven for assuming that the hi-def process wouldn't actually do much to enhance its visual look without looking like a mockery of A) the filmmaker's intent and B) the imagery that many of us have known intimately for a very long time. Well, the good news is that the new VC-1 1080p transfer has not made any errors in bringing Hooper's Texan nightmare into sharper, clearer relief. The transfer has been made by striking a brand new 16mm inter-negative with all new timings, preserving the movie for a long time to come even if the original elements become unusable.
Thus, the essential grain remains and there is definitely less digital noise in the frame than has been evidenced on previous versions. The image is now very film-like and betrays no over-zealous DNR to wax over the grisly details of flayed-skin masks, blood-drained faces, rictus-wide with fear. But there may still be some artefacting to be seen during some earlier scenes which have a rougher appearance, overall, than the rest of the movie. Shots in the camper have never looked good - washed-out, murky and indistinct - but I would have to say that they do look better here, though not by a great stretch. Lighting and shadow-play have a richer feel to them, enabling more detail in the picture to be made out in either harsh-lit scenes or their darker companions. The lampshade made of a stripped human face is less obscured and yellowed-out, the weather-vanes and small windmills outside the house are much more detailed and contain sharper edges than ever before. The dried-up swimming-hole offers tufts of grass and pebble-patches that were once just blurs and the bone-furniture now yields-up the marks of carving and a finer texture. And check out the detail on Grandpa's Little BigMan-style makeup. We can even see the texture of the material in the seedy curtains behind Leatherface as he prepares for a carve-up, with the light peeping through rancid gauze.
Damage still exists in the manner of pops, nicks and scratches but their effect is necessary and welcome. We don't want a pristine-looking TCM. Some shots, such as when Jerry makes his way to the family's house, moving left to right across the frame, exhibit flashes of age-related wounding that cannot be eradicated - yet this does not hinder the enjoyment of such a finely captured image at all.
The atmospheric shots of the full moon appearing from behind the blue-tinted clouds don't really look any sharper than before - well not by much anyway. But if you look at the branches of the trees and the foliage you will see that they are certainly cleaner and more sharply etched. Leatherface's grotesque masks are more indelibly horrific too - the stitching and the wire-frames to open the mouth more readily apparent. The little gobs of spattering blood that issue from poor Franklin as the saw cuts into him - actually spat out at the murderous goliath by Marilyn Burns, the makeup designer and Hooper, himself, are a touch clearer too. The blue skies and the drifting clouds still have occasional marring but are definitely more vividly painted. That wonderful tracking shot as Pam gets off the garden swing-seat and walks towards the hell-house, with the sky unfolding over her and the camera gazing up at her hot-pants always looked amazing, but now has a greater three-dimensionality then ever before. Colours have a greater depth, with the primaries now a tad more vivid - no smearing, either - and subtler, more earthy hues much less vague and dirty.
Edge enhancement is not an issue anymore - it had been quite overt in some shots on previous editions, such as amongst the high contrast during the bright sunlight of the daytime exteriors and seen around partial edges of the kids' van, for instance. But now the image is a lot smoother and finer delineated. Blacks are still not the best in town, but their depth is greater and their presence onscreen provides more intense shadow-play than previously seen.
Considering the style of filmmaking and the gritty documentary-look of TCM, this new transfer is, without doubt, a superb upgrade that fans will relish. I seriously doubt the film could actually look any better and Dark Sky's Blu-ray gets a very strong 8 out 10.
SoundWe also have to consider how vital the sound design is to the film. The uniquely disturbing soundtrack is offered here with three options. Amazingly, considering the current vogue for leaving off original tracks, Dark Sky's transfer actually includes the audacious mono track (now restored and sounding much cleaner than before), so the purists can rejoice. And, stretching the experience out a little further and louder is a PCM 2-channel stereo option and a 5.1 DTS (not DTS-MA) alternative which is surprisingly effective to be honest.
Whilst the mono option is still extremely disquieting, I personally prefer the added atmospherics and activity of the surround track. Even with the DTS, though, some dialogue is muted and somewhat forced, the voices emanating without the quite the level of natural presence that more recent fare would achieve. There is still some slight hiss, though the relentless screaming and chainsaw buzzing and that infernal score mask this to the point where it is virtually non-existent. Separation is decently achieved across the front and bass is utilised effectively for the grinding score and sound FX.
But where the surround track clearly comes into its own is, well, with the surround.
The DTS provides directionality and authentic steerage without ever being overblown or intrusive, as far as I am concerned. We now have Leatherface running towards us and then his heavy footsteps and revving chainsaw disappearing over our right shoulder as both we, and Sally, breathe a huge sigh of relief as we think we've gotten away with it. Then, of course, we also get the opposite as Leatherface suddenly roars into the shot, appearing from behind with the same effects. Another great instance of enhanced steerage is when Edwin Neal's Hitchhiker manhandles Grandpa around upstairs and Sally, bound to the “arm”-chair below, is forced to listen to the strange groans and scrapes of the living corpse's chair being moved around and above our heads. Flicking between the three audio options reveals that the sound effects have always been there, but that the surround track provides the added directional realism that convincingly moves them across the aural environment. There is even some dipping and roving for the chainsaw, itself, as Leatherface swings it around in pure frustration. Rest assured, the squish of Kirk's noggin sounds just as horrifically unpleasant this time around, if perhaps a little subdued now by the added weight of ambience in the remixed tracks. His drumming foot doing the dance of death and the harsh scraping of the steel door still sound dreadfully nasty, though, as does the clang of the hammer falling into the bucket over which Sally's head is dangling.
So, all things considered, the surround mix offers a more enveloping and distressing experience without ruining the original intentions of the film's sound design. But, the mono is there for you to savour, as well ... which is nice.
