❉ This has to be the definitive package of Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece, writes Tom Lee Rutter.
‘Second Sight’s releases are synonymous with the most deluxe of hard copy collectables available in the UK physical media landscape and only prove the notion that we are living in another golden age of physical media collecting is true.’
I find myself in that situation again where I’m reviewing a film that is considered unanimously a pioneering masterpiece of the horror genre – therefore what is there left to say about it? Well luckily, for Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre prime UK boutique label Second Sight have released what is undoubtedly the most definitive edition you can get of the film, in a run of ‘definitive editions’ that have come before it, though looking at this beast it truly would be a challenge to trump in the stakes of presentation (both in film itself and as a tangible object), and supplementary features.
Second Sight in their early days seemed to follow their label-mates Arrow in releasing films of the more cult and arthouse-leaning on DVD, before upping the ante and releasing deluxe DVD editions crammed with alternative cuts and extras; I didn’t think my three-disc Picnic At Hanging Rock DVD set could be topped as a release, but the moving of the times saw Blu-ray and 4K formats take a precedent in a physical media market that had to keep moving along with it in order to survive. Second Sight knew this only too well, and now we’re getting an even chunkier edition of Peter Weir’s film, with a box width as substantial as what we have for Tobe Hooper’s film here. Second Sight’s releases are synonymous with the most deluxe of hard copy collectables available in the UK physical media landscape and only prove the notion that we are living in another golden age of physical media collecting is true.
Moving onto The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a film whose reputation well and truly preceded itself for us in the UK since it wound up banned after a spell of exhibition in the country presented some complex challenges for censors. It had a brief theatrical release in London after a tango back and forth with the BBFC over whether it could be granted an X certificate with or without cuts. Their problem lay in the films fundamentally disturbing approach rather than any outright graphic content. An ‘uncensored’ pre-cert VHS release courtesy of Pinewood Studios-based Iver Film Services Ltd. followed in 1981, albeit breifly since the same problems of classification applied to the newly founded home video market that wasn’t a concern for the BBFC previously. Mr. James Ferman had since stepped into the Secretary chair of the BBFC and was invited to watch the film on a couple of occasions. He determined, like his predecessors before him, that there weren’t exactly any nasty scenes of violence to cut, that it was all implied and psychological – the terrorisation of Marilyn Burns’ Sally character providing the bulk of this that Ferman called ”the pornography of terror” The film was taken off the shelves, thrown into limbo and effectively banned – though escaped the notoriety of being one of the 39 prosecuted DPP video nasty films, as well as the 72 nasties list.
A result of its scant availability caused a great anticipation to see it fired by persistent word of mouth. This writer would quiz his parents who saw it to try and find out how graphic this film was – its title certainly promised such visceral carnage. Pictures of the film would wind up in magazines like The Dark Side, further painting an idea of what to expect (which is also where I initially learned that there were sequels!) and to further its outlaw status the idea of ‘chainsaws’ appearing in any other film title or any visceral content featuring them in films were nixed from public consumption too; an example of which was Fred Olen Ray’s splatter spoof Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers which on video became ‘Hollywood Hookers’ with a picture of a chainsaw in place of where the word should be, while the chainsaw wielding ‘hooker’ of the poster remained intact – quite an absurd circumstance!
Imagine the surprise of many when it was finally re-released to the country. After initial screenings in that London, a airing on Channel 4 followed which is where I finally got to see it, and I made sure I videoed the bugger too so we could watch it over and over, even if the a domestic physical release from Blue Dolphin followed soon after that, – which became one of my earliest and most treasured DVD purchases.
The film warranted several repeat viewings to really tap into its unusual rhythms. Its tone was alien, and there wasn’t any warmth to be found anywhere. Its protagonists were distant, not hugley fleshed out, though its most 3-dimensional one was the disabled Franklin; who we found grotesque, and oddly amusing. The sense of impending doom was apparent, and with its notorious reputation preceding it we watched in anticipation how the horror would play out. Play out it did, only Leatherface wasn’t your run-of-the-mill slasher type, and there was a whole family of psychos!
