The saw roars to life once more on this latest release of the groundbreaking slasher classic
As home video continues to evolve in the age of streaming, it’s easy to develop fatigue at re-purchasing our favorite films over and over again. Each iteration claims to be the last word in presenting its particular title, usually with an extra amount of goodies to entice buyers. But some films are not only able to overpower any sense of dread towards dropping another paycheck—they’re able to significantly demonstrate improvements in quality as film preservation techniques improve.
Shot for pennies in the sweltering Austin heat of 1973, horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has evolved beyond its original trappings as a barely-distributed drive-in feature to the point where its eagerly-awaited 4K restoration was unveiled at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for its 40th anniversary. A Blu-ray release shortly followed, downgrading the restoration for 1080p home viewing, but now, horror fans can rejoice as this restoration finally hits home video in the U.S. Dark Sky and MPI have unveiled Texas Chain Saw in its full 4K glory on UHD with a newly-added HDR pass in HDR10 and Dolby Vision, accompanied by a new Dolby Atmos mix and its original, terrifying mono audio track.
The film follows a busload of teenagers, including Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), who cross paths with a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) to bizarre and bloody consequences. Trapped in the middle of nowhere, their numbers dwindle as they’re drawn to an isolated farmhouse, where they find bodies sewn into furniture and statues, questionable barbecue, and one of horror’s most iconic slashers lurking behind a metal door.
Rejoiced and reviled upon its original release in 1974, nothing can better quantify just why Texas Chain Saw has remained so etched upon our collective pop culture psyche than the sheer physical effect it has on its audience. A short yet slow burn of brutality, Texas Chain Saw gradually descends its victims into an unnatural world pocketed within our own. Isolated from the rest of the world, the Sawyer family has wallowed in their cannibalistic madness for generations—which co-writer/director Tobe Hooper depicts with an unsettling and sociopathic mundanity as Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), the Hitchhiker, the Cook (Jim Siedow), and their somehow still alive Grandfather (John Dugan) hook, slice, and devour any intruders with the casual air of punching the clock at the slaughterhouse. The void between our sense of rational behavior and that considered by the Sawyers gives birth to all sorts of depraved, nightmarish imagery as only the Texan wilderness can conjure, delivered with astonishing craft by Hooper and his creative team.
While there are fleeting shots of meat hooks and bloody wounds, there’s very little gore onscreen throughout Chain Saw. Hooper, cinematographer Daniel Pearl, editors Sallye Richardson and J. Larry Carroll, and sound designer Wayne Bell distill the film to its rawest elements, knowing just where to cut so that the most horrific imagery comes from the audience’s imagination. The score, also by Hooper and Bell, is a cacophonous collage of piano wire and slaughterhouse machinery. Together, sound and image are as deadly as the film’s chainsaw, bludgeoning the viewer with suggestive sights and aural assaults, driving us further into the realm of Sally’s eventual madness.
Unlike any horror film before it, and often attempted by every horror film after it, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre truly strives to terrify its audience through a disturbing and depraved sense of fantastic realism. Everything seems viscerally plausible, even as the form of the film breaks beyond traditional filmmaking and into primal, experimental modes.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has rightfully clawed its way to its place among the horror pantheon, but only now has it received a home video release that does justice to the scrappy amount of craft its creators labored over for its 1974 debut.
MPI Media and Dark Sky present The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in both Dolby Vision and HDR10, using the Hooper-approved 2014 restoration sourced from the original 16mm A/B prints. A wealth of varied English sound mixes are available: original mono and 2-channel stereo, a 7.1-channel mix ported over from the 2014 40th anniversary Blu-ray, and a brand new Dolby Atmos mix. English and Spanish subtitles are presented for the feature film.
While the release of the 40th anniversary restoration was lauded among home video collectors (albeit with some errors in audio mastering), seeing this presentation in its natural 4K element is nothing short of horrific and awe-inspiring. This is likely the best that Texas Chain Saw has looked in its nearly 50-year history—and perhaps even better, given the projection limitations of the time. From the even-juicer-than-before opening shot of corpses-turned-art pieces in a vacant graveyard, this restoration made my skin crawl. Textures of all kinds—rotting skin on bone, sweat on skin, grime on doors and meat hooks, errant feathers and dust floating in the air of the Sawyer house—are viscerally represented. While some purists of the Texas Chain Saw experience may bemoan the lack of flickering or juddering film imperfections, there’s enough amount of grain in the image to preserve the filmic look while also making Hooper’s film look like it was shot mere days ago. The expanded color palette in 4K heightens the horror and beauty of many shots by Daniel Pearl, from the inky shadows of Sally and Franklin’s dilapidated home to the climactic shot of Leatherface swinging his chainsaw in the setting Texas sun.
