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THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Marilyn Burns, Paul A Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen
Director:  Tobe Hooper
Audio:  Dolby Digital Surround, Dolby Mono
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Pioneer
Features:  See Review
Length:  84 Minutes
Release Date:  October 6, 1998

Film ***

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film, like Psycho, that eventually earned a reputation for being bloodier than it actually is.  In Psycho, the effect was artificially created using music, editing, and extreme camera angles to make the audience believe they were seeing more than they actually were.  In Massacre, the film maintains such a grisly, unnerving atmosphere that you walk away from it considerably more disturbed than if you had watched a pure slasher film.  No matter how many times I watch it, I have to remind myself afterwards that there are in fact only four murders shown in the movie, and only one of the four comes via the infamous chainsaw.

The film also stands as evidence of what a creative filmmaker can do to achieve horror despite obvious budget limitations, linking this picture with other classics like Night of the Living Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, The Evil Dead, and more recently, The Blair Witch Project.  It is the latter film that most makes me think of Massacre, and vice versa.

Director Tobe Hooper doesnít gloss over the disturbing nature of his film.  He revels in it.  From the crazed hitchhiker who slices open his own palm to the eventual revelation of the nature of the ďfamilyĒ, he creates images designed to go straight into your gut and churn your stomach.  Even the opening shots, which are mostly black but reveal bits and pieces of rotted corpses as flashbulbs pop off, establish the mood immediately, and the picture never loses it.

A vanload of kids, including Sally (Burns) and her wheelchair bound brother Franklin (Partain) are heading through the hot Texas landscape to their old family home (after picking up and then quickly discarding the aforementioned hitchhiker).  One by one they venture to the little house across the way, and they donít come back.  One piece at a time, we see the disturbing mentality of the people who live there, as they have constructed furniture and other pieces of ďartĒ out of both animal and human remains, among other aspects.

When Sally and Franklin go looking for their friends after dark, their quest is cut short by Leatherface, who makes quick work of Franklin with his trusty chainsaw, leaving Sally running through the woods, screaming in terror, being pursued by the brute.

I donít want to give too much away for those who havenít seen it yet, but all of this culminates in the legendary dinner table sequence, which is one of the most horrifying and unnerving of all horror film scenarios.  Ms. Burnsí terror and screaming ability is rivaled only by Heather Donahue in Blair Witch.

Needless to say, this is not a film for all tastes, nor does it try to be.  All I can say about it in conclusion is that it is an important film, being a true pivotal point in horror movie history, and that it succeeds in what it sets out to do despite some limitations.  Itís almost too disturbing to be the kind of horror film you watch with friends just to have a good time, which is another point that sets the movie apart.  But itís impossible to overlook or under-appreciate the way the film creates and maintains not just suspense, not just scares, but real, genuine terror, in a way many other films have imitated but few have equaled.

Video **1/2

Being that this DVD looks better than any previous VHS copy of the film Iíve owned, I really wish I could give it a higher rating.  This may be the best the movie will ever look without a major, full scale restoration effort.  Despite noticeable improvements, the picture still suffers from its age, as well as some noticeable scars, and a bit of murkiness, grain and image break-up during some of the darker scenes (which arenít likely to be ones where youíll be thinking about the transfer quality).  According to the box, itís a ďDigital SuperscanĒ transfer, but it looks like the master source might have been a videotape rather than film. 

Audio ***

You have your choice of soundtracks, either original mono or a newly remixed surround track.  I personally prefer the surround--it sounds fuller, with more range and more openness.  But again, if you like the film and have owned only VHS versions in the past, youíre likely to be pleased with this offering.

Features ****

What a package!  The disc features a commentary track with Tobe Hooper, Gunnar Hansen and DP Daniel Pearl, deleted scenes, alternate footage, a blooper reel, a bevy of trailers and TV spots (including all films in the series), and a gallery of photos and promotional items.

Summary:

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an experience, and a movie whose name has become synonymous with horror.  Thereís never been a better home video presentation than this DVD, so if the film suits your tastes, the buzz is, this is a definite must-buy.