I don’t think my friends, my brother and I would truly appreciate the psychological levels of torment and the undercurrents of erosion of the American landscape on display in this film until we matured. We found the film fascinating and morbidly amusing, but as I got older and more exposed to the unpleasant ways of the world the more I would find the film burrowing under my skin and into my head. For years I swore I preferred the tongue-in-cheek sequel from Hooper ten years later: its more overt comic tone balanced with its sick and twisted violence stirred up a more sadistic effect, but when I eventually came back to the original film, I realised that everything on display was completely believable and events quite like it had, and could happen. The fact that I live in a semi-rural town whose contributions to industry had all but dried up and vanished leaving very little to prosper in its wake would only help me to understand the film more clearly, and be disturbed by it.
Iver Film Services released two versions on VHS; one bore a full colour painting of Leatherface in his apron wielding his chainsaw towards us and the other was a striking red, white and black cover with a silhouetted leatherface brandishing his killer hardware. Iver’s domestic Super8 release of the film utilised this same artwork too, and it happens to be this same design that Second Sight have adopted for their deluxe release, effectively following on and having its own place in a neat lineage of the film’s UK physical release history. The film here is presented in 4K in both UHD and Blu-ray formats; and watching the film with such clarity is quite the experience. I’m not particularly one for jumping the 4K bandwagon so quickly, but when you watch one you certainly know why it is the way forward.
The film is the cleanest I’ve seen it – as in it couldn’t be any clearer in image, and not to the detriment of its grain and archaic characteristics either. If anything even the film’s natural grain is accentuated and it is pleasing to know that new audiences in this age of picture perfect HD can appreciate the roughness of such a low-budget film that, if not for its world-wide notoritety and success is actually a grubby looking grindhouse flick, but an exceptionally made one at that: I can only marvel at its endless virtues; its hugely inventive cinematography for one – that tracking shot from under the swing towards the house never fails to blow my mind. One’s senses are assaulted too: you almost feel the heat rising from the asphalt of the highway, and can almost smell the sweat of poor Franklin inside the van. This is the most satisfyingly vivid I have experienced a film that is huge on textures and environments to begin with.
There are so many supplementary extras with this release you won’t even know where to begin. The discs are loaded with extras, many of which are brand new and several are from releases that have come before, and this is no bad thing since they were all top tier back then and are great to have included. Among those are David Gregory’s documentary Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (2000) which was originally released on their VHS label ‘Exploited’ to co-incide with the films re-release long before the days of the great behemoth Severin, which dominates cult cinema physical media today.
Gregory also moderates a satisfying commentary track with Tobe Hooper and is on-hand to prompt the director with historical details that might seem a bit distant to him now. There are also archive commentary tracks, including one from cast members Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger and Paul A. Partain, and Art Director Robert A. Burns. Also the entertaining three-way between Hooper, cinematographer Daniel Pearl and Gunnar Hansen who have a lot of fun reminiscing and lightens the nightmarish mood of the piece.
Exclusive to the Second Sight release is a retrospective documentary ‘The Legacy of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ courtesy of Philip Escott which interviews several figures from our contemporary horror scene and how the film had its profound effects on them – many perspectives of which resonated with this writer and proves to be a featurette most viewers will relate to. Not every extra will be essential, but as a kitchen sink package; no Chainsaw-related stone is left unturned.
Much like Second Sight’s phenomenal Dawn Of The Dead box-set before it; this breeze-block of a release simply has to be the last name in the film’s representation on physical media. Die-hard collectors might find something to say about the transfer’s colours and how they compare to previous releases, but they will probably own every edition that has come out anyway – and there are always virtues and short-comings with every release; depending on the one you bond with they always become significant in playing their part in your relationship with a certain film. While this will sit proudly on my shelf; the Blue Dolphin DVD will always sit there alongside it, which, at the time proudly proclaimed how the film had never looked so good. Well, it has looked better since, and no better than how it looks in this essential, definitive edition.
❉ ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ released 10 April 2023 from Second Sight Films: 4K UHD/Blu-ray Limited Edition (RRP £44.99), Standard Edition 4K UHD (RRP £24.99), Standard Edition Blu-ray (RRP £15.99). These are Amazon Affiliate links, which means we will receive a commission if you make a purchase through our affiliate link at no extra cost to you. Cert: 18. Running Time: 83 mins.
❉ Thomas Lee Rutter is a director and editor, and creator of Carnie Films’ folk horror short Bella InThe Wych Elm (2017), acid western Day of the Stranger (2019) and upcoming feature The Pocket Film of Superstitions (2023).
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