The Ultimate Buzz! Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 from Scream Factory (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Man, I've resisted buying another copy of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for a long time. I used to own it on VHS, but skipped the fullscreen laserdisc from Image. But I couldn't resist 1996 special edition from Elite with the 10 minutes of completely insane deleted footage, including Joe Bob Briggs and Leatherface slaughtering a parking garage full of sports fans. Happy with the Elite laser, I had no interest in MGM's initial 2000 DVD, which was barebones and non-anamorphic. But then I got pulled back in for their 2006 "Gruesome Edition," which included a feature length documentary and two new audio commentaries. That was it, though. I didn't get their 2012 blu-ray or Arrow's 2013 special edition with a couple new interviews and Tobe Hooper's early films. But Scream Factory has pulled me back in with this awesome, new 2-disc set. This is really it now.
If you haven't seen it, you're really missing something. Chainsaw 2 sees Hooper returning to direct the ultimate gonzo follow-up to his original. It stars Dennis Hopper as a cop who might be nuttier than Leatherface's cannibalistic family. To give you an idea: he decides the only way to go after them is to buy a couple chainsaws of his own and massacre them via their own methods. The family now live in a secret underground lair beneath a civil war theme park, and use their victims to make prize-winning chili. If this is starting to sound like a screwball parody, well maybe it is in a slightly subversive way; but it still plays things straight and manages to be even darker and more disturbing than the original. Caroline Williams' ordeal in this film is downright harrowing, and with Tom Savini now on board for the special effects, the gruesome splatter is out of control.
Like the original, this film is definitely not going to appeal to everyone, running off potential viewers for all of the same reasons and then some. Even serious horror fans might be put off by the schizophrenic tone of this film. And wait till you see the deleted scenes, which would've taken the film in an entirely different direction. You can tell the filmmakers were having a hard time deciding exactly what this film was going to be. But I like that about it. It's genuinely crazy, not some slick polished studio B-film that sticks to a formula, like some of the later films. This one is both the most out there, and also so faithful to the first that it begins to feel like a remake rather than a sequel. Sorta like Evil Dead 2. I mean, once they decided to have another psychotic dinner sequence, where a victim is tied to a chair and forced to dine with the family's corpse-like grandpa, it set a tradition that every Chainsaw sequel was going to have to feature this scene. ...Well, except the remakes, but we all know what the true last sequel is.

But come on, you can't deny that Hopper is a great leading man for a horror film, or that Bill Moseley delivers an utterly unforgettable performance as the iconic Chop Top. Scenes like the opening highway attack show that Hooper is a truly talented filmmaker rather than the one hit wonder he's sometimes written off as. The soundtrack's terrific - the opening credits remind me of Funhouse, which is a very good thing - Savini's effects are of course fantastic, and the production design is really something to see. And it's impossible to be bored by a story too insane to ever really be sure what you're going to see next.
Unfortunately for this review, I don't have my old laserdisc anymore. The 2006 DVD pretty much rendered it redundant. But I've got that DVD right here. Oh, and Scream Factory's new 2-disc set actually features two transfers: a brand new 2k scan of the interpositive, and the original HD master that the previous blu-rays used. That's an unusual decision, suggesting maybe both transfers are compromised and they're giving us the choice of which to take, like Arrow's recent restoration of Nightmare City. But thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the situation this time. Cliff MacMillan of Scream Factory has publicly explained (with a little additional extrapolation by myself) that essentially their new transfer is the new best, but they've retained the older one for completists since Hooper approved, and his DP supervised, that one. That's reassuring for me, but let's see for ourselves. Here's a comparison of both transfers, and the old DVD so we can how they match up.
MGM 2006 DVD first; Scream Factory's 2016 original blu second; Scream's new 2k scan 3rd.
Alright, let's clear our heads of all expectations. What do we see? Well, I like the new scan best. Unsurprisingly, the color timing of the older one is closer to the DVD, although it's not the same master just tossed onto an HD blu-ray disc. Quick evidence of that is the white spec on the right-hand side of the building in second screenshot in the final set (you might need to enlarge it to full size to see it), which is not only cleaned up on the new scan, but not even on the old DVD's transfer. And yes, I checked every frame just in case I'm off by one frame; no such speck ever appears on the DVD. But still, it's basically like Scream's original master is an HD version of the MGM DVD, with a warmer tone and the new 2k scan having slightly cooler colors.

