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Review of several editions of this film, including Arrow's milestone blu-ray
on 17 August 2011
I'm going to review several versions of this film's release, going backwards chronologically. Hopefully it's labelled well enough you can dip in and grab the one you want.
REVIEW OF THE 2013 (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Blu-ray) from ARROW:
Truly a milestone, this may well be Arrow's best ever release (the Lifeforce Blu-ray [Limited Edition Steelbook] is another contender). It features 3 discs and one book, neatly grouped by a slipcase but in seperate books, making for an elegant package.
The artwork on the box is not my preference (to this day the only digital release of these films to use the Breakfast Club spoof artwork is the German Blu-ray, and no home video release has ever used the Howling-inspired poster with Leatherface cutting through a door) but it's very good and just about the best original cover it could have had, much better than the awful Gruesome edition cover in the US (which attempted to make it look like a sequel to the 2003 remake) or the even older cover of the first dvd with an unappealing picture of Dennis Hopper. The packaging is nice to hold but looks somewhat vulnerable to shelf wear (you'll want to be careful). Also included is a Certificate of Authenticity, complete with "Limited Edition Pressing Number" (and on the back of which is finally and thankfully a reproduction of Cannon's original "Breakfast Club" spoof poster!), and there's also an Arrow Video postcard (mine was for an upcoming release of "Remo: Unarmed and Dangerous" aka. Remo Williams).
DISC 1 - Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Blu-ray:
1080p High Definition presentation from a digital transfer supervised by Director of Photography Richard Kooris with 2.0 PCM Lossless audio. English subtitles are included as well. Presentation is basically the same as the US blu-ray, except with different (superior) encoding for both video and audio. Picture is obviously from the same source - same grainy structure and fine detail. The audio is now in PCM 2.0 lossless which means it sounds basically identical, but my 5.1 surround sound unit can feed it through the Pro Logic II device and make a fake 5.1 surround sound which I enjoyed. Disc also features absolutely everything from the US Gruesome edition Blu-ray/DVD releases (please see below for my reviews of those releases for details on those extras).
However, there are two new features on this first blu-ray....
- "Still Feelin' The Buzz" is a half an hour discussion with Stephen Thrower, author of the excellent books Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents and Beyond Terror - The Films of Lucio Fulci, about the film's place in horror and Hooper's career. Thrower is a pleasure to listen to as you might imagine having read his books.
- "Cutting Moments with Bob Elmore", a brief but satisfying interview with the stuntman who played Leatherface for quite a bit more of the film than people might realise.
DISCS 2 AND 3 - "The Early Works of Tobe Hooper" Blu-ray and DVD:
(Both Blu-ray and DVD are identical in contents other than SD/HD quality).
Contains the first ever home video releases of:
-"THE HEISTERS" (1964) - Tobe Hooper's (cinemascope!) early short film (10 minutes long) restored in HD from original elements.
-"EGGSHELLS" (1969) - Tobe Hooper's legendary and long lost debut feature, pre-Texas Chain Saw Massacre, feature length/90 mins, restored in HD from original elements. Optional full length audio commentary by Tobe Hooper.
-"In Conversation with Tobe Hooper" - a lengthy interview with Tobe Hooper conducted by Calum Waddell.
-A long trailer reel with some highlights from Mr Hooper's rocky but often entertaining career - only missing some TV movies that I noticed, such as "I'm Dangerous Tonight" and "Night Terrors".
The booklet is delightfully titled "American Freak Illuminations" and at 100 pages it is very impressive. It is laid out very clearly and features countless unique and well printed photographs (not hazily reproduced like the Squirm Blu-ray booklet stills!), some in colour, some not and many I'd no idea existed.
It is split into 8 general sections:
-CAST AND CREW - the cast and crew listings for all three Hooper films in the set.
-"BEFORE THE SAW - TOBE HOOPER'S EGGSHELLS AND THE HEISTERS" - Brad Stevens (author of the amazing Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision (Directors)) writes about 11 pages (including picture pages) on "The Heisters" and "Eggshells", with some interesting trivia and observations.
