Blu-ray Review: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition

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MPI’s brand new Blu-ray edition of the original 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a real stunner, surely a must-own for any horror fan. The 4K restoration allows Daniel Pearl’s 16mm cinematography to be fully appreciated in all its gritty glory. The orange glow of sunset, the grotesque makeup applied to Grandpa (John Dugan), and the blue-and-white clad Marilyn Burns running through the pitch black woods have simply never looked so vivid. The documentary-style realism is retained, with all the inherent graininess intact. But the overall effect is that of a fresh presentation, no matter how many times you may have seen this all-time classic.

There’s little left to say about this seminal film 40 years after its release. The early, brief appearances of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) still provide visceral jolts. Hansen’s dialogue-free performance remains a physical marvel. Even with the features-obscuring mask, Leatherface never comes off like a mere extra or stunt person running around with a chainsaw. Hansen manages to convince viewers that they’re watching an unhinged, irrepressible psychopath. Some of the acting amongst the group of young friends is still a bit stiff, but the awkwardness is endearing and believable. Once their van is out of gas and members of the party begin disappearing, Marilyn Burns delivers one of the greatest portraits of sheer terror as Sally Hardesty.

It’s the aura of skin-crawling suggestion created by director Tobe Hooper that keeps Massacre so indelibly scary and re-watchable. Even at its flat-out most explicit, there’s more suggested than actually shown. A character finding herself in a room full of bones, with a live chicken clucking in a birdcage, is among the most indelibly unsettling series of images in the film. The movie has been analyzed and discussed to death, but at its core it remains a perfectly realized vision of a bizarre nightmare. Imitated over and over again, four decades have not dulled the impact of Hooper’s original vision. Even if Grandpa’s makeup could be more convincing (the off-white application looks a little too fake), the sight of him sucking Sally’s bloody finger while the rest of the family giggles maniacally is more stomach-churning than any amount of modern digital dismemberment could hope to be.

As stated, MPI’s 1080p presentation is second-to-none, with an image that still looks visibly like its era but with the cobwebs blown off. The audio is offered up in several mixes, including a DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack that is, if anything, a bit overkill. The lossless 5.1 mix is even a bit of a stretch in terms of how much relatively immersive the audio there is, but there are some nice directional effects in these mixes as well as occasionally startling LFE activity. The options also include LPCM 2.0 stereo and the original mono. It’s hard to imagine more effective technical specs overall.

This 40th anniversary edition contains no less than four audio commentaries on disc one (the feature disc) and a veritable treasure trove of extras on disc two (the content is duplicated on two standard DVDs as well). Two feature-length documentaries, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (72 minutes) and Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw (71 minutes), lead the pack with splendid looks back on the creation of the film. A vast array of additional featurettes, deleted scenes (some presented silently due to missing production audio), bloopers, interviews with folks like the production manager, editor, and cast members complete a comprehensive package that deserves a prime spot on any horror buff’s Blu-ray shelf.

Even the packaging is cool, with a digipak case holding the four discs inserted within a die-cut outer sleeve. Everything about this release was done with class and care, making The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition indispensible.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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