This year, Tobe Hooper’s seminal The Texas Chain Saw Massacre celebrated its 40th anniversary with a brand new 4k transfer. The restoration was mainly for blu-ray and DVD release, but the film has also been getting a limited release theatrical run. Beginning this past summer, the 40th anniversary restoration print of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been slowly but surely trickling its way through theaters, and it came to my neck of the woods for a single midnight showing last Saturday night.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of those movies that gained its huge cult following in the years after its release, so many of the film’s fans have never seen it on the big screen. Until Saturday, I was included in that group. So, in order to cross that one off the list, there I was, midnight on a Saturday night, sitting in a theater full of rowdy horror fans, waiting for the familiar buzz of the saw.
The film itself was shot on 16mm slow film stock, so The Texas Chain Saw Massacre looks like a low-fi indie movie. That’s actually a big part of its charm; it has the feel of a grindhouse documentary, and that only makes it seem more real. In retrospect, it’s not as effective as it should be, as the modern horror climate is saturated with found footage duds and faux-documentaries. But, in the context of when it was made, it’s a knockout – the gritty look helped initial 1974 audiences believe that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was a “true story.” Because of the limitations of the original film, there is only so much that the restoration can (or even should) improve. The picture is cleaned up, and some of the darker scenes can be seen more clearly, but the movie is what it is. It still looks great.
The real noticeable difference between the original film and the new restoration is in the sound. The new 7.1 mix brings out little details that were imperceptible on earlier versions of the film – the song that is playing on the radio in the van, the squeal of the pigs in the background of the slaughterhouse. These little particulars are cool, but they are also there in the blu-ray. The real fun of seeing this version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in a theater is the saw itself. When Leatherface cranks up the hardware, the noise is earth-rattling. By the time the film reaches its conclusion, and Leatherface is swinging the chainsaw around in the iconic final shot, the sound of the gasoline engine on the power tool is deafening, leading to an eruption of full-on applause from the audience. It’s awesome.
Classic horror movies are best enjoyed with an audience, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is no exception. The audience in my particular showing was respectful, but it was a group that was already intimately familiar with the movie; no one was worrying about missing an important plot point because the person next to them was laughing or screaming. Everyone was just having fun. The theatrical revival of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre may be running the end of its course, but it is still happening; you’ll just have to keep an ear to the ground in your city to find out when it’s there. If you want to see the movie, watch the blu-ray. If you want to experience the film, go to a theater.
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