ExtrasMost of the extras found here have been available with previous versions of the movie and it is great to have them incorporated here too, alongside some interesting new material.
The commentary tracks are great to hear and offer a tremendous wealth of stories, recollection, insight and opinion into the making of the movie and its impact and legacy. However, as I suppose can only expected given the close proximity to one another throughout much of the shoot, there is a fair bit of overlap between the two. Our first track features Marilyn Burns, the late Paul A. Partain and Allen Danziger along with the incredibly innovative Art Designer Robert A. Burns, who is also no longer with us, is a decent-enough listen with some fond reminiscences and some not so fond reminiscences. The heat, the smells, the screaming and the cuts and bruises are all addressed. Burns takes up the lion's share of the chat, mainly because he was involved with every facet of the action seen onscreen, having provided virtually all the grim décor and props that fill the image.
The second track sees the director and his cinematographer chronicle the production with a slightly more technical but no less entertaining analysis. Money and improvisation are the order of the day, but the story and what influenced it are given their due in a track that is wide-ranging and always informative and tempered with the reality and bitterness of what happens to courageous, groundbreaking filmmakers.
The Shocking Truth is a brilliant candid retro-doc with all the main players - cast and crew - even an appearance by the often vilified William Lustig, director of Maniac. This is filled with frank and expressive talk about the conditions and the physical torture that the cast went through to get the job done. But the real meat of the matter concerns the unbelievable debacle over the rights to the finished film and the harrowing ordeal that Henkel and Hooper went through to get any scrap of money back for themselves and their cast despite TCM's mega success over the years. Be warned, however, there is a photo of one of Ed Gein's victims that is none too pleasant and, even more of a shock, is the sudden cut to Marilyn Burns revisiting her awesome screaming abilities that, if you are not expecting it, will rattle your fillings for sure! The feature also takes a look at the sequels and provides some intriguing behind-the-scenes footage from each. Studio interference and spooked distributors who were either frightened by the violence or didn't want up and coming stars like Matthew McConnaughy or Renee Zelwegger (both in part 4) getting exploited seem to plague the franchise and, once again, everyone talks about money - or, rather, the lack of it. This is a great and fascinating, warts 'n' all overview of the series and the phenomenon and is well worth your time. I just love listening to Robert Burns - and his little whistle through his teeth - ranting and raving all over his recollections.
Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories Of The Saw is an offbeat and detailed look at various aspects of the production and the cult surrounding the movie. Lasting for 71 minutes, we meet Tim Harden, president of the TCM Fan Club as he discusses the history of the house. Edwin Neal - who is at pains to prove he is just as loony as his character of the Hitchhiker - goes way OTT with his anecdotes, impersonations and improvisation. We get a poignant “In Memoriam” for the three members of the production who are no longer with us - Jim Siedow, Paul A. Partain and Bob Burns - and then we get a look at Dr. W. E. Barnes, the creator of the makeup effects. Next up is glimpse at the wild and manic convention circuit and the fans, including Tom Savini, who would provide the gore for Part 2. Gunnar Hansen then reveals how he got the job, what his dreams and aspirations were and what he has done with his “Life After Leatherface”.
There is another section added to this, which is 7 mins of outtake footage from the documentary. Merely some funny bits, some strange bits and some extra bits.
The Blooper Reel offers some fluffed-lines, banged heads and wheelchair slip-ups. The Deleted Scenes show us some more gore and Leatherface putting his makeup on before dinner.
We get a tour of the house with Gunnar Hansen, revealing that it is now a restaurant - which is beautifully ironic, isn't it? Lasting for 8 minutes, he shows us where various moments of the action occurred and marvels at how much the old gaff - built in the 1880's - has changed.
In Making Grandpa we get a great little slideshow of young John Dugan getting transformed into the finger-licking, living corpse and it is a cool little aside that shows the incredible prosthetic work of FX-novice Dr. W. E Barnes.
Off The Hook - a slightly overlong interview with Teri McMinn, who plays the unfortunate Pam, that is still very interesting and amusing. She comes across as a terrifically nice person but the loose style of the feature means that the poor girl is just left to ramble much too often. Still, it is great to hear from the girl on the meathook talking about her time hanging-out (!) on the set of one of the most infamous horror movies ever made.
And the extensive package is rounded-off with 2 trailers, 3 TV spots and 2 radio spots.
A terrific set of bonuses there, folks, that leaves no stone unturned and definitely benefits from its off-the-cuff honesty about the controversial production and its equally controversial antics behind the camera with Mafia-funding and two-faced studios.
A richly deserved 9 out of 10.
VerdictThe film remains one of the undisputed giants of the Horror Film. It puts a rocket up the ass of indie-moviemaking and shakes the foundations of cultural sensibility like a pit-bull with a postman's leg. That Tobe Hooper fell from such a pioneering spirit is absolutely no surprise at all - he was spent, quite simply. So many other once-impressive genre-masters burned-out and lost that vital spark - step forward John Carpenter and Dario Argento - but Hooper had raised his own bar to such unfeasible heights that nothing he could come up with, subsequently, would come close.
Dark Sky have released Texas Chainsaw in the best possible transfer. It is not an easy film to wow you with its hi-def glory, but if you know the movie - its looks, its sound and the minutia of detail that had, previously, been hidden away both visually and audibly - then you will appreciate the work that has been done for its 1080p incarnation. It won't rock the world of pin-sharp three-dimensional Blu-ray titles, but it will make its multitude of fans very happy indeed. Couple this transfer with an exemplary and ultra-frank selection of comprehensive and decidedly un-EPK-style extra features and you are onto a winner of huge proportions. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - if you know it and you love it or respect its vital place in the annals of the Horror Film, then you need this edition.
It cuts to the quick and scars for life.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.97
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