|release date||October 1 1974|
|studio||Dark Sky Films|
|starring||Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul Partain, Gunnar Hansen, John Dugan|
|tagline||Who will survive and what will be left of them?|
|trailer 1||Trailer #1|
In the annals of American history…
I can still remember the first time I heard that introduction. Like the film it preceded, it left me speechless, terrified, questioning everything I’d ever seen before and tainting everything I’d ever view again. Never has a film felt so immediate, so alive, so unrelenting and so utterly hopeless. It was later when I witnessed the bloodshed of Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and the nihilism of Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left that I began to recognize the cloud of counterculture rebellion that rallied together to create such a document. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was anarchy on film, – A fictional companion to the Maysles’ Gimme Shelter or Albert Davis’ Hearts and Minds – A conscience documentation of the death of American innocence. 30 years after it’s initial release this 2-disc DVD set from Dark Sky, stands itself as a document. A document of the triumph and the tragedy that co-existed for one brief moment to create what is widely considered to be the greatest horror film ever made.
It would be pointless to dissect the historical and cultural significance that is prescribed to Tobe Hooper’s 1973 masterpiece – books have been written about it – books by men and women far more worthy than I to probe the deepest recesses of Hooper’s mind. So, I could go on for hours about how profoundly the film affected my perceptions of what a horror film could and should be. But that is for you to decide. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre affects different people in wildly varying degrees. The sheer intensity of the film lends itself almost gleefully to a bipolar universe of film sensibilities – some will love it and other will hate it, but few will deny it’s absolute commitment to the story. In so many ways, it makes no sense to sit here and lackadaisically recount “the tragedy which befell a group of five youths that idyllic summer afternoon”. If you knew nothing of the film, you would have hardly read this far into the review. You, the fans, the maniacs, the sofa psychos, have all come here to learn just one bloody fact. Is this the “Ultimate Edition”?
The best there’ll ever be? Likely.
Buy it? Yes.
The set begins with the cleanest version of the film that anyone is likely ever going to see considering the source elements. But face facts, you don’t want your Texas Chain Saw Massacre to look like 2001 – all antiseptic and crystal clear. It needs the grain, the grain lives in the film, like the French New Wave, Chain Saw is the very definition of Cinéma Vérité. It must feel like footage straight from the battlefield – caked in the mud and the guts and the blood. It must feel used. That is the allure, the reason we watch, the hallmark of the films reality.
The major bonuses on the first disc are the audio commentaries including one featuring Paul Partain (Franklin) and Art Director (Robert Burns) both of whom, film fans recognize, are no longer with us. The additional commentary with Hooper, cinematographer Daniel Pearl and Leatherface actor Gunner Hansen was previously available on the Pioneer DVD edition. The soundtrack plays perfectly thanks to a very loud and genuinely frightening 5.1 surround mix. In essence, you could have never asked for a better presentation of the film. But friends, we know what we came here for and the bulk of those corpses lay on disc 2.
Right off the bat fans are greeted with a pair of documentaries. The Shocking Truth, produced by Blue Underground in 2002, is a great look at the history of the troubled production and the aftermath of its release. The cast and crew are candid about the difficulties they encountered while shooting the now legendary film in the sweltering Texas heat, including some stomach churning reactions during the overlong dinner scene – as the heat generated from the stage lights began rotting the meat over the 26 hour shoot. Even more revealing and inarguably more grotesque, are the filmmakers frank discussions regarding the distribution of the film. Reputed to have earned as much as $100,000,000 theatrically, no one involved in the production of the film, including Hooper and Co-Writer/Producer Kim Henkel saw any reasonable profits from their success. This shocking realization is punctuated by Gunner Hansen’s reminder that his first residual check after distribution was for less than 50 dollars. The feature finishes off with a short but complete look at the three lackluster sequels, including an incredibly ironic turn of events that had the filmmakers once again cut out of the profits from the second film.
The newly minted documentary Flesh Wounds adds a nice bookend to the Blue Underground doc by ignoring the troubled production in favor of a more lighthearted look at “Seven Stories from the Saw”. Each segment takes a moment to visit with some of the more interesting stories and characters involved both directly and indirectly with the film franchise, including Cinematographer Daniel Pearl who not only lensed the original feature but returned to shoot the 2005 New Line Cinema Remake as well. TCM fan club president Tim Harden takes us on a guided tour of the original house (now restored and moved). Ed Neal delights fans with two-dozen impressions in less than two minutes before providing his own witty insights into the film. The more serious “Memoriam” section eulogizes lost cast and crew including Partain, Art Director, Burns and Jim “The Cook” Siedow. Part five takes an interesting look at Dr. W.E. Barnes, a local plastic surgeon and friend of actress Marilyn Burns, who created the latex prosthetics that transformed a youthful John Dugan into the decrepit family patriarch. Following the good doctor is a fun look at fandom. Frightmares & Wastelands peeks into the fan perspective at the 2006 Texas Frightmare and Cinema Wasteland conventions. The documentary wraps up with a look at the small town life of, now world famous star Gunner Hansen, whose acceptance and perspective on the culture and phenomenon of the TCM craze is both humbling and exciting. Dark Sky really delivers with this feature. By whittling down the epic tale of TCM into a series of intimate interviews this doc does best to illustrate not only the fans love for the film, but that of the cast and crew as well.
Disc two features a few other bits and pieces mined from the Pioneer release, including some Deleted Scenes and Outtakes – the most interesting of which include the often discussed “dead dog” intro and a nice bit of footage taken inside the “Bone Room”. The blooper reel is short and lacking in any immediately fascinating scraps, although a couple of trip ups from Marilyn Burns and Paul Partain provide for a brief chuckle. The disc also contains yet another tour of the TCM house, this time with Hansen providing the dialogue. But, considering that the subject is broached in some detail in both documentaries, it feels more like an outtake here than a well conceived add on. The last two features of note are still galleries, the first of which is a collection of photos with captions from Dr. Barnes showcasing the creating and application of the Grandpa makeup. The second is a brilliant collection of over 60 pieces of artwork and promotional merchandise from the film release, including lobby cards, theatrical posters, behind the scenes snapshots and props. Both are fine additions and the effects shots are especially interesting.
Dark Sky has patched together a fantastic release, and completests can safely trash their previous purchases for this new set without a fear of losing face. The only notable omission is the now classic, albeit painfully dull, Texas Chain Saw Massacre: A Family Portrait, which is of course still available on DVD, if only for the hardcore fans. Overall, it must blow the minds of the principals involved in the original TCM that their baby has persevered over 30 years, to become recognized as one of the classics of modern American cinema and the catalyst for hundreds, if not thousands, of horror films and filmmakers. Ahead of its time in 1974 – Today, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre still feel as vibrant and relevant as ever. Timeless in its terror and shocking in its audacity, the saw and the celluloid are eternal.
In the annals of American history…there was never a film like it.