Back Comments (5) Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


Because I received this Blu-ray the afternoon before its release and because entire tomes are already devoted to the intricate beauty that is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I’m going to save some time by cutting straight to the technical aspects of this review. I considered using my old DVD review, but then I read it and, after crying for a bit, realized it was pretty much unusable. I’ll just finish this section with the verification that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of my all time favourite movies. It’s also among the most influential films of the twentieth century (a more industrious man than I would sit down, trace the origins, and draw up an elaborate family tree of copycatting and homage), so I hope that readers that don’t enjoy it are able to enjoy the literally thousands of films that owe director Tobe Hooper and his cast & crew a creative debt.

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

Video


The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was shot on a shoestring budget using 16mm Bolex and Éclair NPR cameras (the Éclair NPR was also used by Michael Wadleigh for Woodstock). It is one of the first movies of its kind to embrace the disconcertingly dirty qualities of grain and many scenes were shot in extremely low-light conditions. Some shots are gorgeous and ambitious, while others are so gritty and dark that it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on. This is Hooper and cinematographer Daniel Pearl’s design and they take it very seriously (Pearl had a career renaissance in the ‘00s when he was hired to recreate his original look for Marcus Nispel Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake). Fans of the film also take it very seriously, which is why every restoration and digital release has been met with a degree of skepticism. Will this be the time they mess it up? Will they mess with the gamma? Over-sharpen the details? Digitally remove the grain?

16mm doesn’t have a lot of room to grow in 1080p, because these formats have very similar blow-up ratios, but there were key differences between Dark Sky’s last DVD and Blu-ray releases, ironically labeled the ‘Ultimate Editions.’ Both discs were taken from a second digital restoration of the film, following a pair of discs from Pioneer Home Entertainment (from what I understand, the Elite Laserdisc originated the transfer and Pioneer over-compressed it for the DVD when they took it over), and both discs had generally the same colour-timing and film-based artefacts. The Blu-ray’s lack of compression made a difference in terms of digital artefacts, specifically jagged edges and low-level noise. 2014 marked the film’s 40th anniversary and no one involved could resist taking another swing at creating the real ultimate version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Dark Sky and NOLO Digital Film have gone back to the original 16mm film elements; though, apparently, the cheaper ‘reversal’ stock Hooper and Pearl used doesn’t produce a traditional film negative. After the movie was properly reconstructed, it was scanned in 4K, which can afford even greater detail than 35mm film can produce. In the case of a 16mm film – a gritty one at that – this is some major over-sampling, which means that every single ounce of detail has been wrung from the source material. Then, reportedly under Hooper’s supervision, the new 4K scan was cleaned up and colour graded according to the original specs. After a small theatrical re-release and a festival run, this restoration was compressed to 1080p for the Blu-ray release.

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition
The results are pretty great. This is the best the film has looked on home video and, given Hooper’s involvement in the restoration process, probably the new standard. Of course, there have been changes made to colour-timing, gamma, contrast, et cetera, so, minus the benefit of a time machine to take them back to one of the original screenings, viewers have to take Dark Sky and Hooper at their word. Comparing this release to the older one, it’s clear that the 4K restoration has a warmer overall temperature and that it skews more yellow (except those brilliant sunrise/sunset images, which are actually more orange on the new transfer). This clears up some of the Ultimate Edition’s slightly lavender hues, but also leaves blood effects looking a bit ketchupy (which is probably more accurate, given the way most stage blood appeared on film at the time). None of the more solid hues appear much more vibrant between releases, but the natural outdoor greens are richer and colour elements are better separated. The uptake in overall detail is minimal, because there’s just not much room for improvement in the original material. When blown-up to their full size, the screen caps on this page reveal slightly crisper edges, but the bigger difference is made by adjustments in contrast. The new transfer has stronger black levels (notice the tires and undercarriage of the van on the armadillo screen cap), darker shadows, and tighter highlights, all of which could’ve crushed or blown-out the finer details. Fortunately, the restoration team keeps things balanced and even those muddy Sawyer house interiors have some depth. There are some slightly blobby DNR effects over the opening credit and crawl, but no loss of natural grain throughout the film itself. It’s not a revelation, but it’s the best I’ve ever seen from the material.

