Ahoy, squirts! Quint here to intro Vern and his look at a DVD I’m certainly picking up for this Halloween season: the newly spiffed up TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE SE. Vern goes through all the reasons this is better than the previous editions and some area where it isn’t, then wraps up the whole shebang with a final verdit. Is it worthy or unworthy? See for yourself!!!
Well friends, we all agree that THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is one of the greatest films in the history of American independent cinema, etc. etc.
[imagine 30,000 words here about why I love this movie. And believe me, I could do it.]
[Okay, maybe I’d have to pad it out by going off on a tangent about how underrated part 2 is, and why I hate the remake, and I’d have to spell “alot” as two words, but I could still make it to 30,000.]
[Seriously, you piss me off and I WILL do it. I’m ITCHING to do it. Don’t test me.]
But why in God’s name do we need another DVD release of it is the question. Anchor Bay hasn’t got their paws on it so it’s not to an ARMY OF DARKNESS crisis level yet, but I would’ve figured you couldn’t have a more definitive, a more special, or a more ULTIMATE edition than my treasured ‘Pioneer Special Edition’. I never did pick up the penultimate ‘If We Change The Cover It Counts As A New Edition Edition’ from 2003 (the one with the picture of meat on the back). So I’m not always a mark for these sloppy seconds or whatever you call it. But for this one I bit.
So what, you’re asking, is supposed to be so god damn ULTIMATE about this edition? First of all, they spelled the name right. CHAIN SAW, two words, not one. You gotta get it right because there’s another movie out there with a similar title http://www.aintitcool.com/node/16307 that you might get it confused with. CHAINSAW is some shitty movie from 2003 about an evil musclehead who chases glisteningly spray-on sweaty attractive people through spooky, foggy slaugherhouse sets because the other kids picked on him when he was little. Also he cut off Harry’s head I believe. That one’s CHAINSAW one word. CHAIN SAW two words is the raw, authentically sweaty American classic, so I’m glad they got that right finally.
There are basically two reasons why this version is ULTIMATE, and why I spent my hard earned cash on it. One reason for each disc. One for each word in CHAIN SAW.
REASON ONE: THE DOCUMENTARIES
This new edition from Dark Sky Films (TCSM2-DUE) includes two very good 70-some minute documentaries that were not on the Pioneer version. One is THE SHOCKING TRUTH which has been around since at least 2002, so some of you might’ve seen it already (I never managed to get ahold of it before). The other is FLESH WOUNDS: SEVEN STORIES OF THE SAW which is brand new made for the purpose of ultimateness and somehow manages to find a couple new angles on the Chain Saw phenomenon.
THE SHOCKING TRUTH is probaly the best all around documentary about CHAIN SAW. They talk to all the actors you’d expect them to talk to (even Jim Siedow [the cook] and Paul Partain [whiny fuckin Franklin], who both have passed away now), plus Tobe Hooper, co-writer Kim Henkel, mad genius art director Robert Burns, even sound effects/co-composer Wayne Bell. They go through the whole history of the thing, the production, the time when Hooper was editing and scoring it in his house and nobody thought it would be any good, the time when it was released by the mafia and made millions of dollars and they ended up with $47 royalty checks.
If you’re like me you enjoy going over this stuff but know most of it from the previous documentaries, the old commentary track and the companion book. So I was most excited for the little section where they go briefly into the sequels. Part 3 director Jeff Burr claims that everybody in Hollywood turned down the movie before he took it and specifically names John McNaughton (WILD THINGS) and Peter Jackson (BAD TASTE). Also you hear sad stories about Gunnar Hansen not being offered more than scale for 2 or 3 and having to turn them down on principle. I think only one of the sequels is good but I’m always interested in this “how it could have been” and “what the hell they thought they were doing” business. And Burr seems pretty realistic about how not very good his movie is. (It does have its moments.)
SHOCKING TRUTH even has clips from Jeff Krulik’s TCSM 20th Anniversary home video he used to sell on his websight. The video is just his raw camcorder footage of hanging out with the CHAIN SAW cast at a horror convention. There’s a sad scene where almost nobody shows up for the screening of the movie and a classic tangent where he talks to a freako evil Harry twin who claims to admire Ed Gein. SHOCKING TRUTH cribs the funny part where Krulik asks a tiny little kid what his favorite scene in the movie is and the kid says “Leatherface!”
