The Return Of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

It was only a matter of time before I posted about this film.  Kim Henkel's Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (originally known as Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre; look and you'll see it still has that title at the end of the closing credits) is the fourth and last film in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre films.  Afterwards, there were reboots, and an even an unofficial sequel to this installment known as Butcher Boys (Henkel's original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 5" script, but with names changed since the official Chainsaw rights went to another studio), but strictly speaking, this is the final installment.

Update 8/17/17 - 12/17/18: Whelp, Scream Factory has just changed the whole TCM4 game!  They've just released the film in HD (mostly), with both the theatrical and director's cut as a Collector's Edition blu-ray, so you can throw out all your old DVDs. Oh, and speaking of old DVDs, I've also gotten my hands on the 2003 DVD, just to make this coverage that little bit more definitive.
That said, there's not a whole lot of continuity between the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films after the first two, anyway.  Part Two is still by Tobe Hooper, and all the family characters persist.  But after that, the infamous Leatherface just keeps winding up with new families of murderous cannibals, and new groups of dweebs keep stumbling onto them.  But at least this entry has the added pedigree of Henkel behind the camera, the man who co-wrote and produced the original with Hooper.  Plus, of course, it sports some major star power with early starring roles by Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, not to mention an uncredited cameo by Marilyn Burns, who's only billed as "Anonymous" in the closing credits.
Hooper and Jeff Burr added a lighter touch to their still gruesome Chainsaw entries, but Henkel takes it right back to the grim and nihilistic tone of the original, right down to the unlikable leads.  There's still dark humor, but hoo boy.  Besides its celebrity cast, it's probably best known as the one that cements Leatherface's transvestism and for having the most unexpected, out of left field conclusions to any major horror franchise ever (and yes, it is followed up on in Butcher Boys).  The protagonists are such awful characters, and we spend so much of the first half of the film alone with them, that this film has earned a lot of detractors.  And I can't blame them a bit.  But on the other hand McConaughey is perfect as Vilmer, and if you're looking for a chainsaw massacre, this is the authentic Texan goods.
The reason why I said it was only a matter of time before I posted about this film is that Texas Chainsaw 4 is pretty much the first film I wrote about online in the DVDExotica fashion.  Back before movie-censorship did it even better with pictures, I broke down every single difference between the US and Canadian cuts of the film, by time-code.  I'm fairly certain I posted it on the AVManiacs forum, but searching for it now, I can't find it.  Anyway, yes, there are two distinct versions of this film available on two different DVD releases: the US and Canadian discs.
a scene only in the Canadian version
The Canadian release has the original cut, and the version released in the US and elsewhere is a slimmed down tighter cut.  It doesn't appear to have been cut for violence or a rating so much as trimmed for pacing.  You can tell which version you're watching right from the opening scene: either Zellweger is getting abused by her stepfather as she tries to leave for prom, or in the US, it jumps right to the kids at the school.  It's a substantial scene right at the very beginning, and establishes the heart of the story; so this is how most people tell them apart, but it's far from the only difference.  First of all, dozens upon dozens of scenes have had frames trimmed at the beginning and end.  Nothing's really cut; except for one or two establishing shots or cutaways.  Some editor was clearly just trying to shave another minute or two out.  Also, when the kids split up and are chased around, the order of some of the scenes has been changed - I can't really say either version is better in that regard; it feels very arbitrary.  But then, even more critically than the opening scene, some of the highly dramatic "family" footage with Zellweger trying to negotiate her way through surviving the family dinner is missing from the US version.
So it used to be important to distinguish between very similar DVD covers to get the cut of the film you wanted.  The second one from the left is the Canadian DVD, released by Lions Gate in 2001.  And the one on the far left, with the LA Times quote, is Columbia Tri-Star's 1999, double-sided US DVD: widescreen on one side, fullscreen on the other.  Columbia Tri-Star re-released their disc here in the US in 2003, and that's the third cover.  Of course, now that Scream Factory has released both cuts on blu-ray, with a bunch of new extras besides, it's no longer an issue.  Just get the cover on the right.  😉
1) 1999 Columbia Tri-Star DVD full; 2) 1999 Columbia Tri-Star DVD wide;
3) 2001 Lions Gate DVD; 4) 2003 Columbia Tri-Star DVD wide;
5) 2003 Columbia Tri-Star DVD full; 6) Scream Factory BD theatrical;
7) Scream Factory BD director's cut.
So the 1999 and 2003 DVDs turned out to be completely identical.  Still flipper discs, the same transfers.  And yep, the 2001 Canadian DVD is fullscreen; so fans had to choose between seeing the film uncut or widescreen (not unlike the Return Of the Living Dead 3 situation before Vestron came around to fix it).  And looking at Tri-Star's fullscreen version, we see the Canadian disc is even more cropped all around.  Great.  Plus the colors are all off, giving it a more video tape-like look with messed up white balance.  But wait, there's more bad news, look at the shot below.  It's interlaced!  And there was no winning that one; all the DVDs are interlaced, on both sides.
"I've been interlaaaacced!!"
But those are headaches of the past now, at least mostly.  Just in time for Christmas, we have both cuts in widescreen and the best they've ever looked on blu.  Not that it looks amazing.  The film probably came right out of the camera looking a little grungy, and Scream's transfer is a little soft on top of that, clearly no fancy 4k scan.  This looks like an older master, with only light, sporadic film grain.  And both Columbia Tri-Star and Scream Factory claim their widescreen transfers are 1.85:1, but really they're all 1.78:1.  But hey, it's still a substantial jump forward from even the better looking US DVDs.  We're still talking 1080p HD here, the colors are better separated.  And despite all the widescreens being 1.78, Scream's still reveals a little bit more picture on the sides than the DVDs, and it's also framed a little lower.

