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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 40th Anniversary (Fantasia Review)

Aug. 1, 2014by: Chris Bumbray
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PLOT: A group of friends taking a road trip through Texas to their old family homestead run afoul of a family of cannibals.

REVIEW: Iím ashamed to admit it but Iíve never seen THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (or the sequels, remakes Ė nada). Yes, yes, Iím aware that I've pretty much lost all credibility with the hardcore horror fans that read this site, but what can I tell ya? Other than Freddy Krueger, slashers were never my thing. I was always more of an EXORCIST/SHINING kind of guy. That said, Iíve been meaning to catch up with it for years and I love several of director Tobe Hooperís films, such as POLTERGEIST, LIFEFORCE, and INVADERS FROM MARS (a childhood classic). When the Fantasia Film Festival announced they would be holding a special 40th anniversary screening of the film in its new 4K restoration, I knew this was my chance to see it as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen.

Sure enough, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE was worth the wait. Iíd heard so much about it over the years that part of me felt like Iíd already seen it, but nevertheless I was still struck by how effectively it holds up thirty years later. While the five teens donít always feel like professional actors (Paul A. Partain as Franklin the paraplegic is a bit rough) this only adds to the seediness of the movie. It feels like a documentary (helped along by the classic John Larroquette narration), and once the killing starts you get that uneasy feeling youíre watching some kind of snuff film. Truly this is an exploitation picture at its best.

But, at the same time TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is surprisingly light on the gore. Hooper was ahead of his time in that he realized suggestion was more effective than outright gore. Thereís probably more carnage on an episode of HANNIBAL, but nevertheless itís incredibly disturbing. Leatherface is a truly terrifying figure, with Gunnar Hansen playing him like a truly demented, child-like killer. Of the slashers, heís arguably the scariest Iíve ever seen.

The same goes for the rest of his demented clan, with Edwin Neal iconically unhinged as he cuts his finger open with Franklinís Swiss Army knife, or Jim Siedow as the clan patriarch who takes his boys to task for being sadists while he maniacally pokes at Marilyn Burnsí Sally with a broom handle. Burns is especially effective, giving whatís undeniably one of the best ďfrightenedĒ performances of all time. Iím amazed she can still speak after all the screaming she does in its second half.

As for the 4K restoration, having never seen it otherwise, I can say that TEXAS CHAIN SAW looks great, but (thankfully) it hasnít been scrubbed clean of its grain and texture. This is an intentionally seedy looking movie, and the 4K looks like a pristine 16mm thatís been blown up for 35mm, which is likely the intention. The sound mix was ferocious, and seeing it on an IMAX sized-screen with the rabid Fantasia audience was truly an experience Iíll never forget.

What made it even more special was that Tobe Hooper himself was present at the screening to receive a lifetime achievement award from Fantasia. Hooper seemed like a jovial guy who happily posed for photos with fans and participated in Q&A after the movie. One thing worth noting Ė as I was leaving the screening I saw an ambulance parked outside the theater. Reportedly, an audience member had to flee from the theater during the climax as it was too much for her and made her sick. While I suppose I should be worried about the person (who was fine after she calmed down) but itís kinda nice to know that 40 years on TEXAS CHAIN SAW still has that kind of power over its audience.

Extra Tidbit: Photos courtesy of King Wei-Chu

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11:54AM on 08/01/2014
Wow, I'd love to be among those audiences.
Wow, I'd love to be among those audiences.
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