Nearly fifty years since it originally hit drive-in theaters, Tobe Hooper's cult classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains an effective piece of low-budget, independent horror that introduced a beloved icon of the genre and was largely responsible for opening the floodgates with a new breed of terror. Turbine Media Group welcomes the beloved horror flick for a second time on 4K Ultra HD as a three-disc collector's SteelBook package with an improved Dolby Vision HDR video and the same great selection of lossless audio tracks: Auro-3D 13.1, Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD MA. Along with a brand-new SteelBook housing all three discs, an exhaustive collection of supplements and an attractive booklet, fans also have the choice between four collectible side-sliding slipcases featuring four unique different cover arts. Overall, this new UHD edition makes for a beautiful, Recommended addition to the 4K library.
The very definition of '70s grindhouse horror, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not only a classic of the genre but a piece of our shared cultural lexicon. The film exists in our memory banks as a collective nightmare with images that still hold enough raw visceral power to shock nearly fifty years after its original theatrical run. Its sustained power, in my opinion, is Hooper and cinematographer Daniel Pearl's aim to reproduce the structure and syntax of a nightmare. It accomplishes that with astonishing fidelity. On the level of craftsmanship, the film' would seem to be a mess. Screen direction frequently shifts, eye-lines don't match from one shot to the next, and the low-budget conditions often wreak havoc with continuity of lighting, performance and dialogue. Yet there's a sustained through-line of (il)logic, that may not make "sense" on a conscious level, but it feels subconsciously correct. Much like a bad dream where, no matter how hard you try to run, your legs just won't cooperate, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre captures that primal, irrational terror and milks it for every last drop of effectiveness.
Hooper and screenwriter Kim Henkel also achieve greater thematic resonance thanks to character construction that is a bit more complex than it may at first appear. Our heroine Sally (Marilyn Burns) is an average yet genuine human being worthy of our empathy with typical supportive friends with quirky traits of their own, particularly the zodiac-spouting Pam (Teri McMinn) and her ineffectual boyfriend Kirk (William Vail), who we at first think will be the traditional, rugged leading man. At the same time, the characters are archetypal enough that Hooper is able to easily equate them with the cattle of the local slaughterhouse. As the film suggests again and again narratively (by the arbitrary order in which the protagonists are killed) and visually (by frequently placing our heroes in diminished positions within his compositions), meat is meat. The universe cares little for us mere human animals. If not quite existential, Texas Chainsaw is certainly the most unsentimental of horror films when it comes to valuing humanity's ultimate place in the natural pecking order.
Finally, the film also works as a piece of pop art thanks to Pearl, whose work is admirably ambitious for a super low-budget production. There are shots of impressive fluidity and shocking beauty throughout. The early sun-drenched exteriors are striking in the way they combine function with form, and the film's most famous sequences work so effectively due to Pearl's dexterity. Witness the fascinating low dolly shot from under a swing as we first enter the Sawyer house, or the quick-cut montage of Burns' eyeballs as she's being tortured around a dinner table. It's this mix of go-for-the-jugular exploitation imagery mixed with an artistic ambition on behalf of Hooper and Pearl that allowed Texas Chainsaw to stretch the boundaries of what was possible in low-budget exploitation cinema.
Of course, the film remains notorious not as much for its visual and thematic concerns but for its pure gut-wrenching impact. Certainly, the film's most iconic image is that of Leatherface waving his chainsaw, and it's this raw brute force of purpose that continues to engender the film to its legion of fans. Hooper's film is now synonymous with no-bullshit, old-school horror. That may be a disputable legacy, but it's a legacy nonetheless. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may have become dated in the intervening decades (the fashions and overall cheapness of the enterprise now distract from rather than enhance the film's cinéma vérité style), but it made its mark in its day and then some. For that, and the sheer passion and aspirations of craftsmanship that Hooper and his filmmaking team displayed, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has cemented a rightful place in the canon of classic horror films.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Courtesy of German boutique label Turbine Media Group, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) arrives on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray for a second time but is now offered as a three-disc SteelBook collector's edition. A couple of years shy of its 50th Anniversary, the cult drive-in classic comes in the choice between four collectible side-sliding slipcases featuring four unique different cover arts, which can be found HERE. For this review, we are taking a look at the slipcase C with Leatherface in the center and Sally's eyes bulging in the background.
Inside the SteelBook, we find the image of Sally running from Hitchhiker and Leatherface. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 copy of the movie, which also sits comfortably atop a second Region Free, BD50 with all the supplements on the same panel. The package also includes a 60-page booklet with color photos, various essays, production history, and details on the entire franchise up to the latest Netflix release. At startup, the UHD goes straight to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The drive-in cult classic rips into Ultra HD for a second helping, likely from the same HEVC H.265 encode as the previous UHD release, which was itself struck from a fresh 4K scan of the original 16mm camera negatives back in 2016 but not mastered in the high-dynamic-range format. However, the folks at Turbine Media Group have gone back and released the seminal horror favorite in four collectible UHD packages, bestowing it to the slavering, voracious appetites of horror hounds with a proper HDR media profile that is sure to please their palates.
This native 4K transfer is a remarkably good upgrade over its SDR predecessors, showing better definition and clarity from start to finish. Granted, coming originally from a cheap 16mm reversal stock, the source won't ever yield the sort of results we've come to expect from the format with a good majority of the runtime looking fairly soft and blurry, but any such instances of poor resolution are inherent to the condition of the stock and the photography. In spite of that, the overall improvements are still perceptible and notable for a source of this vintage and from a micro-budget production, especially for those already familiar with the movie's history on home video. Fans will greatly appreciate every distinct detail, stain, smudge, and scratch inside the Sawyer house while the slight rust stains, scrapes, and scuffs on the outside of the kids' van are plainly visible, and the fine lines along clothing and the stitching in Leatherface's masks are detailed.
