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Feature


A series of grave robberies brings a group of friends to their rural Texas hometown, and they decide to visit an old family house while in the neighbourhood. On the way they pick up a mentally disturbed hitchhiker who proceeds to cut himself and one of the friends before running out of the van and back into the desert. When the friends arrive at the farmhouse, they decide to explore the dilapidated area surrounding it, including what they think is an abandoned house near-by. But a flesh-hungry family of outcasts lives on this land, and they don't take kindly to strangers trespassing in the night.

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Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition, The
I was initially excited to start my The Texas Chain Saw Massacre write-up. It's one of my personal favourites, and one of the most important films in modern history. But what can I possible say that hasn't been said before? There are hundreds, if not, thousands of essays, chapters, reviews, books, and even films on the subject, and I've personally read and seen plenty of them.

I could mention the fact that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, along with Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, Jaws, and most arguably The Exorcist, is one of the most referenced, copied, ripped off, and influential horror films of the modern era. I could mention that there's a print of the film in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection. I could point to the film as one of the first of the '70s allegorical anti-war films, following only Wes Craven's Last House on the Left and Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

I could recall the film's director, Tobe Hooper, and the fact that he never again captured the magic that was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He floundered in obscurity following several flops and a controversial relationship with Poltergeist producer Steven Spielberg, creating only a few memorable cult items. If so inclined, I could bring up the film's troubled shoot, its effect on its cast and crew, and even go into the story of Ed Gein, the dead-body wearing serial killer that inspired the film (and Hitchcock's Psycho). Despite this inspiration and the film's tag line, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is not based on a true story.

I could write for pages on this stuff, but everything I'd write would verge on plagiarism.

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Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition, The
What I can say in non-‘plagiarous’ confidence to those that still haven't seen the original film is that it is indeed magical. It has a feel, a smell, a look that has been attempted by a large number of lesser films but never been recreated. It is perhaps the most tactile film ever made. The set decoration, the film stock, the setting, the costumes are all something special, something that no one has ever been able to quite put their finger on, for if they had, it would've been successfully recreated by now. There are few films that can be credited with a truly original look (Leone's Westerns, Argento's Suspiria, Citizen Kane, Vertigo), and even fewer with a look that has not yet been recreated.

This lack of real recreation is especially impressive when one considers how many times Tobe Hooper's film has been remade. Officially there's only been one remake, the well produced, but entirely ill conceived 2003 version, but un-officially Texas Chain Saw Massacre is second only to Halloween (a film it arguably inspired anyway) in attempted recreation. All of the film's sequels were, for all intents and purposes, remakes in structure and story, and only Hooper's own first sequel managed to capture any of the original film's glory (albeit in the form of a spoof).

The '80s and '90s saw hundreds of teen slashers, some directly inspired by Halloween and Friday the 13th, but plenty easily equated to the massive appeal of Hooper's film. I'm sure law suites were considered when films like Motel Hell were released, but still no one held a candle to the original. At the turn of the millennium a conservative return to government and the horrors of modern terrorism, not to mention the public's boredom with the post-modern Scream-style slasher movement, saw a renewed studio interest in gritty violent entertainment. Filmmakers like Rob Zombie were now free to produce TCM inspired films, like House of 1000 Corpses, which was essentially a remake of the original film. The success of these films led to the inevitable official remake.

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Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition, The
The remake was produced by Michael Bay of Bad Boys and Armageddon ‘fame’, much to the dismay of fans of the original film. The original press release stated that the remake would not focus on graphic violence like the original, but on the more psychological horrors of the cannibalistic family. This statement threw up plenty more red flags for fans, as anyone who's actually seen Hooper's original knows that there is almost no on screen bloodshed in the entire film. The final product wasn't a bad film, but one that was immediately rendered entirely and utterly moot.

But look at me; I'm starting to sound like a plagiarist again. Yes, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a magical film. It's a virtual nightmare, intense, unrelenting, and uncompromising. This is the kind of film no one was prepared for in 1974, even in the wake of Craven's exercise in the vile, Last House on the Left, and the kind of film that can still shatter nerves thirty-two years later. It was filmed on location in hell, edited with an actual chainsaw, and printed onto scorched human flesh. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Video


Note: I've supplied some sample images of this release as compared to the previous Region 1 release (all MPI/Pioneer releases used the same transfer) and the semi-recent U.K. Region 2 release. Neither of these previous versions are anamorphically enhanced. The images are, top to bottom, region one MPI/Pioneer, region two Universal, and this region one Dark Sky release.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was made to look like it could've been a documentary. It appeared as if the film itself had been damaged by the Texas heat and the house's generally unkempt nature. Colours were saturated and darkness muddled some of the film's grisliest moments. When the film premiered on the DVD format it was in the form of a non-anamorphic, but generally decent print. I myself have never read any complaints.

Dark Sky (a subsidiary of MPI video, who re-released the same DVD in different packaging over the last six or seven years) have done an amazing job cleaning up this once deformed film. Black levels are deeper and more balanced. Artefacts and grain have been cleansed from the print to an absolute minimum. Most impressive, though, are the brighter and richer colours which when compared with the original release, are downright breathtaking. There is a slight loss of the slightly brown-orange tint that used to be so prevalent during the interior scenes, but this was probably due to some kind of film damage, and thusly ripe for correction.

