There’s no denying the power inherent to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s a cinematic punch to the gut — a sweat-drenched nightmare that places a bunch of Vietnam-era young adults into the path of some truly monstrous people, and into an experience rivaled only by the unfortunate animals who find themselves in a factory farm. Notable for its raw and sudden violence, as well as its deceptively dense cultural subtext, it not only causes terror in the moment, but its gruesome machinations have continued to haunt audiences for nearly half a century. There are few films in the horror canon with as indelible an impact as Tobe Hooper’s stomach-churning masterpiece on not just the genre, but on cinema in its entirety. More than The Exorcist, more than The Shining — when it comes to horror, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the undisputed king.
Over the years, Massacre has seen a variety of releases in different formats, but now for the first time ever, it will be available on 4K UHD, and in a sturdy steelbook to boot. With 4K releases, however, you never really can tell what you’re going to get. So often the new transfer will rob the final product of the imperfections and grain that give the film its flavor. The lighting will be darkened and the colors heightened, resulting in a novelty product that, while undeniably crisp, is not at all in line with the filmmaker’s original intentions. Add to that the annoying clipping that occurs in high-visual-data moments, and the DVD from twenty years ago ends up being the definitive visual release.
This is a huge concern for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, because if ever a film was defined by it’s grainy, rotten exterior, it’s this one, which is why it pleases me to no end to report that the current transfer is the best the film has ever looked on any home release. The grain is intact, as is the original color pallet, only now the incredible detail packed into every frame is as clear as day. I wasn’t alive at the time, but I’d imagine that this is what the film looked like when a fresh film print was projected on a silver screen. It’s odd to say that a film like this was intended to be gorgeous, but taken on its own terms, the “every frame a painting” approach that defined The Godfather is very much in play here, intentional or not, and the 4K transfer highlights every second of it. Every drip of sweat streaming down Franklin’s face, every dishonest cloud in the beautiful blue sky, every damn leg of the spider nest is visible, and it makes the film simultaneously more astonishing and more gut-wrenching than it’s ever been before. Heck, even the heat distortion is once again visible. (It should also be noted that even after having seen this film many, many times in a variety of formats, this is the first time that I was ever able to see the hitchhiker’s gigantic facial birthmark — until now it registered only as shadow). It is, to put it simply, one of the most successful 4K upgrades I’ve ever seen.
Dark Sky Films’ release should be praised for its director-approved transfer, but also for the wealth of special features included in the two-disc set. The bonus materials from previous releases are all collected here, with the addition of the all new feature-length documentary The Legacy of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, in which genre legends such as Fede Alvarez, Mick Garris, and Marcus Nispel discuss the impact that Leatherface and gang had on their individual works as well as on the larger film landscape. It’s a joy to watch, and features no shortage of material for horror nerds to chew on. And if you think you know everything there is to know, you don’t. Legacy has every reason to be filler, but is instead a fresh, compelling compendium of scholarly thought.
The best bonus features on the disc are the four (yes, FOUR) feature-length commentary tracks, each worth listening to in their own right. But the commentary by writer/director Tobe Hooper, cinematographer Daniel Pearl, and Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen, is worth the price of the disc all on its own. It’s a crash course in DIY filmmaking, a trip down memory lane for three legends who hadn’t spent time together in ages, and a reminder of what a blessing a commentary track can be — two of these tremendous artists are no longer with us. Hooper also does a more clinical solo commentary track, and yet another track features multiple actors reminiscing on the grueling days spent making what none could have expected would become cinema history.
Multiple featurettes are included in the set, including The Cinefamily Presents: FRIEDKIN/HOOPER, a conversation between two legendary filmmakers, the former of whom is also an actual crazy person. These two men could discuss the owner’s manual for a dishwasher and it would be compelling. Luckily they’re discussing a legendary horror flick instead.
The full list of special features are as follows:
DISC ONE (4K UHD): FOUR FEATURE COMMENTARIES
- Writer-Producer-Director Tobe Hooper, Actor Gunnar Hansen, Cinematographer Daniel Pearl
- Actors Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, and Paul A. Partain, and Production Designer Robert Burns
- Writer-Producer-Director Tobe Hooper
- Cinematographer Daniel Pearl, Editor J. Larry Carroll and Sound Recordist Ted Nicolau
DISC TWO (BLU-RAY):
- NEW Feature-Length Documentary: The Legacy of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre
- The Cinefamily Presents FRIEDKIN/HOOPER: A Conversation About the Texas Chain Saw Massacre Between William Friedkin and Tobe Hooper
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth
- Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw
- A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen
- Off the Hook with Teri McMinn
- The Business of Chain Saw: An Interview with Production Manager Ron Bozman
- Deleted Scenes & Outtakes
- Grandpa’s Tales: An Interview with Actor John Dugan
- Cutting Chain Saw: An Interview with Editor J. Larry Carroll
- Blooper Reel
- Outtakes from The Shocking Truth
- Horrors Hallowed Grounds: TCSM
- Dr. W.E. Barnes Presents Making Grandpa
- Still Gallery
- TV Spots
- Radio Spots
Dark Sky Film’s incredible release of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is available starting February 28th, and is worth picking up, even if, like me, you already own this movie twice over.
THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE
Release date: February 28, 2023
4K UHD SRP: $44.98
4K UHD Steelbook SRP: $54.98
Running time: 83 minutes (feature)
*plus over 400 minutes of extras (2 discs)*