The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

DVD Rating: *****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Read Anton Bitel's film review of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

It might at first sound like the daftest kind of hubris when this re-release of the Tobe Hooper classic brands itself the 'seriously ultimate edition', but Second Sight's immaculate three-disc set gives you exactly what it says on the tin – or at least on the robust, tin-like metal case that is the home entertainment equivalent of a toolbox.

First there is the film itself, presented in a high-definition transfer from the 16mm camera originals, and available not just in a digital remastering of the original monaural soundtrack, but also in digital stereo and surround versions, so you can crank up the volume and worry your neighbours with chainsaw hums, shrill screams, all to the accompaniment of Hooper and Wayne Bell's chilling concrète score.

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Disc One also includes two full audio commentaries, the first featuring writer/director Tobe Hooper, DP Daniel Pearl and actor Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface), together for the first time since they made the film, and the second featuring Marilyn Burns (Sally), Paul A Partain (Franklin), Allen Danziger (Jerry) and art director Robert Burns (moderated by David Gregory, director of The Shocking Truth on Disc Two, with a surprise appearance near the end by Edwin 'The Hitchhiker' Neal down a telephone line).

We learn, among other things, that the film's working titles were Headcheese, Leatherface, and Saturn In Retrograde, that almost everything besides the opening graveyard shots was shot in sequence, that Partain remained in (whining) character on-set to such a degree that he antagonised the rest of the cast and made Hansen take real delight in 'killing' him, that much of the blood seen on Burns' character was the actress' own, and that the real source of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre's uniqueness is that, as Hooper himself so dryly puts it, "it's the first film where the heroine jumps through a plate glass window – twice!". Most fascinating of all, we get detailed accounts of the notorious dinner scene, shot over 26 straight hours in stifling heat in a windowless room full of rotting meat – all of which has fed in to the sequence's tangible craziness.

Each additional disc has a feature-length documentary on TCM as its centre-piece. David Gregory's The Shocking Truth (2000), which has already appeared on previous DVD releases of the film, is a reverential if conventional account of the film's origins, production ('a very abusive production', according to Robert Burns) and afterlife, backed up by a wealth of interview material. In keeping with the completist philosophy of this edition, even the documentary comes with seven minutes of outtakes, mostly disposable apart from Gunnar Hansen's hilarious anecdote about a batch of spiked brownies on-set.

On the other hand, Michael R Felsher's Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw (2006) takes an altogether more idiosyncratic approach to the whole TCM phenomenon, presenting its episodes as a series of footnotes in free association, and rather miraculously avoiding any duplication of material from Gregory's earlier documentary. There are also five separate interviews with cast and crew members. Teri McMinn (Pam) pins down yet another aspect of the film's originality ("I don't think there had been a woman on a meathook before that"). Production manager Ron Bozman, who went on to win an Oscar for his work on The Silence Of The Lambs, details the terrible tale of how a film so successful earned so little money for those who made it, and attributes 90 per cent of TCM's success to Tobe Hooper's talent, and the other 10 per cent to the title. Gunnar Hansen takes us on a tour of the clan house, now refurbished, with a certain appropriateness, as 'Kingsland Old Town Grill'. Tobe Hooper reveals that 'Grandpa' was always intended to be the three brothers' father, while his co-writer Kim Henkel claims to have been inspired by the 'moral schizophrenia' of real-life serial killer Elmer Wayne Henley William, and declares, "I'm just not a big horror fan."

There are enough deleted scenes, outtakes, bloopers, trailers and stills to satisfy even the film's most fervent fans, and last but not least, there is a gallery of stills (with text explanations from plastic surgeon and 'amateur' make-up artist Dr W E Barnes) illustrating stage by stage the process of turning 18-year-old actor John Dugan into 104-year-old Grandpa. Indeed, TCM's apparently advanced age, much like Dugan's, conceals a vibrant core with plenty of life in it yet.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2008
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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre packshot
A tragedy that befalls five youths in the Texas outback takes horror to a new dimension.
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Keith Hennessey Brown: DVD

Product Code: 2NDVD3146

Region: 0

Ratio: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen

Sound: Dolby Digital 1.0, 2.0, 5.1

Extras: Two full audio commentaries, interview featurettes, The Shocking Truth documentary (plus outtakes), Flesh Wounds documentary, various interview featurettes with cast and crew, tour of the TCM house, deleted scenes/alternative takes/outtakes, trailers/TV spots/radio spots, gallery of stills/posters/lobby cards

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