The new documentary FLESH WOUNDS is more for the drooling maniac fans like myself and that little kid. At the beginning you have to wonder how they could have anything new to say, especially since their opening mimics the text crawl and camera flashes of the actual movie’s opening, and THE SHOCKING TRUTH already did the same thing. But they did a good job of finding some new stories. There’s an interview with cinematographer Daniel Pearl, who coincidentally also shot that CHAINSAW one word movie, and talks about that a little. They show a hilarious still photo of that movie’s director, Marcus “Poo-Poo Platter” Nispel, wearing a huge fur coat and a cowboy hat. They also interview W.E. Barnes, the plastic surgeon who, for fun, got the job of turning 18-year-old John Dugan into 100-something Grandpa. And do you remember years ago when there was a dude with a websight where he tried to visit the TCSM filming locations, and he revealed that the house had been taken apart and moved 100 miles away and re-opened as a restaraunt? One of the segments is about that dude, and he conducts a tour of the house as it exists now as the Four Bears Restaurant. And another segment is about horror conventions with CHAIN SAW actors. There is no section on John Larroquette, unfortunately. Now THAT would be ultimate.
The two segments that have the most overlap with the other extras are the interviews with Ed Neal and Gunnar Hansen. Neal’s hitchhiker character is my favorite part of the movie, so I don’t want to disrespect him. But in the spirit of honesty I gotta note that he has a Robin Williams-like tendency to cram 35 gratuitous impressions into every story he tells. But it’s a good interview, and the Hansen one is even better. Alot of actors who were in one big horror movie years ago then went on to normal lives seem to get kind of goofy when the cameras get turned on them now. It’s understandable, they like the attention. But Hansen always seems completely laid back and humble, and his interview has him in his house somewhere in Maine, talking about how he left Texas to become a writer and really didn’t realize how popular the movie was until he saw a joke about Leatherface on “Cheers.” Luckily I don’t think it ruins the mystery, it’s hard to picture this big friendly dude with the Kenny Rogers beard being behind the Leatherface mask.
There actually is even more to say about the movie than what’s in these two features. My personal favorite documentary on the topic is THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: A FAMILY PORTRAIT by Brad Shallady (not included – maybe they are waiting for the HD super blue ray two-download special supremacy edition). That’s just a raw interview movie that only talks to the actors playing the Texas Chain Saw family members. They tell the story of the grueling shoot and, especially during the extended discussion of how the dinner scene went down, it seems to give a little bit of an explanation of why the movie feels so authentic. The modest and soft-spoken Gunnar Hansen describes a moment when he sort of snapped and thought he really was supposed to kill Marilyn Burns, and it’s pretty creepy. In other footage Jim Siedow seems like a nice old man and Edwin Neal is just a hyperactive movie memorabilia salesman, but in this movie, as they reminisce about the filming, you can glimpse a little bit of their characters in them. Siedow, for example, seems a little too amused when describing how he really hit Marilyn Burns with a broom.
But these two ULTIMATE documentaries are much more slickly produced and all encompassing, giving you stories from the perspective of the other actors and behind the scenes people, so they are at least a good addition to FAMILY PORTRAIT. Maybe even better.
TWO: THE TRANSFER
The Pioneer version had “a new widescreen Digital Superscan transfer supervised by Director Tobe Hooper” and it looked good. This one has the “New High Definition transfer from the 16mm camera originals.” It’s also “Anamorphic Widescreen, Enhanced for [your rich friends who have] 16×9 TVs.”
And there really is a difference. It looks clearer and, I don’t know, crispier. The blood, when there is any, looks a little redder. The sky looks bluer. Don’t get me wrong, it still looks pretty raw, but it probaly looks prettier than it’s ever looked before. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of this. Is a “better” transfer really, in fact, BETTER for a movie like this? Is it even natural? What would the Bible say about this? Years ago I saw it on a not-remastered VHS tape and thought it was supposed to look shitty, I thought that was part of what made it so scary. When I saw a better version I realized that it still was scary. But do I really want it to keep getting cleaner and clearer? How much more of this “improvement” can the movie take?
I don’t have a way of comparing them side by side, but I did watch some of my favorite parts and then pop in the old Pioneer version and take a look again. I really realized how clear it was when I looked at the hitchhiker’s birthmark or face smudge or whatever that thing is and thought, “Hey, that’s just some red Halloween makeup.” So maybe for some of you it will be TOO good of a transfer. But after watching it for a while I realized I really like it. It looks great. I’m sold.
