Kirk’s death is the worst in Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a genre-defining blend of shock horror, bloodletting, and suffering that hasn’t lost any of its power in close to 50 years. Slammed in his skull with a mallet by slasher icon Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), Kirk drops to the floor with a thud as his body desperately clings to life like a mouse fighting against a snake without hope.
That kill is among the fastest in Texas Chain Saw, and perfectly edited as the first to destroy any sense of comfort, as if the film allowed any in the first place. It’s grungy, dirty, rotten, and is that rare example of cinema producing a visual smell that’s grotesque by any standards.
Texas Chain Saw doesn’t necessarily “say” anything other than depicting a society’s warped, demented fringes that come to define themselves through generational abusiveness. Leatherface with a chainsaw isn’t Texas Chain Saw’s most unnerving vision so much as the environment that lets him exist in the first place.
Around the home, dead animals lie rotting. A couch forms from discarded human bones. To understand how this macabre reality came to be, the radio broadcast does the work. The news anchor speaks of refinery explosions, suicides, disease outbreaks, and murders as if speed-reading an average day in southern America. Texas Chain Saw defined redneck horror – nay, created it – by showing a family so divested from culture, progress, and empathy, they’ve reverted to their most primal state.
It’s typecasting to consider this as representing the entire deep south, but as a loose metaphor for those stuck in brutal, overheated slaughterhouses, working for a pittance without education, Texas Chain Saw almost works. Driven mad, the unnamed family dwells in squalor, yet are so insane, the father worries about the scratches on the door.
When locked in as a genuine horror film, few, if any, display such convincing chaos as watching Sally (Marilyn Burns) sit tied to a chair while her captors maniacally laugh as if this were all normal. That’s every kill in Texas Chain Saw, each a total nightmare that unlike where the genre ended up, doesn’t make these deaths exciting trailing fodder. They’re tragic, and presented as such even with their exploitation tinge. A trend-setter, but one that only a handful ever took the right lessons from.
Shot on 16mm, Texas Chain Saw isn’t flushed with detail, even when compared to the Blu-ray. In terms of raw resolution, those who deny UHD shows improvement over the Blu-ray have a case. Add this to the grungy, visible damage on the print (which is for the best in this case rather than a flaw) and this doesn’t appear as a strong case study for upgrading.
And yet, to so denounces the Dolby Vision pass, which is potent, aggressive, and never subtle. Contrast runs so hot, suiting the heated intent, clipping happens often. Crush follows the black levels too, appearing every bit the 16mm source it is. Color improves to a level near hyper-saturation, especially the flesh tones. There’s a detectable digital touch, if not one that harms any tone or intent.
Grain resolves the best it can with a hearty encode going to work. Texas Chain Saw carries a digital veneer likely unavoidable until disc media has more space to work with. Note this doesn’t diminish detail, rather just giving the grain a noisy edge.
DTS-HD 7.1, 5.1, and mono tracks are on the UHD, but the newcomer is Dolby Atmos. Like the video, it’s aggressive, too much so even. Every effect sweeps through the soundstage, and while effective when it works (cars passing the van), other times every speaker fills from basic touches like boards being lowered for Franklin’s chair. Yet, when the family moves upstairs and their footsteps drop from the wood, the height channels make a premium contribution that sounds completely real.
Captured raw, dialog passed through the center roughly, less aged than natural for something exhibiting a documentary flair.
Note: This review was lost in a server move and this recreation didn’t save the bonus features. However, this is the deepest release in Texas Chain Saw’s history, rest assured.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Brutal and convincing, Texas Chain Saw hasn’t lost its edge in 40 years.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 60 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: