Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Umbrella release of Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Film: I was a latecomer to seeing the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Being in Australia and too young in the eighties to be part of any tape-swapping scene, and then a bit of a loner in the early 90s, I didn’t actually get to see it until it was first released on DVD.

Should I hand my horror fan card in now?

The problem with seeing it so late is I was completely entrenched in the hype from mags like Fangoria, Samhain, Fear and the hundred of other mags and books I had been exposed to before seeing the film. Could a film live up to everything I had heard for all those years? Of course not!

Texas Chain Saw Massacre tells of a group of young kids travelling through Texas to see a family home; Sally (Marilyn Burns), Kirk (William Vail), Pam (Teri McMin), Jerry (Alan Danziger) and the disabled Franklin (Paul A. Partain) who decide it would be fun to pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal), an extraordinarily strange man who is kicked out of the van after attacking Franklin with a knife.

Edwin Neal as the Hitchhiker

The group go to the abandoned family house and split off in their various directions, as horror youngsters do, exploring the surrounding area. Unfortunately for them, they find out exactly where the hitchhiker lives, and that he has an extended family of the cook (Jim Siedow), the practically immobile (and maybe mummified?) Grandfather (John Dugan) and the terrifying, monstrous, chainsaw-wielding beast Leatherface (Gunnar Hanson). This family LOVE having people for dinner, if you know what I mean… and unfortunately for some, there is fresh, young meat available…

Since that first watch, I’ve respected this film, but haven’t held it in the high regard on my personal list of most loved films like others had, mainly because I had seen and fallen in love with so many other horror films before I had the opportunity to see it, and it didn’t feel as special as I thought it was going to be: it wasn’t very gory, or bloody, but I could appreciate it was a pretty good story and the family, especially Leatherface, the main killer and TCSM icon, were terrifying.

The iconic red shorts scene

There’s no doubt the film really looks the business. Made with a low budget in 1974, the film looks hot, and dirty, and horrible… but not as in horrible filmmaking, because it really looks like a proper horror movie. Hooper makes every set up scene sweat with the heat, and every scene with the bad guys in it is full of dread, and that combination of heat and dread really makes the whole experience really claustrophobic, which is what proper horror really does, and because you see the cast both hot and in fear, you find yourself in the film with them. The upgraded and cleaned up version of the film may have been criticised by some upon release as it made the film look ‘nicer’, but it’s a grimy enough film to be able to overcome that.

I must put a caveat here and say ‘except for one’ in regards to the cast of characters. For me, the entire experience of this film is spoilt by the character of Franklin. I like to get really involved with the characters experiences and feel what they are feeling, but every time Franklin’s immature, whiny drawls come out, I disassociate from the film and find it hard to get back into it. Thankfully he doesn’t spoil the final scenes of the film, so at least the pay off is good.

I appreciate just how important this film is not just to horror, but to the film industry in itself, but personally, there are a lot more films that appeal to me far more. Still, everyone should see it at least once in their lives so they can understand that a film doesn’t have to be Citizen Cain or Gone With The Wind to lay industry foundations that will forever hold strong.

The menu screen to the Bluray release

Score: ***1/2

Extras: The disc opens with trailers for the Umbrella Entertainments releases for The Babadook, and The Quiet Ones, before we get SO many extras! There’s so much information for cast and crew across these extras, after you have finished watching them, you will feel like an expert on the film.

There are 4 (!) commentaries on this disc! One with Tobe Hooper, another with cinematographer Faniel Pearl, Sounds Recordist Ted Nicolaou and Editor J. Larry Carroll, a third with actors Marilyn Burns, Paul A. partial, Allen Danziger with Art Director Robert A. Burns and finally one with Tobe Hooper, Daniel Pearl and Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hanson. The first two commentaries are labelled as ‘new’ so I assume the others are on previous releases. There is just buckets of anecdotes and recollections across these 4 commentaries they almost make the other extras redundant!

‘Off The Hook’ with Teri McMinn is an interview with the actress who portrayed Pam, who, for me has the iconic shot in the film where she walks across the from of the house in the bright red shorts. There’s also that other iconic scene where she I’d definitely ‘on the hook’ but still, I love the shorts scene.

Interview with actor John Dugan, who played the Grandfather, under LOTS of makeup, obviously. He talks about his days in set and the heat (a common theme) under that mask.

Interview with Production Manager Ros Bozman of which TCSM was one of his earliest jobs, but he went on to do films like Philadelphia and Married to the Mob… he went legitimate, if you will. Again, interesting look at the film production from the POV of the actual production manager makes for an interesting watch.