AND BY THE WAY: THE EXTRAS
Most of the stuff from the Pioneer version is still on there. I believe all the same deleted scenes, outtakes and raw footage are there, although they are now just strung together instead of separated out with explanations and script excerpts. If you aren’t much of a fan this will be horse shit to you, but if you’re obsessed like me it’s a revelation the first time you see it. There’s all kinds of raw footage of the house so you can see the weird skeletal furniture close up and notice all kinds of details you never caught before. They also have the shot of a dead dog that was supposed to open the film (they decided it was too gross and went with the armadillo) and a really nice shot of hitchhiker laying dead on the hot cement that would’ve made his death more convincing if they could’ve fit it in there.
The one area I noticed being un-ultimate is the trailer gallery. They have the original trailers, TV and radio spots and a few trailers for unrelated Dark Sky releases like HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER 2. But they must not have had the rights to the Chain Saw sequel trailers that Pioneer had. The only reason why I care is because I have a soft spot for the ridiculous Part 3 teaser that parodies EXCALIBUR and has that lake lady throwing a shiny magic chain saw to Leatherface. (Although this Leatherface looks like a complete chump.)
The most significant new extra besides the documentaries is a new commentary track with Marilyn Burns (Sally), Paul Partain (Franklin), Allen Danziger (Jerry) and most ultimately Robert Burns. (Edwin Neal’s also on there for a minute because they call him on the phone at the end.) It’s not hugely enlightening but there are a couple things of note. They discuss the remake for a little bit, and all seem to agree that it’s too slick, not scary and doesn’t capture the personality of Leatherface. (They don’t mention Marcus Nispel’s fur coat and cowboy hat combo but my guess is they would be against it.)
And then there’s the part about the swing in front of the house. To me the most ULTIMATE thing about this edition is the added glimpses of the late Robert Burns, who I have always suspected deserves alot of credit for the movie’s greatness. When he speaks on the commentary track it’s great because he’s the guy who knows the mentality of the family and the thinking behind their home. He talks about one thing I don’t remember ever hearing before – he actually built that swing, because it’s supposed to belong to Leatherface. He’s a big kid so he likes to swing. (I wonder if the cook has to push him?) I always assumed the swing was just at the house where they filmed but they actually built it out of railroad trestles with a wide seat to accommodate the big guy. That’s the kind of attention to detail they insisted on despite the low budget. I guess if it was a Hollywood movie they could’ve done a whole playground made out of bones, with slides and see saws and everything.
Man, what if they had come to the house and seen Leatherface playing on the swings, they might’ve gotten scared by his mask and left, and it would’ve saved them alot of trouble. Instead, stupid Kirk has to poke his head in the slaughter room and get hammered. Dumb stupid luck I guess.
Anyway, Robert Burns was a genius. He did production design for THE HILLS HAVE EYES and built the creepy mannequins in TOURIST TRAP. But CHAIN SAW is obviously his masterpiece because he’s the guy who gathered up the hundreds of animal bones and parts, built all the strange furniture and objects, and of course created the Leatherface masks themselves. In THE SHOCKING TRUTH you hear some of his thought process behind those things. He criticizes Tom Savini’s Leatherface mask for part 2, saying it looks “art directed” and not like something Leatherface could make himself. (No comment on the ugly masks for parts 3 and 4 or the ridiculous evil-browed monstrosity in the remake.)
For the Robert Burns bits alone, this set is way more ultimate than the Pioneer. And then you got the non-Robert Burns parts of the two documentaries, the new transfer, etc. But if you’re STILL not sold, the set comes in a METAL case. Made out of real metal. NO other Texas Chain Saw Massacre edition has ever been in a metal case. This is history right here, people. You can put magnets on it and everything.
So if you’re one of the many proud Americans and/or world citizens who consider THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE one of your favorite movies, even if you already have the ‘Pioneer Special Edition’ or the ‘Maybe With This Cover Stupid People Will Think It’s the Remake Edition,’ and ESPECIALLY if you don’t have a refrigerator – then I would recommend this one.
Well, that’s enough CHAIN SAW excitement for today. But just wait until two weeks from now when I get ahold of the double penetration release (I don’t think that’s the right word) of the sorely underrated TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2. I already have that one on DVD too but it’s a much less covered topic so I can’t wait to see the extras on there. See ya then ya hog bitches.
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/30188