The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
It's interesting though what time does to the memory of a film, and looking back I realise just how much my mind has embellished my viewing of it. The main surprise is that the film has next to no gore in it or blood, and much of the horror is psychological terror, and that's why I think it worked so well then and still works today. It's quite a contrast from the film my mind had made up since.
However, not only is the journey fraught between themselves because of the intense heat of the summer and the cramped camper van they are in, but events around them turn very strange when they pick up a hitch-hiker who talks about the local slaughter house, shows them pictures of butchered cattle, then cuts himself and one of the friends before being thrown out.
They carry on to one of the locations they are set to visit, an old house that they once lived in, and while taking a walk around the surrounding countryside two of the friends come across another house, and when they don't return the others go in search of them.
The other house contains a very strange family indeed, a group of serial killers who kill travellers and use their bodies in some horrendous ways, the least of them being for food. However before they kill them they like to torture them, and pretty soon the rest of the group are being drawn to the house and hunted down.
The most amazing thing about revisiting this film is the revelation that there isn't that much blood or gore in it, and some scenes that stick out in my head as being particularly horrifying just aren't, or don't go as far as I once thought.
Two connected scenes that really stuck in my mind from when I saw it at a young age were the meat hook and the fridge scenes. Watching the meat hook scene nowadays shows just how little they did actually show the audience and how much more was left to the mind, something that modern films do a lot more of and are much more effective for, and it has really stood the Texas Chain Saw Massacre in good stead, allowing it to keep being a strong horror film even today.
For it still terrifies and it still provides plenty of scares and a great deal of tension. The construction of many of the horror sequences is comparable with modern horror films, and it would be fair to say that it was ahead of its time. There's a big concentration on delaying moments and building the fear of the inevitable, more than that of showing the horrific situation around the characters. The film prefers to build on the terror before offering any pay off.
As I said earlier, those pay off moments aren't the huge ones you might expect of the less subtle, straight slasher and gore films, and that was the biggest surprise for me, yet they play out superbly and although I wasn't scared of Leatherface so much, I was tense and on edge throughout the film.
It's strange after all this time realising how much my mind has edited and added moments to my memory of the film.
The fridge sequence is another example, but unlike the meat hook scene, one that was executed rather badly. Still my mind built the scene up to be much more than it was, and I remember being thoroughly scared by the opening of it, however now it looks tame and lifeless.
It's an interesting comparison that the more effective and less aged scenes are the ones that are more subtle scenes and the straight, in your face scare scenes, are the ones that don't hold up so well, perhaps something that is down to the overuse of the scare scene in films since.
The film definitely looks aged now, particularly during the earlier scenes, however the horror still works well. There are some scenes that are superbly shot and look much more modern than the date of the film, for instance the low tracking shot following the woman as she walks from the swing seat to the front door of the house, this looks superb. Then there are other shots such as the use of the fast zoom into someone's face, and that's a much overused and tired shot that fits well with the age of the film.
It's something that's also reflected in the editing of the film. At one point it's sharp and slick, and at others it's slow and dawdling and feels like a faster cut could have really made a difference to the film. Still, there's a certain charm for it that keeps it grounded and makes it feel a little more realistic.
Despite all this though, who could argue with the sledgehammer scene, or the meat hook, the dinner table, or the final escaping shots? All of them are excellent, iconic, and still hold up better than a lot of modern day horror films feel as soon as they are released.
There's a great use of delaying of events to keep building the tension, especially in the latter half of the film. While some characters are killed instantly, other characters are prolonged either through terror and agony or confusion and uncertainty. It does keep you wondering what is going to happen to whom, when and how, another effective aspect of the film.
It's a well written and created story that gets under the skin of the audience. A plot idea that's been copied and reused so many times since but still works well here. At times it is very terrifying and unsettling, especially when the plot really gets going, just as horror should be, and I found myself right back in the seat I was when I first saw it newly released.
It also doesn't fall into a trap of letting down the quality towards the end, and it does provide one of the strongest and most iconic moments in horror cinema to this date, that of the escaping jeep, the blood soaked screams, and Leatherface swinging that chain saw around in anger.
Suddenly we're exposed to a messy ending, both in story and in blood, but it's good like that, it feels real with nothing tying up correctly, and events left hanging and uncertain, and no real explanation of why. Much better are the images of the blood soaked manic laughing from the back of the jeep. Escape, but at what price?
The acting is rough in places, but also surprisingly good in others. It's here that more dating can be easily found in some of the performances, but then there were no major stars. Saying that there's nothing overly cheesy and there are plenty of moments where you can believe the horror and terror that these characters are experiencing, and the tension between them shows clearly during some of the scenes with Marilyn Burns and the others.
The picture is surprisingly good, even during the night scenes. there's a grain and texture to it, but that's welcomed and keeps the older more real feel to it. The colours are bright and realistic, and even the night chasing scenes look good, something that's surprising for a Blu-ray version of the film as well as considering the original film which was done on a tight budget.