-"THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF TOBE HOOPER" is a nearly 20 page piece of writing (including picture pages) by Calum Waddell, frequently quoting Hooper but not really qualifying as an interview. Waddell's High Rising productions produces much of the featurettes, documentaries and interviews on Arrow's releases (the genre output anyway) and they do a fine job, and he also a fine job moderating commentaries too, except on The Exterminator Blu-ray where the producer was something of an obstacle. But I've long had problems with Waddell's writing, which at best represents a laboriously analogic and literal view of film-making (the sort of view bred in university film theory courses which sees film language as immalleable and inarguable, and any and all political events of the era as necessarily having a direct affect on the film-makers of the period), and at worst represents journalism at it's most lazy. Here his writing is among his worst, beginning with referring to the famous "it was the best of times..." opening line from "A Tale of Two Cities" as "the old saying" (rather than, in fact, one of the most famous opening lines in all of English literature, if not literature in general), and continuing from there in repeating the same notions and opinions that will be repeated by people involved with the film throughout the disc. Sorry to go on, but Calum's strength is as a DVD producer - a British Michael Felscher, whose Red Shirt Pictures is very similar to High Rising, but whose DVD booklet writings even dating back to the old Anchor Bay days were brief, fun and respectful of a reader's intelligence - the opposite of Calum's monuments to himself (I realise how ironic it is to say this in a review the size of King Kong, but I digress...)
-"NO SECRET...IT'S THE MEAT: REMEMBERING TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2" is a wonderful 12 page (including picture pages) piece by John Kenneth Muir, writer of such books as Horror Films of the 1980s and whose blog/website is well worth your time. Muir writes concise observations - even if I don't agree with the Reaganite/Anti-Reaganite (it depends on how many levels you are removed from the material) sentiments/criticisms of Texas Chainsaw 2 (and, frankly, the appeal of the film for me was always as a crazy horror comedy rather than political satire), Muir represents those notions extremely well here.
-"DROWNED IN GORE AND DEPRAVITY" is a piece about TCM2's troubled censorship/certification history by Stefan Jaworzyn, author of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Companion which I have not read but seems good. It runs about 8 pages without including the colour pictures and is very informative.
-"UNLESS IT'S A GOOD REVIEW, I'M NOT GOING TO READ IT ANYWAY" is an interview with Tobe Hooper, conducted for this release again by Stefan Jaworzyn. Runs about 13 pages with pictures.
-"THE SAW IS FAMILY: THE FURTHER ADVENTURES WITH LEATHERFACE AND CO." is by Joel Harley, writer for Starburst and is reproduced from that magazine and runs about 8 pages without pictures. It's well written and researched but contains a couple of key mistakes - while it rightly calls The Texas Chain Saw Massacre a classic horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 the best sequel and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw 3 an underrated film, it refers to Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (DVD) (1994) as "the worst of New Line's horror sequels (which includes Jason Goes to Hell and the dire Seed of Chucky)...", when neither TCM: The Next Generation or Seed of Chucky are anything to do with New Line. Small complaint, but it should have been picked up by the editors of at least one of it's publishers.
-ABOUT THE TRANSFERS - the final section is about the transfers, how and where they were done and by who, and the blu-ray production credits. Thorough, a word I would use to describe the whole package.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Overall, this is one release any fan, especially casual ones, should consider picking up for their collections. While the box only says "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2", Eggshells and Heisters are as much a part of this as TCM 2, featuring both an audio commentary and an interview making this (for the forseeable future) the definitive release for those movies. I have a suspicion the discs herein will be reissued in future without that comprehensive booklet or packaging, but there's no guarantees. Besides, this is the best edition of this maligned film to ever be released. It deserves your attention and money!
REVIEW OF THE REGION FREE US Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 [Blu-ray]  [US Import] Blu-ray and REGION 1 Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: Gruesome Edition [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] DVD:
-Widescreen video (1080p on the blu-ray) with stereo sound (Dolby Digital on the DVD, Dolby Digital 2.0 HD-MA on the blu-ray).
-Audio commentary with director and co-writer Tobe Hooper, moderated by David Gregory
-Audio commentary with stars Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special-effects legend Tom Savini, moderated by Michael Felsher
-"IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY" - A lengthy documentary looking at the genesis, making-of and enduring appeal of Hooper's film. With interviews including star Bill Johnson, co-writer L. M. Kit Carson, Richard Kooris, Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Tom Savini, Production Designer Cary White and more!
-Alternate Opening sequence with different musical score
This Region 1 "Gruesome Edition" DVD of TCM 2 is a good upgrade over the letterboxed vanilla disc from 1999, but is not as special edition as you might hope - though the term "Gruesome Edition" is arguably a fair representation, considering the extra gore included in the deleted scenes.
The film itself is the same one we've known and loved for years, but given a much improved anamorphic transfer and a Dolby Surround track (over the previous editions STEREO). Those hoping for a 5.1 remix like Dark Sky's release of the first film can be disappointed now - all three of the original Hills Have Eyes films have come out on Anchor Bay discs with the original soundtrack (or a marginal stereo upgrade) and 5.1 and DTS, but TCM 2 is stuck with surround. I suppose that's as well since I'm not sure how my head would cope with the score coming at me in six channels.
Actually, the high quality representation of the film only highlighted how bizarre and jarring parts of the film are. It's not just surreal, funny or larger than the original film would have led you to believe, it's also inexplicable in ways that clearly were not 100% intentional - this rushed production actually benefits the film. Its off-the-wall, sequel-but-spoof approach owes a little something to "THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD", "DAWN OF THE DEAD", "HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF" (itself Hemdale video's desperate spoofy-last minute re-editing of a failed serious film so as to emulate their success with RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), and possibly FRIGHT NIGHT and RE-ANIMATOR, and went on to influence other films such as "EVIL DEAD II", "RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II" (both of which used the "severed hand gives the finger" joke cut out of TCM 2!) and "PHANTASM II" to take a similar approach. Crank up the mythological aspects and tone down the gritty realism, add violent slapstick and you're away. It should be noted that some have pointed out, with much merit, that the film "MOTEL HELL", which Tobe Hooper at one time was slated to direct, is a sort of precursor to this film in a lot of ways (and is a bit more consistent, and boring, to boot) and may have even inspired this approach. I recommend that to TCM 2 fans, along with "SLAUGHTERHOUSE", another spoofy TCM film.
There's a pretty good making of/retrospective, featuring good interviews with several people from the cast, including Caroline Williams (Stretch), Bill Mosely (ChopTop), Bill Johnson (Leatherface), Lou Perry (LG) and the director of photography. A definite highlight is an interview with LM Kit Carson (Paris, Texas), who worked hard on the film and clearly loves it despite it's flaws. The interviewing is not as exhaustive as you would hope though - I don't think Tobe Hooper showed up once in a new interview, though he did record a commentary with David Gregory which is quite awkward and disappointing. Tobe Hooper is very quiet and when Gregory ultimately asks him what he thinks of it at the end of the film and Hooper replies he thinks it's one of his best, I couldn't help but think it was rather juxtapositive to the lack of any passion for the film in the proceeding 80mins. There is unfortunately little insight into the film. A second commentary with the cast and crew is more lively and contains some tidbits but quite a bit of backslapping as well.
The deleted scenes contain some fun stuff like Joe Bob Brigg's cameo, which had a very surreal moment with a severed hand which you've probably seen in "EVIL DEAD 2" and "RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II" where such ridiculous supernatural things feel more at home, and revelations about Stretch and Lefty's relationship which probably doesn't belong either but is still fun to see. I believe most of these scenes have been released before (on an older Anchor Bay VHS) and there is still no real representation of an older workprint, with the gore sequences left partially in the film but edited in a comprehensible manner (one of the failings of the film's released state, much to Tom Savini's chagrin).
Overall, it's a good upgrade but it's not as good as an independant release would have been.
Exactly the same features are on the Blu-ray but with high definition video and audio for the feature. Some might find the additional grain distracting, but the added detail is a big boon to the film for me and the audio is much, much better. A Dolby Digital HD-MA 2.0 lossless upgrade means the music is much more vivid and pronounced, adding much to the parts of the film where the score is effective (listen to the pulsing weird synths when Leatherface is impotently rubbing his chainsaw against Stretch's legs at the radio station) and doesn't notably amplify the annoyance when it doesn't (that awful, awful opening credits music).
REVIEW OF THE USELESS 1999 DVD (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 [DVD]):
If you're one of those weird, poor souls who still has a square television (in which case you're probably so backward you relate to the Sawyer family), you'd be better off buying a VHS version than this DVD because this DVD is letterboxed widescreen so you'll be seeing those black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, but the VHS gives you the image back in those areas, and you'll garner some long-lost image information, especially a nifty touch in that final scene.
This DVD has lame picture and video and while it was the first place I encountered the film, you'd be better off with the reissued disc.