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Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition, The
But herein lies a problem—has Dark Sky gone too far? Should this particular film not look as if it fell off the truck on the way to the printers a few times? Unlike Shriek Show and Blue Underground, who actually caused damage to Lucio Fulci's Zombie with there respective re-releases two years ago, Dark Sky has not lightened images that were perhaps not meant to be lightened in the first place, nor can they be accused of making the image too sharp. There will be some fans that think this disc is too clean, but a purest has to recognize the amazing attention to detail here, down to the exact intended framing (something apparently not shared by earlier releases).

Audio


Other DVD releases featured a decent Dolby Digital 2.0 remix of the original Mono tracks. Dark Sky has gone one better and produced a memorable 5.1 track for this release. Admittedly, this track is a bit excessive, but for the most part it mirrors the original Mono track. The track comes to vivid life during Leatherface's first chase, as he a Marilyn Burns tear through the Texas underbrush. The stereo channels get a real work out here, but for the most part the surround channels are quiet. There is an improvement in channel separation from the old 2.0 mix. Blasphemy screaming purest out there will be happy to know that the Mono track has been carefully cleaned, and sounds better than it has in thirty years.

Extras


The only things keeping me from giving this DVD set a ten out of ten on extras are the massive collectors editions of The Lord of the Rings, Dawn of the Dead, Hellboy, and The Matrix. Dark Sky has done well, and this is one of the best two disc sets I've ever had the pleasure of viewing. The key here is that, for the most part, each feature is fresh, and sitting through the hours of supplements rarely felt like a chore. There isn't too much here that hasn't been seen before in previous releases, but we all know the old handle about not fixing what's not broken, right.

On disc one we've got something old and something new. The something old is the previous US release's commentary track featuring Tobe Hooper, DP Daniel Pearl, and Leatherface himself, Gunner Hanson. The track is very informative, and the three participants manage to keep things going for the majority of the run time. Unfortunately listening to them is a choir as they each sound as if they'd rather be eaten alive by backwater cannibals than be recording a commentary track. My favourite bit is the part where Hanson talks about how maddening the dinner scene was, to the point where he actually had to think twice so he'd remember to only 'act' as if he wanted to kill Marilyn Burns, rather than actually doing it.

The second commentary, featuring actors Burns, Paul A. Partain, and Allan Danzinger, with art director Robert A. Burns, is new. The participants aren't much more engaging than Hanson and Hooper, and end up covering a lot of the same ground, but it's cool to hear the recollections of the actors as victims. There's quite a bit of talk about the 2003 remake, which all the commentators agree was a pale imitation of the vicious original.

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Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition, The
Disc two is the home of two solid documentaries. The first doc, ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth’, makes its region one début here, as it was originally included on the UK's special edition release a few years back. It's a great doc, and runs down a pile of facts and figures, influence and history, in its seventy-two minute run time without repaving too much of the ground already covered by the commentary tracks (though there is a bit of overlap).

The big story here, not covered in to any real extent in any other docs or books that I've read, is the film's monetary difficulties. As seems to happen often in the case of a small budget film, the actors and creators saw little to none of the money due to rights issues and the influence of the mafia(!). I've heard plenty of stories about the hardships of filming, but the fact that these people saw no cash in the end is downright depressing. The subsequent sequels are also covered, but not in nearly enough detail, as the stories behind the films are more interesting and entertaining than the films themselves. I suppose the real meat and potatoes about the making of Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 will be revealed with that film's upcoming special edition release. Elsewhere on the disc can be found a blooper reel from the doc.

The second doc, ‘Flesh Wounds’, makes its premier on this disc. Rather than just combing through the same stories as ‘The Shocking Truth’, this doc covers the phenomenon more from a fan's perspective. Included within are more interviews with key cast and crew, along with footage from horror conventions. The whole thing smacks of amateurism, but is undeniably charming and lovingly crafted.

‘Flesh Wounds’ is followed by a featurette entitled ‘A Tour of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre House with Gunnar Hansen’, and it is just about as exciting as it sounds. I'm sorry Gunner, but you are one low-key dude. Come to think of it, he may well be George Lucas' long lost twin. Anyway, the house has long been turned into a restaurant, and not a chain saw themed one. It's just an average Mom and Pop eatery—exciting stuff that should've been made part of the previous documentary.

Fans may be bereft at the absence of the 1988 documentary ’Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait’, which has long been available on region one budget DVD. Personally I don't miss it at all, as everything in it is more or less covered here in the other features. Not to mention the fact that it was just about as boring a documentary one could make on such an exciting subject. Oh, and actor Edwin Neal (the Hitchhiker) is really obnoxious, these other docs feature him in a more subdued light.

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Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition, The
The rest of the features seem to have been brought over from MPI's older release, which has been re-released about three times in various (and admittedly clever) packaging. These include a collection of deleted and extended scenes, a blooper reel, a still gallery, and an assortment of trailers. The deleted scenes and bloopers aren't much, but the fact that such a low budget production, made so many years before Laser Discs or DVDs kept this footage is downright amazing. The trailers are worth it for the Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III teaser alone, which if you haven't already seen it, is a hilarious spoof of the Lady in the Water/King Arthur Legend.

Overall


Yes, it is worth the upgrade, all of you, no matter which version you own. The only reason not to upgrade is if you are honestly adverse to the new transfer, and like the film looking a little worn. The features are plentiful and rarely repetitive, and the overall presentation is very impressive. Kudos to Dark Sky, they've made a double (sextuple?) dip worth the re-buy, and may've produced the definitive version of the film in the process, as I don't see HD/Blu-Ray technology making any more of a difference.


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