Mono, PCM Stereo 2.0, DTS 5.1
I watched the film with the DTS 5.1 audio track, now some might be aghast at that choice, the fact that I didn't listen to it in the original stereo track, perhaps using the PCM Stereo for authenticity, but the film has been remastered and I wanted to hear what it would be like on a 5.1 system.
It actually turns out to be good. The sound is quite loud and in your face at times, and I don't just mean the screaming which seems to go on for the second half of the film. There's some great use of sound to make you feel uncomfortable, sounds that unnerve and put you on edge.
Still, I would have liked more from the 5.1 track, especially on a Blu-ray. At the beginning of the film some of the audio of the characters talking is very low, while others is high. During the film there's not a great deal of movement around the speakers, the odd moment with the chain saw and some background noises, but little else.
Audio Commentary with director Tobe Hooper, cinematographer Daniel Pearl and Leatherface himself Gunnar Hansen; Audio Commentary with actors Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Allen Danziger and art director Robert A. Burns; Interview with Teri McMinn; Interview with Production Manager Ron Bozman; The Shocking Truth Featurette; Gunnar Hansen's Chain Saw House Tour; Shocking Truth Outtakes; Outtakes, Deleted and Alternate Scenes; Seven Stories of the Saw
Audio Commentary with director Tobe Hooper, cinematographer Daniel Pearl and Leatherface himself Gunnar Hansen
This is a very good commentary, although I would have liked to have heard one with Tobe Hooper and Daniel Pearl where they were pushed more to talk about the film. Instead the two are often prone to remaining quiet and watching the film while Gunnar Hansen takes over the conversation. That's not really such a bad thing and he still delivers some good stuff, but I just wanted more from Hooper who actually made the film.
Audio Commentary with actors Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Allen Danziger and art director Robert A. Burns
Another interesting commentary that brings out many stories about the behind the scenes of the production from some of the actors sharing their inside stories and their recollections of some of the harder moments of the shoot. It's great to hear them talking about the film with such strong recollections.
Interview with Teri McMinn
One of the female actresses, Teri McMinn, chats about what filming was like and reveals a little of the story behind the filming as well as some anecdotes from the other actors, and also what it meant for her career afterwards.
Interview with Production Manager Ron Bozman
The producer talks about the film production and quite happily discusses the problems in getting distribution and the controversy surrounding the people they sold the film to. He even talks about the problems with the stars and crew and the promised percentages that never arrived. For some the film did turn out to be horrific.
The Shocking Truth Featurette
This is an excellent documentary which interviews many of those involved in the filming and talks about all aspects of the film and the sequels. The documentary manages to talk to those involved in the follow-up films too and gain some understanding of the sequels. For the Chain Saw fan this is a very comprehensive and interesting short film that reveals some surprising information about all the films from the lost in the edit sequel to the forgotten and unbelievable casting sequel.
Gunnar Hansen's Chain Saw House Tour
The man who played Leatherface returns to the house where they filmed the original film. Ironically it's now a steak house, we get taken round the rooms and he tells us a little about the filming in each of them. Interesting, a few nice facts, but just not enough insight into the film from the man behind the iconic character.
Shocking Truth Outtakes
A few interesting and funny moments, but really it's just a little more from the Shocking Truth interviews.
Outtakes, Deleted and Alternate Scenes
These are few and far between, and unsurprisingly so considering the age of the film. None of the scenes are particularly amazing, but a few will give rise to a couple of giggles.
Seven Stories of the Saw
Chain Saw Cameraman: Indepth monologue from the cinematographer recanting his time on the film, a few key scenes, and his work on the remake.
This Old House: The official TCM Fan Club President appears at the house and talks about the film.
The Famous Mr. Ed: Edwin Neal, the hitch-hiker, talks about the film and his character.
In Memorium: A collection of shots and quotes from the cast about some of the people involved with the film who are now dead.
The Good Doctor: The plastic surgeon, Dr. W.E. Barnes who tried his hand at special effects for the film.
Frightmares & Wastelands: Talking to various stars and organisers from the festival circuit.
Life After Leatherface: Interesting shot look at Gunnar Hansen's life after the film.
Tobe Hooper Interview: Interesting interview that talks about the film and the production, although it would have been great to hear more of the problems facing the film after the production.
Kim Henkel Interview: Another interesting interview that looks into one of the stories that influenced the writing of the film, the production and some of the sequels since.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a surprisingly good film that still holds up very well to this day. In fact at times while I was watching it I could have mistaken it for watching a remake of a slasher film that is intent on keeping a seventies feel. Some of the moments may seem dated, but overall there's a great feel and a real leaning towards the psychological horror rather than the gore.
The film is really good and on Blu-ray it's even better. Although the picture and audio may not be Blu-ray quality, they do hold up really well and any graining gives it an authentic feel.
Extras wise the disc is pretty packed and there's plenty to keep the Chain Saw fan and non-fan occupied alike. Although I did feel there was a distinct lack of Tobe Hooper really deliving into the film during the audio commentary and we didn't hear enough about the mess behind the production after the film was finished, it does give us an absolute ton of information from the two audio commentaries through the featurettes.
For horror fans both modern and classic, then you have to get hold of this Blu-ray offering,