In the years since its initial 1974 release, Tobe Hooper’s has developed a reputation for being horrifically violent–a reputation that a fresh viewing reveals to be wholly undeserved. Certainly, a fair amount of blood is shed in the simple story of five youths who have the bad luck of encountering a murderous cannibal family–most prominently, the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen)–one hot summer afternoon. But Hooper is no bloodthirsty hack (or at least he wasn’t at this stage of his career); Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s intense final half achieves its unshakable effect through a combination of things (creepy characters; unsettling imagery and editing; a spare, ominous score; star Marilyn Burns’ inescapable screams) aside from graphic gore. The film’s low-budget 16mm look just adds to the grimy atmosphere, creating the illusion of an underground snuff film.
Pioneer’s special edition DVD showcases a “digital superscan” transfer supervised by Hooper that, thankfully, isn’t too pristine; some grit remains, and it wouldn’t be quite the same if there weren’t any (though the new, clean stereo soundtrack is a welcome enhancement). Hooper, cinematographer Daniel Pearl, and Hansen provide an entertaining running commentary that points up the many pitfalls (and benefits) of ultra-low budget filmmaking. Trailers and assorted promos are included for all films in the series (including a long promotional reel for the 1994 Renée Zellweger-Matthew McConaughey revival Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre ), but the real treats here are the more obscure finds: a few deleted scenes (which are presented alongside their respective excerpts in the script) and alternate takes; a blooper reel; and galleries of production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, lobby cards, and original posters. The wealth of useful additional features make the somewhat cheesy, crudely animated menus (featuring a primitive CGI chainsaw) somewhat forgivable.
Specifications: 1.85:1 letterbox; English Dolby Surround; English mono.

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