The Film (5/5)
I remember being 12 years old, and popping in Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the middle of one of the many group horror marathons my friends and I would have at this age. We had heard about the title for years, and with it's reputation and even the title, we expected to have a splattery good time. By the end of the film most of us struggled to stay awake. Where were the guts and the gore the title promised us? This film was supposed to show an onscreen massacre, and all we saw were a few hippies getting hammered on their head before being dragged behind a door. Yeah, there was that girl on the meathook, and the cat in the wheelchair took a chainsaw to the gut, but WHERE WAS THE BLOOD?
I came to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the early 90's having already lived through the slasher boom of the 80's, and came to it with certain unrealistic expectations of what a slasher film should be based on the mass of cookie cutter ones that had stuffed the shelves of my video rental store for years before I managed to get a hold of the one that started it all. The thing about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is to call it a slasher film is to simply do the film a disservice. More than any similarly themed horror film of the 70's this film is true psychological terror, and once the viewer gets on the wavelength of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre it is a film that never lets go.
The film is allegedly inspired by the antics of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, however, 40 years after the films production anyone reading that probably is aware of that tiny factoid. The film follows a group of hippies lead by Sally Hardesty (and her invalid brother Franklin) who drive out to rural central Texas to find out if their Grandfather's grave was part of a rash of disturbances at a cemetery. After they conclude their involvement with the cemetery, they go to spend the night at the family house, which just so happens to be adjacent to the home of the Sawyer clan. The Sawyers, as it turns out are not the nicest of neighbors, and when a few members of the group walk over to barter for some gas, they find themselves the first victims of that cannibal family, and their young brothers chainsaw.
The film's cinematography courtesy of Daniel Pearl conveys a beautiful, yet desolate atmosphere, that combined with Hooper's direction almost from the moment go creates a distinct sense of tense claustrophobia within the film itself. From the opening moments when the flashing camera takes aim at the corpse-statue, to a few moments later when Ed Neal's Hitchhiker enters the main characters van sending them on a true road to Hell the film truly becomes a dizzying horror experience. Those seeing the film for the first time on this release cycle might miss the effective mix of black comedy and horror present in the film, as the comedy isn't of the laughing out loud variety, and at times makes the horror of the situation more omnipresent.
The performances across the board are excellent considering that similar material is usually performed by actors of lesser quality, and while none of the cast could ever be mistaken for Olivier, they come together with all their various strengths and weaknesses to create something truly distinctive in combination with one another. Some performances are more naturalistic and human in tone, and some like Franklin, the Cook, and the Hitchiker, are more over the top, and yet considering the balanced tone of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre everything at once feels tonally accurate from the direction, to the writing, to the performances. Even the slowest moments of the film give off an atmosphere of impending doom that leaves the viewer in suspense of what is to come.
It is not often I can declare a film a near perfect example of the genre which it sits, but Texas Chainsaw Massacre 40 years on, is still one of the most perfect examples of the true horror film ever crafted with an intensity that has yet to be matched in that time.
Dark Sky Films Presents The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a 1080p 4k Scanners transfer in a 1:78:1 aspect ratio (from it's native 1:85:1). I will be forthcoming that I have not upgraded Chainsaw since my original Pioneer DVD, so I can compare to the 2006 Dark Sky edition, however, this release was quite the revelation compared to my prior edition of the film. The film still looks quite natural and grainy, but offers excellent detail, beautiful natural colors, and deep blacks. The flesh tones on display are accurate, and as stated earlier there is a quite nice natural grain field on display during the course, this should be expected as this is a 16mm lensed film.
There are a variety of audio options including DTS-HD Ma 7.1 and 5.1 LPCM Stereo and Mono tracks, all are quite good for the most part. Everything comes through nice and clearly, and I did not detect any issues with the audio on my listen.
On the main disc of the set with the included feature there are 4 commentary tracks, 2 of which are new to this release. The second disc includes a substantial amount of extras the likes of which would make Criterion blush. There is documentaries, interviews, trailers, galleries, and more. A lot of these are ported over from the 2006 release, but there are new interviews added to make it worth the purchase, and of course the Shocking Truth documentary at 72 minutes long itself is practically a separate feature, and an excellent overview of the whole TCM series.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is quite possibly the greatest, most truly terrifying horror film of the late 40 years. The 4K restoration from Dark Sky Films on this Blu-ray is a true thing of beauty, and the extra features really push this one over the top. I'd be insane if I didn't HIGHLY RECOMMEND this set.