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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Special Edition (1974)

One of the most superfluous remakes in recent memory has to be Michael Bay's high-gloss 2003 "re-imagining" of Tobe Hooper's landmark 1974 hippies-in-peril masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Though a well-crafted thrill-ride in its own right, Bay's remake still can't help but seem phenomenally unnecessary because the original remains one of the most profoundly unsettling motion pictures ever made. Upon its initial release, Hooper's movie drew irate notices from the nation's critics (i.e., when and if they bothered to acknowledge its existence), the most indignant dismissing his work as little more than a "snuff film". Though significantly less bloody than its reputation has come to suggest, the film is still an endurance test for even the most jaded viewer. This is mostly due to Hooper and co-writer Kim Henkel's creation of genuinely sympathetic characters who, despite their inadvisable curiosity, really don't deserve the savagery visited upon them. Considered by many as the template for the slasher film genre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn't marked by the bizarre moral conservatism of its successors, which sought to punish its characters for their sins of debauchery. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her friends have simply taken a road trip to a recently desecrated graveyard to check on the state of her grandfather's resting place. Along the way, they generously rescue a hitchhiker (Ed Neal) from the baking Texas sun, who turns out to be a raving lunatic with a fascination for self-mutilation. Low on gas, the group decides to take a quick nostalgic detour to the dilapidated remains of an old Hardesty family home, which Sally and her invalid brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain) used to visit when they were children. While looking for a swimming hole, which has since dried up, Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn) stumble upon another old house, though this one appears to be occupied. Kirk, perhaps looking for some assistance in procuring gas for the van, only ventures into the house after his repeated knocks on the front door go unanswered. After a few hesitant steps inside, he will be met by the hulking form of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), who fells Kirk with a sledgehammer to the skull — much like the old slaughterhouse method of cattle killing described by Franklin and sadistically preferred by the hitchhiker. Thus, the nightmare begins.

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A good deal of energy has been spent deconstructing what transpires next, and it is to Hooper's credit that the critical community is far from unanimous in their interpretations. Is it a searing social criticism equating cannibalism with middle-class values, a wicked satire of American bloodlust, or an enraged reaction to the moral disillusionment of a country reeling from the ongoing scandals of Vietnam and Watergate? The film is almost defiantly imprecise in its thematic intent, which corresponds perfectly to the frustrated uncertainty of the era in which it was made. By the time Sally is fleeing the Sawyer homestead, getting slashed to pieces from the pursuing hitchhiker, the movie is about nothing more than escaping a horrible waking nightmare. Ultimately, the disconcerting senselessness of the final images — Sally's hysterical cackling in the back of the truck and Leatherface wildly swinging his chainsaw in the middle of the road — suggests that Hooper just wants to leave us as irrevocably scarred as his characters, a feat easily accomplished through his unimpeachable craftsmanship. The horror film has never been the same since. Pioneer Entertainment presents The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a non-anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) transfer that is a noticeable improvement from their previous 1998 release. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is as solid as can be expected given the limitations of the original soundtrack. The extras are all recycled from the previous release, and include an informative commentary from Hooper, Gunnar Hansen, and director of photography Daniel Pearl, deleted scenes and alternative footage, a blooper reel, theatrical trailers for the film and its three sequels, promotional artwork, and a stills gallery. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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