40th Anniversary Trailer is the trailer made for the remastered version of the film.

Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark – a visit to TCSM Location. I like the HHG stuff in general as the revisiting of some of the locations can be fascinating, and this isn’t different. I do have to say I hate the skate punk film clip intro, but I’m willing to forgive that for the content of the rest of the episodes.

Deleted Scenes and Alternate Footage are the usual bunch of things that the film is probably better off without, which it’s popularity obviously proves.

Blooper Reel is ok but looks like it was filmed through a screen door.

Theatrical Trailer, Tv Spots and Radio Spots is about 5 minutes of the original advertising for the film. Now we have this beautiful remastered version it almost seems weird to see it so washed out and grainy… has the film lost something with the clean up? Not to me but I’m sure there are many who prefer the more ‘grindhouse’ feel to the way it used to look.

There are two documentaries on this disc; ‘Flesh Wounds’ and ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth’. Flesh Wounds is divided into 7 parts and is a far more by-the-fans-for-the-fans affair, whereas The Shocking Truth is made as a more traditional doco about the film.

The Tobe Hooper interview and Kim Henkel interviews are certainly the nuts and bolts interviews of the entire disc. Interesting but some of the info has been heard before on the various commentaries and other extras across the disc.

Killing Kirk outtakes is exactly what it says on the box. Some different takes in Kirk’s murder. No commentary or sound though.

Outtakes from ‘The Shocking Truth’ is about 7 minutes of extra footage from the Shocking Truth doco not used in the film.

A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen is a 1993 shot-on-video look at the original location for the house where the original film was made, with commentary by Hanson as he wanders through with the camera crew, and then another in 2000 after the house had been restored… and it’s disturbingly filled with Easter bunnies and paraphernalia!

Score: *****

WISIA: Even though it’s not even in my top 20 favourite horror films, I still will watch it now and again to remind myself of it’s importance not just in the horror film industry, but the entire film industry.

Marilyn Burns as Sally, freaking the hell out!

This review was done with the Australian release of the film, provided by Umbrella Entertainment.

Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

One from the re watch pile…

Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

Film: Imagine a world in which The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Leatherface: A Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Texas Chainsaw 4: A New Generation, the remake and The Beginning were never made. Now, whilst you are in that mindset, pretend the original was set sometime in 1988 and this film, Texas Chainsaw 3D (or Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D as the actual film title says) is the first sequel. Actually, a couple of gravestone dates are deliberately obscured to suit this exact purpose. Cinema is all about ‘pretending’, so that should all be easy! Clearly, the idea that this is the first sequel would suggest that more are to come, which the producer expresses in one of the featurettes in the extras.

Texas Chainsaw 3D starts just hours after the original TCM, with the local police going to the Sawyer house to apprehend ol’ Leatherface. The family is willing to give him up, but then a posse of rednecked locals arrive, and after a gunfight, they burn the house down with all the family members inside. One of the survivors was a baby, stolen by a member of the posse and raised as his own.

Jump forward to now, and we are introduced to Heather (Alexandra Daddario), who discovers she has inherited some property in Texas. She, along with boyfriend Ryan (Tremaine ‘Trey Songz’ Neverson), friend Nikki (Tania Raymonde), her potential boyfriend Kenny (Keram Malicki- Sanchez) and a hitchhiker they have picked up, Darryl (Shaun Sipos), travel to claim her inheritance, but it comes with a price! Typically, the kids are picked off one-by-one, but the story doesn’t end there. Sometimes small towns have horrible secrets that deserve vengeance. The sort of vengeance that only a giant, mentally stunted man armed with a chainsaw can dish out…

Now I was always a Friday the 13th guy as far as the big franchised horror films went, so I was never too high and mighty about the Chainsaw series (or Halloween for that matter) and honestly, I think the original TCM, whilst it has its place in cinematic history, is not my cup of tea. I thought it was badly paced at times, to the point if boredom, and I just can’t get by the annoying character of Franklin. Every time he opens his mouth I wanna go and park my car in a handicapped zone!

Also, before I continue, I must profess to have not watched this film in 3D. I don’t like the 3D gimmick in films as it suggests to me the film needs a little something extra due to the plot being a little lacklustre, like Friday the 13th 3D or Avatar. Besides, if I wanted things thrown at me, I’d take up sports instead of being a dyed in the wool home video fan!

