Film Reviews

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – 4K UHD Review

The review you are about to read is an account of an account of a tragedy that befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But had they lived very, very long lives, they would not have expected, nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad or macabre as they were to see that day. For them, an idyllic afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, now in 4K.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the greatest pictures in the history of cinema, and stands tall as perhaps the most notorious of them as well. Released to audiences still recovering from Night of the Living Dead and The Exorcist, it’s an assault on the senses, one that wouldn’t receive an actual certificate in the UK until 1999, twenty-five years after it was made. Does it still stand up? Hell yes.

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One of the things about The Texas Chain Saw that both its defenders and detractors have said is that there isn’t really one thing that you can pinpoint about the film that leads to its effectiveness. Every element of the picture – from the naturalised acting to the beautiful photography that makes you feel like you’re baking in the hot Texan sun to the attacking soundtrack to the incredible production design – has been knitted together to make you feel like you’re being brutalised by the film and its terrifying characters, including the iconic Leatherface.

It’s almost like a meter that measures intensity. It starts off with low-end dread and rises and rises and rises until the end, where the mercury is boiling so hot it ends up exploding. And that’s what makes it so terrifying, that it just doesn’t let up at all, and that it’s not ghosts or goblins or vampires, it’s just a bunch of fucked-up people in Texas who like to murder people and eat them. It’s not a fun watch necessarily, although it does have a jet-black streak of comedy through it that reveals itself after a couple of screenings, but it’s a picture that is firmly entrenched in its goal to attack you and terrify you, and it does that with unerring accuracy.

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has had many, many home video releases over the years, but never with such image quality as Second Sight’s new edition, which is beautiful. I mean, you have to take the source material into consideration; the film was filmed on 16mm and then blown up to 35mm, but it still looks amazing, with deeper and richer colours and blacks than ever before. Second Sight has given it a standard Dolby Atmos soundtrack but also presents the original theatrical mono audio, which is fantastic.

The set is also loaded with extras. There are two editions, a standard single-disc UHD, or a limited edition set that includes the UHD and two Blu-rays, along with a book full of new writing on the film. The latter was not made available for review. But the extras are, on the whole, excellent and plentiful, with a ton of legacy features from previous editions, as well as some interesting new additions.

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Five audio commentaries are presented, four of which are archival but nonetheless fascinating, with two featuring Tobe Hooper both on his own and with Gunnar “Leatherface” Hansen and cinematographer Daniel Pearl. Then there are more with producers and actors, as well as a brand new commentary with Bill Ackerman, the host of the Supporting Characters podcast, and author and critic Amanda Reyes, and it’s an excellent track, providing fantastic context and information without being too dry.

Reyes also appears in the new feature-length documentary on the disc, which is called The Legacy of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Featuring a mix of horror-focused critics and authors and authorities, such as Fangoria editor Phil Nobile Jr. as well as filmmakers like Mick Garris, who was also a friend of Tobe Hooper, and Fede Alvarez, who wrote and produced the latest in the franchise, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There are also directors and writers of other franchise entries. It’s an informative and enjoyable piece, although it feels like it might have benefitted from a wider net of commentators. It also doesn’t really mention anyone but Tobe Hooper, which for such a collaborative movie like Chain Saw, feels a little off, perhaps.

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Also new is an excellent video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas about the masks of Leatherface and the wider use of masks as devices in horror cinema. All in all, it’s a comprehensive package that includes just about every bit of information you might need, although there is very little on the sound of the film, considering it’s such an important aspect. Thankfully it’s touched on in commentaries and the Legacy documentary.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is not only a masterpiece of terror, it’s also an important film, and it’s been treated with the respect it deserves by Second Sight. The extras are excellent but it’s this amazing 4K version of the film that is the real draw, together with its original soundtrack. Absolutely essential.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is out now on 4K UHD from Second Sight.

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