The new Atmos soundtrack is deliciously unsettling, presenting Sally’s screams, the clattering of the experimental score, and the perpetual roar of the titular weapon with stunning clarity. The mono mixes have also seemingly been restored in the process, rather than downmixes from the 5.1-Channel track as on the 40th anniversary Blu-ray.
Chain Saw collectors will be pleased to know that nearly every single extra from the 2014 Blu-ray has been ported over for this release, with over 400 total minutes of offered features. New to the set is the U.S. debut of Philip Escott’s documentary The Legacy of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which features interviews with creative and critical luminaries of horror as they discuss their personal introduction to Hooper’s film and how it impacted their views on horror and their own future contributions to the genre. Notable interviewees include The Stand’s Mick Garris, Host’s Jed Shepherd, Leatherface directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, and Texas Chain Saw ’03 director Marcus Nispel, among others. Previously exclusive to the “Black Maria” release of the 40th anniversary Blu-ray as a supplemental DVD, Dark Sky has included a 2014 Cinefamily Q&A between Hooper and Exorcist director William Friedkin, here up-converted to 1080p.
Both features provide a wealth of anecdotal material related to Chain Saw’s production and cultural impact, even if some stories may be slightly repeated on other extras or commentaries. In particular, the Friedkin and Hooper Q&A is a hoot; as a veteran of Friedkin Q&As, it’s amazing how the director’s bullish charm brings out several equally amusing stories from Hooper, who was promoting the 4K restoration fresh from its premiere at Cannes.
Packaging comes in two options: one with artwork by Jason Edmiston and a deluxe steelbook featuring the iconic original theatrical artwork on a matte white case and interior art of Sally’s horrific POV of the Sawyer family at the family dinner table. The steelbook also comes with an exclusive double-sided poster featuring the theatrical artwork and the new 4K UHD artwork on the standard edition.
While 25 minutes of deleted scenes are ported onto the special features disc, the 15 minutes of “new” deleted scenes and outtakes once present on the 2014 Blu-ray are oddly missing from this release. It’s unclear as to why this lone feature hasn’t crossed formats—perhaps due to a rights issue, or even due to lack of space on the disc with the inclusion of two new feature-length extras. For Chain Saw die-hards, it may be worth holding onto their previous release, in addition to picking up UK distributor Second Sight’s upcoming UHD release, which has its fair share of exclusive extras.
However, whether you’re adding this film to your media collection for the first time or, in my case, the third, this release of Texas Chain Saw Massacre will be a hard act to top for the foreseeable future.
Disc One (4K UHD):
- Audio Commentaries: Four archival audio commentaries are preserved for this release. The first features Hooper, Hansen, and l Pearl (who would go on to shoot the 2003 remake). The second features original cast members Burns, Partain, and Allen Danziger, production designer/art director Burns, and moderator David Gregory. A solo Hooper runs a third commentary. A fourth commentary features Pearl, editor Carroll, and sound recordist Ted Nicolaou.
Disc Two (Blu-ray):
- The Legacy of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: A brand new documentary by Phillip Escott, produced by Fractured Visions and Second Sight Films.
- Friedkin/Hooper: The director of Chain Saw and The Exorcist converge in a 2014 archival Q&A at Cinefamily.
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth: A feature-length 2000 archival documentary featuring much of the film’s original cast and crew, many of whom have since passed away.
- Flesh Wounds–Seven Stories of the Saw: Seven interviews with cast and crew, fans, and more provide insight into the lasting legacy of Texas Chain Saw in this feature-length 2006 archival documentary.
- A Tour of the TCSM House: Hansen guides us through the Sawyer house as it stands today (as a restaurant!) in this 2006 archival featurette.
- Off the Hook: A 2008 archival interview with actress Teri McMinn.
- The Business of Chain Saw: A 2008 archival interview with production manager Ron Bozman.
- Deleted Scenes & Outtakes: Over 25 minutes of removed material and additional coverage from the film, partially presented without sound due to the disappearance or degradation of some audio elements.
- Grandpa’s Tales: A 2014 archival interview with actor John Dugan.
- Cutting Chain Saw: A 2014 archival interview with Carroll.
- Blooper Reel: Nearly three minutes of mishaps and mistakes from the production.
- Outtakes from The Shocking Truth
- Horror’s Hallowed Grounds–TCSM: A 2006 archival featurette examining the evolution of Chain Saw’s original shooting locations 32 years after the film’s premiere.
- Dr. W.E. Barnes Presents ‘Making Grandpa’: An archival photo slideshow detailing the makeup process for getting Dugan into the makeup for the Sawyer family patriarch.
- Still Gallery: Various stills from the production, as well as promotional material.
- Theatrical and 40th Anniversary Trailers
- TV and Radio Spots
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is now available on 4K UHD in both standard and limited edition steelbook releases from Dark Sky and MPI.