Contrary to what I just said about thin plots in 3D movies, this script is solid once you ignore the existence of the sequels, and the warped time frame, though it does fall back on the usual frustrating horror trappings occasionally (call the cops, don’t go in the basement etc). It’s no King Lear, but as a horror franchise sequel it does attempt to think outside of the box, which gives it an identity of its own. The film flip flops in the middle and becomes a completely different animal!

There is a lot of stuff inspired by other films in here as well, with elements of Psycho, Humungous and other films mildly suggested. The script also telegraphs a lot of its final elements, but they do end satisfactorily. The wink at fans of the Saw films is a bit of a laugh as well.

The cast all perform adequately. Alexandra Daddario as Heather makes for a vulnerable yet headstrong lead who adapts to a situation quickly, and she’s as hot as the sun. The rest of the cast play their roles well enough, and the new Leatherface, Dan Yeager, is as intimidating as a good psychotic nut job with a chainsaw should be. The fun thing about this film is some of the original cast turning up to play other members of the family (in the case of Gunnar Hanson and Marilyn Burns), reprising the same role (John Dugan as Grandpa) or other sequel cast playing original cast members ( ex- Chop-Top Bill Moseley playing the deceased Jim Siedow’s character).

The director also appreciates where his new toy came from, and there a Hell of a lot of homages to the original: armadillos, deep freezers, meat hooks, ‘chuk-owwwwww’ camera noises and red shorts will all make TCM fans point and explain to non-fans what they are there for. It’s a bit of unnecessary fan-service, but a hoot, nevertheless.

Gore fans will also appreciate the effects Texas Chainsaw 3D. Most are done practically and are not light on the red stuff as Leatherface cuts through his victims in a variety of gruesome ways.

All in all, it’s not a bad pic, though anyone who is a fan of any of the sequels will feel somewhat ripped off by the complete dumping of what is supposed to be cinematic legacy. I have no problem with that though and enjoyed this film for what it is: a franchised sequel made for masses of new horror fans, with a few tips of the hat at the older ones so as not to completely piss them off. Will it be regarded as a horror classic? Doubtful, but as a no-frills slasher pic, it’s enjoyable.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This Blu-ray Disc looks and sounds fantastic. The image is presented in an impeccable high definition 1.78:1 image and the sound, which is fantastic, is presented in HD-DTS Master Audio 5.1.

Score: *****

Extras: This disc blesses the fans with three commentaries. The first is with producer Carl Mazzacone and original director Tobe Hooper, and they discuss the technical elements of the original film and the adaptation to 3D of some of the original elements. Hooper also seems to really endorse this film, but the skeptic in me says that if you throw a bucket of money at anyone they’ll endorse anything. The second commentary is moderated by DVD producer and filmmaker Michael Felcher, with original TCM cast members Gunnar Hanson, Marilyn Burns, Bill Moseley and John Dugan. This is a less informative, but amusing commentary by a bunch of people who have a legacy and have obviously spent a lot of time together discussing this film. The last commentary is by new Leatherface Dan Yeager and director John Luessenhop and is mostly about the making of the new film, which is informative, but nowhere near as fun as the other two.

Unfortunately, several times during these commentaries, they speak of deleted scenes being featured on the eventual DVD/ Bluray release, but they are not featured on this Blu-ray Disc.

There are also a series of short featurettes:

Casting Terror looks at each main cast member and the role that they play.

It’s In The Meat is all about the practical special effects, and for those who are wondering, one of the SFX guys says ‘CGI can go fuck itself.’

Leather face 2013 focuses on the man in the mask and the actor that plays him, Dan Yeager.

Lights Camera Massacre focuses on the 3D camerawork.

Resurrecting the Saw looks at the process the film producers went through to get the rights, and the ‘right’ story for this new TCM. One of the cool things about this particular featurette is one of the writers’ criticism of the Hollywood machine and its ability to churn out repetitive crap that doesn’t aim to be something higher. Interesting that one of the writers says that, when the producer flat out expresses his desire to create a new franchise.

Texas Chainsaw Legacy interviews original cast and crew members, who give their opinion of their collective legacy.

The Old Homestead looks at the recreation of the original house, and what the original cast think of how well it has been recreated.

Honestly, all these mini features could have been put together to make one really cool 90 odd minutes making of, but still each one was interesting and fun.

Score: *****

WISIA: I’d like to say that any rewatchability comes from a strong script or an impressive direction, but I keep coming back to this for Alexandra Daddario. Sorry.