The good folks at MPI Media and Dark Sky films continue to work hard to preserve what is arguably one of the most important horror films of the last half century – the original “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”. Apparently the original 16mm print was wasting away in a brown paper bag somewhere in the vaults of New Line Cinema and, thanks largely to DVD, the film has undergone a number of restorations since it was saved.
And if any film was in desperate need of restoration it was the original TCM. I recall watching it on home video back in the 80s and you literally could not see what was happening during some of the night scenes, including the entire sequence where Sally and Franklin are trying to navigate through the woods and stumble upon Leatherface. And the more you watched the VHS copy, the worse it seemed to get – no matter how hard you tried to adjust the picture on your old 23” floor model console TV!
Of course – that was also part of the charm of the first film. The low quality picture gave a sense of reality to the film – seeming more like a documentary than a work of fiction. This worked to sell the suggestion that the film was a true story – combined with the opening introduction to the film courtesy of a pre-“Night Court” John Larroquette and the ad campaign suggesting that what happened was real (it’s not – it took inspiration from Ed Gein – the same individual that inspired Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill – but the story is all fiction).
The 40th Anniversary re-master improves significantly on the picture, yet, given the limitations of the source material, the low budget aesthetic of the original remains. The transfer seems to strike the perfect balance – producing a crisper, cleaner image that allows you to actually see everything going on, yet still giving the sense that you are watching something that seems much more real than it actually is.
Now – if you are a fan of the film you probably already own a re-mastered copy on DVD. But I don’t think that this version of the film is merely a cash grab for the studio that owns the rights. First of all – they actually took the time to send it back to theatres so that people like me that didn’t get the chance to see it on the big screen could appreciate the film as it was meant to be seen. And what an experience it is in a theatre -> I took some friends that had never seen it (no they are not from another planet – just fresh from Ireland where the film is not as easy to come by) and they were blown away! I almost had to scrape them off the ceiling when Franklin and Sally stumbled upon Leatherface in the woods (which is even more effective when you can see what is happening). There is also an incredible new poster from Jason Edmiston who is producing some of the most incredible posters based upon classic horror movies that you will find anywhere!
Also – with the cost of 4K TVs coming down, I doubt that 4K is just a fad, and this film deserves to get the best presentation possible. When new technology is introduced small independent films often arrive late to the game so it is great that the MPI and Dark Sky are getting out ahead of it.
The movie is still making the rounds in theatres – keep an eye out for it and if it is anywhere near your town do whatever it takes to see if on the big screen. If not – start saving your cash now because this may be the excuse you need to upgrade to 4K!