Another interesting detail: the older DVD is 1.78:1, while both blu transfers are slightly matted to 1.85:1. The framing is slightly different across all three, but it's slim enough that the only thing you'd  really be able to catch outside of direct comparisons like this is the bit of extra picture on the top and bottom of the DVD. But 1.85:1 is presumably the proper theatrical AR, so I'd still put the point in the blu-rays' columns.
Scream Factory's 2016 original blu left, and their new 2k scan right.
So between the two blus, the finer points and edges are a little clearer on the new scan, although both are pretty solid in terms of detail and getting down to the grain. But everything's just a little clearer on the new one. The wires going off the top of the roof in the third set of shots disappear less into the sky, for example. A more substantial difference, though, is in the shadows. A lot more detail is brought to view in the new scan where it's just flattened to solid black in the older scan. Okay, I probably could've chosen a lot more exciting shot to from the film to make this example of, but look at the detail of the leaves above. You can see so much more in the new scan on the right than the left where... I don't like to throw the phrase "black crush" around too loosely, but that's essentially what we've got a very mild case of in the old transfer. I actually might prefer the color timing of the older version slightly (although the whites are truer in the new scan... look at the cop cars in the first set of shots), but it doesn't outweigh how much better the new scan looks overall.

Scream gives us the choice between DTS-HD 5.1 and DTS-HD 2.0 Surround tracks on both versions, which is nice. They probably could've gotten away with shortchanging us a 5.1 mix on the second disc without any flack, but they went all the way. Both also have optional English subtitles. The DVD only had a Dolby 2.0 track, plus a French dub and Spanish, French and English subs.
Now, the MGM Gruesome Edition was already pretty well covered in the extras department. It had two audio commentaries: one by Tobe Hooper and moderator David Gregory (who directed Lost Souls, as well as a ton of DVD documentaries, including several Chainsaw ones) and another by Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Tom Savini, and moderator Michael Felsher. It also featured the excellent and thorough, full-length documentary, It Runs In the Family, plus the infamous and essential deleted scenes. It also had the trailer, a photo gallery and included a simple insert. Really, that's all any film really needs.

But of course Scream Factory is going to top that. They bring over everything I just listed from the DVD, though unfortunately, the deleted scenes are still sourced from the same low-quality workprint tape they've always been [pictured, left]. Every time this film gets released, I cross my fingers that original film materials of that footage will be found, but it hasn't worked yet. But it's hard to get too bogged down in that when they've brought us so many new features, including a third audio commentary, this time by crew members Richard Kooris the DP, Mrs. Kooris the script supervisor, production designer Cary White, and property master Michael Sullivan. Then, oh gosh, let's see. Like I said, everything from the DVD is back, including the documentary It Runs In the Family. But this blu set also has thirty minutes of additional material from that doc - extras of extras! And there's almost 45 minutes worth of behind-the-scenes footage from Chainsaw 2 itself.

There's a substantial collection of fresh on-camera interviews with makeup effects artists Bart Mixon, Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale and John Vulich, actors Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon (the two infamous kids in from the highway kill - it's a kick to hear from them again), editor Alain Jakubowicz and Leatherface actor/ stuntman Bob Elmore. Elmore was also interviewed on the Arrow blu, but this is not the same one; this is new. We get another episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds for this film, too, which I always love. We also get two trailers and seven TV spots, plus this set comes with reversible artwork and a slipcover. If you order direct from Scream, they throw in an 18"x24" poster [pictured, right], which matches the slipcover artwork.
This has rendered by DVD as obsolete as that had done to my laserdisc. And it does the same thing to MGM's blu, too, if you had that. Even the Arrow, now, is really just worth it if you're interested in Hooper's early shorts films [correction: one of the two films is feature length]. This is all that and then some, a release that lives up to the vitality of the film itself. The new transfer itself may not warrant a double-dip if you've got one of the previous blus, although I believe it is now the best version; but all the new extras really push it over the top. Now, I really don't think we need anymore editions of this or the original Chainsaw... But I think we're all eager to see somebody tackle Leatherface and Return and give them this kind of treatment.

3 comments:

  1. Minor nitpick -- Hooper's EGGSHELLS, found on the Arrow disc, is his feature debut and runs 90 minutes. Definitely more than just a short!

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  2. I might also add that the original Blu-ray was released by MGM not scream Factory.

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