On a more important better note — and the reason for this new UHD upgrade — the Dolby Vision HDR presentation dazzles and astonishes thanks to a superb and well-balanced high dynamic range, offering exceptional, right-on-the-money contrast and crisp, pitch-perfect whites. Specular highlights radiate with brilliant luminosity, showing distinct differences in the clouds while the metal trim of the van shimmers and glistens with incredible realism. Brightness levels are equally strong and true throughout with pitch-black shadows that complement the story's creepy atmosphere while maintaining strong visibility during the darkest, poorly-lit sequences. Understandably, there is the occasional blooming in the brightest spots and shadows can engulf the finer details, but all things considered and comparing the last release, this remains a step up. Best of all, Daniel Pearl's photography benefits and really takes advantage of the wider color gamut, displaying intensely animated reds, vivid greens in the foliage, and true-to-life blues in the skies. The HDR video also comes with bolder, richly saturated secondary hues, and facial complexions are highly revealing with healthy, peachy-red tones in the entire cast.
Awash in a natural, dense grain structure that is to be expected and unobtrusive, this new 4K HDR transfer is a genuine surprise considering the source's history and condition, which looks beautifully film-like and cinematic, making it the best the film has ever looked in any format. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 78/100)
As with the previous release, Turbine slaps an exciting and surprisingly excellent bevy of listening options to this UHD edition, all of which are presented in either a German dub and in the original English. First, for the purists out there, fans can choose between the original mono in DTS-HD Master Audio or a great stereo alternative in DTS audio, or they can step it up a notch with a satisfying DTS-HD MA 7.1 upmix, which is actually the default of the Auro-3D codec for those without the equipment. For those wanting to take it to the next level though, the 4K disc also offers the choice between a pair of remarkably impressive object-based soundtracks: an Auro-3D 13.1 mix and a Dolby Atmos track that defaults to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 for those without the equipment. During the pandemic, I decided to redesign my speaker layout in the thirteen-channel Auro configuration due to its versatility, so the choice was, needless to say, a relatively easy one.
Besides, after watching and hearing this movie on various audio formats for the past four decades — some of which were better than others — I opted to give the Auro-3D option a go this time around. To my shock and amazement, the audio engineers at Auro Technologies did phenomenal work carefully extracting specific audio cues from the new remastered source and moving them to specific areas of the environment without ever seeming forced or artificial. It's not a night and day difference from the Atmos track, so my sentiments remain relatively the same as in my previous review. But in all honesty, I would actually give the Auro mix the edge and rate it slightly higher because it sounds and feels more natural, even true-to-life or vérité.
Still front-heavy and faithful to the source, random noises are heard echoing throughout the Sawyer house, adding to the creepiness and making for a satisfying hemispheric soundfield. The real highlight is hearing footsteps on the second floor of the abandoned Hardesty homestead while Franklin whines, and later, when Sally runs frantically around the Sawyer house, we hear the brothers yelling in hysterics and chasing after her in the distance. Granted, a few Foley effects still feel a bit fake, most notably at the beginning with vehicles speeding down the highway, but thankfully, these moments are far and few in between without distracting too much from the film's overall enjoyment.
The mix remains a front-heavy arrangement with plenty of background activity generating an engagingly expansive soundstage with a great sense of presence. Off-screen effects occasionally moving across the three top heights not only broaden imaging with subtle noises of the local wildlife, seemingly coming from all sides of the room, but the voices of the crowd gathering at a cemetery and Wayne Bell and Tobe Hooper's haunting musical score also widen the soundscape with extraordinary fidelity and warmth while lightly bleeding into the sides and overheads. In fact, the music does most of the work filling the room with suspense, thanks to a surprisingly dynamic and extensive mid-range, exhibiting crystal-clear distinction and separation between the various noises without the slightest hint of distortion. Meanwhile, low bass is expectedly light but nonetheless hearty and adequate for a film of this vintage. And dialogue reproduction is distinct and precise in the center from beginning to end, making this three-dimensional mix highly enjoyable. (Auro-3D Audio Rating: 84/100)
For this new UHD edition, Turbine Media Group ports over the same selection of bonus material as its previous 4K release, except for the option between three cover art designs, the booklet and the SteelBook package housing all three discs.
Disc One UHD & Two Blu-ray
Disc Three Blu-ray
Nearly fifty years since it originally hit drive-in theaters and shocked moviegoers everywhere, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains an effective piece of low-budget, independent filmmaking. Featuring the character that would soon become an icon of horror, the cult classic still stands as one of the most influential films of the genre, largely responsible, along with Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, for opening the floodgates with a new breed of terror cinema.
Turbine Media Group welcomes the beloved horror flick for second helpings at the 4K Ultra HD table with an improved and excellent Dolby Vision HDR presentation with several noteworthy moments worth appreciating, offering a notable step up over its UHD predecessor. The movie also arrives with the same great selection of lossless audio soundtracks: Auro-3D 13.1, Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio. Along with an exhaustive collection of supplements and a booklet housed in one of four packaging selections featuring different cover art, this new UHD edition is a must-own for cult enthusiasts and makes a beautiful, recommended addition to the 4K library.
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