Also notable is the expanded information on all sides of the frame. This transfer is framed at the same 1.78:1 aspect ratio as Dark Sky’s previous Blu-ray and DVD release, which seems to be their way of splitting the difference between the 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 ratios of the previous digital releases. However, it seems that by going back to the original material, Dark Sky and NOLO discovered extra stuff on the left and right, which made it possible to open up the matte without affecting the aspect ratio.

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

Audio


Like most zero-budget independent horror films from the ‘70s, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was originally mixed for monoraul sound. It was remixed into stereo by Elite Entertainment for their Laserdisc release, then into 5.1 for Dark Sky’s Ultimate Editions. In all cases, the change was unnecessary and the results were iffy. Generally speaking, the remixes sounded best when sticking to the centered source material and not awkwardly shifting the single track sounds or adding too many new, canned effects to the stereo and surround channels. This new 7.1 remix was reportedly supervised by Hooper himself and is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio sound (the previous release was lossless PCM). The results are better than previous versions, including more natural immersive effects and ambient noise, less abrasive directional enhancements, and a deeper/warmer representation of Hooper and Wayne Bell’s atmospheric and dissonant music. The bulk of the sound is still appropriately centered and all the dialogue has been cleaned up enough to eliminate hiss and crackle.

For completion’s sake and because I’m sure they know fans like having options, Dark Sky has included the previous Blu-ray’s 5.1 track (in DTS-HD MA), the stereo track basis for the last remix (in lossless PCM) and the original 2.0 mono (also in lossless PCM). I’m probably going to stick with the mono track, myself, for future viewing, but had made sure to run a comparison between the tracks to try and verify changes to the original material. The effects seem to match, while the dynamic ranges have been altered for the sake of the surround field and to punch up some of the scares. Occasionally, the more subtle environmental effects are over-quieted when they are spread out over the additional channels. Stuff like spooky wind noises are definitively louder on the original mono and older stereo/5.1 tracks. This strikes me as both a conscious choice on the part of the sound designers and a side effect of noise reduction software used while cleaning the tracks.

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

Extras


Dark Sky is releasing three different versions of this Blu-ray – a single-disc collection, one with a second disc of supplemental material, and one with the supplements and a big ‘Black Maria’ semi truck box to put it all in. Sadly, I was sent the single disc version, which includes only the following commentary tracks:
  • Archive commentary from the Elite Laserdisc with writer/producer/director Tobe Hooper, actor Gunnar Hansen, and cinematographer Daniel Pearl. This is a pretty flat track aside from Hansen, who does everything he can to keep the discussion alive. It’s worth listening to for his input alone.
  • Archive commentary from Dark Sky’s Ultimate Edition(s) with actors Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, and Paul A. Partain, production designer Robert Burns, and David Gregory, director of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth documentary. Gregory does his best to keep this commentary on track (excuse the pun), but people keep talking over each other. The actors also aren’t exactly prepared and have a habit of just watching the movie. Still, Burns unloads some vital information and the actors have plenty of amusing anecdotes to share.
  • New commentary with Hooper and Gregory. There’s a lot of overlap between this new track, the old track, and a number of behind-the-scenes documentaries in terms of information, but Gregory’s presence as a moderator helps keep the content moving and the information focused. Despite the quiet space, I highly recommend first-time commentary listeners check out this one over the older track, even without Gunner Hansen’s participation.
  • New commentary with cinematographer Daniel Pearl, editor J. Larry Carroll, sound recordist/designer Ted Nicolaou, and David Gregory, who, once again, acts as moderator. It’s another lively track that actually improves on the two older group tracks. The participants are better prepared, Grogory does another good job reigniting stagnant conversation, and there’s less overlap here, meaning that even die-hard fans might learn a thing or two.


 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

Overall


The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has never looked or sounded this good and, thankfully, the top-to-bottom restoration hasn’t altered the material’s grainy and grimy look. I’m not sure if I think that the 4K rescan makes such a vital difference over the older Blu-ray that passing fans need to repurchase the film, especially since it has been compressed to 1080p, but the upgrade is notable. The new 7.1 remix is definitely better than the previous 5.1 mix as well. This one disc release doesn’t have much in the way of extras, outside of the four commentary tracks (two of which are new), but there are two other versions that will be fully stacked.

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary
 Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition

* Note: The above images are taken from this 40th Anniversary Blu-ray and the older Ultimate Edition Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: