Texas Change Saw

Dark Sky’s new 4K UHD of Texas Chain Saw Massacre reveals new details and inspires a change of heart.

By Brian Collins · @BrianWCollins · March 2, 2023, 1:00 PM PST
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I recently quit Twitter for a number of reasons, but only one is relevant here: the ubiquity of "this you?" type replies. For those who've wisely avoided the social media platform and don't know what that means, I'll give you an example. Let's say you tweet, "I like vanilla ice cream the best." Within, I dunno, 17 seconds, someone you've never interacted with and perhaps doesn't even follow you will reply, "this you?" with a screenshot of a tweet you made a decade ago where you noted that you like chocolate ice cream the best. The "gotcha," in their mind, is that you're now a liar or a hypocrite or something when in reality (most times, anyway), it's just the simple fact that you've changed your mind over the years. You've grown, and they seemingly haven't, so they're mad.

It's exhausting, to say the least (especially when you get into more nuanced and important territory, like your ranking of the Friday the 13th movies) when you're someone who simply changes their mind over time about things. I sometimes cringe when I read my older reviews, and not just at the prose – the opinions themselves come off as "wrong" x number of years later. In 2010 I came out of Saw 3D saying it was better than Saw V and maybe even IV, but the past decade and change have corrected my stance. I wasn't "wrong" at the time, and I certainly wasn't lying then or now – I just grew into or out of certain things, just as any reasonably well-adjusted person should.

And that's a good thing, because if the me of 2023 shared the same opinion as my 2007ish counterpart, I wouldn't have spent the past few days enjoying the new 4K UHD of Texas Chain (space) Saw Massacre from Dark Sky. While I liked the then-burgeoning Blu-ray technology for how good new blockbusters looked and sounded, I felt that certain films should kind of look grimy, and that cleaning them up and making them look all pretty would dilute some of their power.


In fact, I recall arguing against the idea of cleaning up TCM, specifically (Evil Dead was also in that conversation), fearing that the seams of its low-budget, guerilla-style production would show under the magnified lens of 2K resolution. Far as I was concerned, DVD was as advanced as it should go for some of these things, improving on VHS in the areas that mattered (no more cropped images, sound that didn't sound like it was coming through a broken radio in the next room) without going so far that they would no longer have the same magic hold over the viewer.

But I was so very, very wrong.

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For starters, Dark Sky's presentation (which is of the 4K remaster created and signed off by Hooper for the film's 40th anniversary that was previously only released in the US on a standard Blu-ray, so this is that transfer on the more advanced 4K UHD disc to match) revealed so many details in Robert Burns' production design that had escaped my attention in the dozen or so times I've seen the movie before, and that includes at least two big screen showings. Certain body parts sewn into the furniture, the fact that there are TWO faces on the lampshade above the dinner table, various bric-a-brac around the house and other locations (never actually noticed Kirk's guitar in the van, for example; previously, I felt his offer to trade it for gas was just random).



Sure, if I pull out my old DVD I guarantee I'll see these things if I look for them (not a cropped VHS though; that guitar was way off to the side), but that only strengthens my point. A new transfer of a favorite film means scanning around to see what I never noticed before, so if that's what it takes to get me to really soak in the smaller details Burns and everyone else worked so hard to accomplish nearly 50 years ago, how can a new format be a bad thing for "lo-fi" films?


And I assure you, none of the film's power was lost. The image is still grainy and dirty (none of that noise reduction nonsense that makes everyone look like they're made of wax). It's just more vivid and gives you more detail in the darker scenes. When Sally is caught in the brambles trying to escape Leatherface, you'll see each individual little branch that's slowing her down, fully understanding her slow progress in ways that wouldn't be clear with a standard VHS (or even some DVD) transfers.

That famous shot of Pam getting off the swing and walking up to the house has never looked more vivid and lush, providing an even starker contrast to the grim horrors she's about to witness. And while the image is, of course, the big draw, having properly mixed/restored sound (and a decent system to play it on) is essential if, for nothing else, the morbidly hilarious "bad news" reports that accompany the opening titles, something you can barely make out on older formats unless you're straining your ears as the score usually drowns out the reporter.


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Also, while it has nothing to do with the format's ability to preserve and showcase a higher resolution image, the added disc space means that bonus feature junkies like me can toss older editions, as all existing bonus material is accounted for, plus some new stuff for good measure. All four legacy commentaries are included on the 4K disc, bucking an unfortunate trend among these re-releases to resign such tracks on the Blu-ray along with another copy of the movie. This has freed up space on the bonus disc (which, to be clear, is a standard blu-ray disc, not a 4K UHD one) to add new features to the already epic number of available ones for this particular film. The two older documentaries (David Gregory's The Shocking Truth and Mike Felsher's Flesh Wounds), the deleted scenes, the featurette of Gunnar Hansen touring the house, the trailers, the other interviews (including the previously reclusive Teri McMinn), just about anything you've seen on a previous release of the movie is here*.


In addition, you get an hour-long Q&A between Hooper and William Friedkin, taken from a 40th-anniversary screening, plus the brand new documentary The Legacy of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which features a variety of filmmakers, journalists, and even a certain FANGORIA Editor-in-Chief gushing about the film and why it's endured all these years later. If you've never jumped into the world of TCM supplements before and plan to watch it all, it'll take in the neighborhood of 10-12 hours to go through everything, including the four commentaries.


But of course, the film itself is the main draw, and again I'm relieved I changed my tune on such things. Outside of some weird dedication to your nostalgic memory of seeing it on a cropped, murky VHS tape, there is literally no reason to keep a movie from looking the best it possibly can. Provided that the transfer is done with care, such things should be celebrated, not scoffed at (even if, as is likely the case here, the work for such remasters cost more than the original film did in the first place), and I'm pleased to report this is definitely an example of an older film being treated right with modern tech. I'd even put it alongside Jaws and Alien as a reference title for anyone who wants to see the difference the format can make when stacked against what is now decades of memories for that film's fans. And it's sad to think that I would have missed out if I didn't grow up a little in the past 15 years. Don't make my mistake. Change is OK. Change is normal. Change lets you see Leatherface finally shut Franklin up with crystal clarity. These are all good things!


*With some digging, I found a few omissions, but they are all from overseas (mostly German and Australian releases) and, best I can tell, have never appeared on any Region 1/A release. They are: Brad Shellady's Family Portrait doc from 1988, a two-minute featurette called "Killing Kirk," an isolated music and FX track, and various unrelated trailers for movies like The First Power (!) that have appeared on other releases for whatever reason. I'd argue Family Portrait is the only actual thing to miss, but it's available on Amazon VOD if you need to hear these stories again (most of which are recounted on the two other docs anyway).

The new 4K UHD of Texas Chain Saw Massacre is now available from Dark Sky.