The Ultimate Buzz! Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 from Vinegar Syndrome

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.

Update 4/2/16 - 11/2/22: Well, go ahead and throw your old discs off the Prairie Dell Matterhorn, because Vinegar Syndrome has just released a brand new, 3-disc BD/ 4k Ultra HD combo with a brand new 4k restoration and more extras than you can handle.
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 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, but still, it's even better to have the guesswork taken off the table completely, thanks to Vinegar Syndrome giving us a new, definitive edition with a fresh 4k scan of the original camera negative on both BD and UHD.
1) MGM 2006 DVD; 2) SF 2016 original BD; 3) SF updated 2k scan BD.
Alright, let's start with the older discs. Unsurprisingly, the color timing of the older BD scan 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.
SF's 2016 original blu left, and their new 2k scan right.
So between the Scream Factory 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 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.
4) VS 2022 BD; 5) VS 2022 UHD.
Vinegar Syndrome's new restoration is still in 1.85:1, but pulls back to reveal slightly more picture along all four sides.  It's also decidedly sharper (even their BD), with more finely captured grain.  Although there is one slight quirk: the very top of the image - less than 1/100th of the total height - is a lot softer, with grain smoothed away.  It's on the BD and the UHD.  I don't think you'd ever notice it in motion, so it never rises to the level of distraction; but you see it in screenshots and it is a little peculiar.  Anyway, SF's transfer was very nice for its time, so VS's killer scan may not be as obviously vastly superior as you'd expect, especially since they used an IP instead of the OCN.  But there's no doubt VS has a tighter scan, stronger encode, and yes, nicer colors, especially with the HDR.  The crazy colors of the underground lair really suck you in, but even the early Texan daylight scenes look more natural... for example, don't the cops' lips look overly pink on the older discs?  And of course, VS doesn't have the black crush of SF's older transfer.

Vinegar Syndrome just has one audio option, the only one you need, the original stereo mix in DTS-HD.  Scream gives us the choice between DTS-HD 5.1 and DTS-HD 2.0 Surround tracks on both versions, which is nice. I don't care at all about the 5.1 remix, and I'm 100% fine with VS having dropped it, but it was nice of SF to have hung onto it. All three releases also have optional English subtitles. The DVD only had a Dolby 2.0 track, but it also has a French dub and Spanish & French subtitles.
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.
And VS's extras?  Oh boy, strap yourself in for a month-long marathon.  First of all, I'm happy to report, everything from the MGM and Scream Factory releases are carried over.  All of it.  Though, no, the deleted scenes still aren't sourced from anything better than that ratty old workprint tape.  But that's not all.  VS have also brought in the Stephen Thrower interview that had previously been exclusive to the Arrow blu.  And they've licensed over 40-minutes of never before seen footage interviewing Hooper and co-producer Cynthia Hargrave shot for the Electric Boogaloo documentary.

That alone would make it a definitive collection of special features, but VS have also conducted an entire additional disc's worth of on-camera interviews.  We get Tom Savini (it seems like some audio is missing from this feature, but we hear everything Savini is saying, so it's no biggie), Caroline Williams (over half an hour), effects artist Gabe Bartalos, effects artist Barton Mixon, Bill Johnson (who played Leatherface whenever Elmore wasn't), Kirk Sisco, and Barry Kinyon.  Plus, there's another new featurette called Beneath the Battle Land: Remembering the Lair that pulls more from their interviews with Williams, Kinyon, Johnson and Sisco.  Yes, it's often redundant taken in conjunction with the preexisting extras.  Only Sisco (who plays the detective Hopper talks to on the highway) is a new subject that wasn't included in the doc or other interviews.  But these new interviews do allow most of their subjects to get more in-depth, especially those who'd only appeared in the documentary previously.  You can't say VS didn't go the extra mile.  They recorded a fourth audio commentary, too, this time with expert Patrick Bromley, who does quite a good job, though he does struggle with the fact that, after all of these special features, there isn't much left for him to say that we haven't already heard.  That was already a problem on the SF set: you'd keep hearing the same anecdotes about how they used real skeletons ordered from India, for example, over and over until you wanted to become a skeleton yourself.  These new extras add even more repetition, which can make this set a bit of a grind.  But there is new info and insight to be gleaned, too, if you're prepared to dig through it all.

Vinegar Syndrome has released this set as a limited edition (although at 10,000 copies, I wouldn't let FOMO drive you into a panic) exclusive to their website, with a hard case and slipcover.  Or you can get it without, in just a plain black amary case.  Both versions have reversible artwork.
So the DVD rendered the laserdisc obsolete, the Blu-rays rendered the DVD obsolete, and now the UHD has rendered all that came before it obsolete.  Although the Arrow is still worth it if you're interested in Hooper's early works.  But otherwise, this is all the TCM2 you'll ever need.  The film is a blast, and so is Vinegar Syndrome's release.  Truly impressive.

4 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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  3. Fantastic write-up! Just ordered my VS 4k [standard ed.]
    "...otherwise, this is all the TCM2 you'll ever need."
    Total TTCM2 Wish Fulfillment might allow (c/o MGM Gruesome Ed. SD DVD) OAR 1.33:1 [NOT the SD! legit open matte HD/UHD BD-25; even if its against DP, Rich Korris' preference]
    Specifically, infamous finale shot pullback -- Stretch's Chainsaw Dance -- revealing the line of cars driving along a highway in the background, near the bottom of the screen.
    Otherwise, yeah! This comes pretty close.

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