But the real reason for my "mostly"s is that, unfortunately, the director's cut had to be completed with SD elements.  So the theatrical cut is in all HD, and the director's cut is a composite.  There are so many tiny little changes between the two cuts, often just a matter of frames at the beginnings and ends of shots, or just minor re-edits.  So I was wondering how they'd handle that... keep cutting frantically between HD and SD sources?  Leave out the minor trims and just insert the major lost scenes from the DC?  No, they went with using the SD for all of it.  In other words, if a shot was mostly all in the theatrical cut but just lost a couple frames at the end, the whole shot is replaced with the composited alternative, which makes sense, as you'd also have to deal with the audio adjustments inherit in each trim, etc.  But what that effectively means is that a lot of the DC is in SD.
2001 Lions Gate DVD top; Scream Factory BD director's cut bottom.
And how does that look?  Well, here's a comparison of the director's cut footage from the Canadian DVD and the Scream blu.  You can see it's not heaps better, although it is an improvement.  Scream has clearly just matted the fullscreen footage to match the rest of the film - it doesn't reveal extra info on the sides like their HD footage does.  But it fixes the interlacing, which is itself a very welcome improvement.  It also looks a smidgen clearer than the DVD, although it almost looks like a thin layer of fake film grain has been added to make the footage match, not that I mind.  So overall, the DC is the superior version of the film, but it's not too pretty.  It's still by the far best option going, though.

Anyway, the Canadian DVD just gives us 2.0 Dolby Digital audio, and it's got a slight buzz to it.  The US DVDs have basically the same track without that buzz, plus a Spanish dub and English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Thai subtitles.  Scream Factory scraps the foreign language options, but gives us the stereo mix in DTS-HD (also buzzless, of course) with optional English subs.
Disappointingly, all the old DVDs were also essentially barebones.  The Canadian DVD is quite literally barebones, while the US DVDs at least has the trailer and a 2-page insert with liner notes.  That's still basically nothing, though.  The best you could do was sort of assemble your own special edition if you get the Return Of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Documentary DVD, which is a pretty neat behind-the-scenes doc I wrote about a couple years ago.

But Scream Factory has come to set that situation straight.  First off, there's a terrific audio commentary with Henkel, Brian Huberman, director of the aforementioned documentary, and Joe Stevens who plays W.E. Slaughter, another of Leatherface's new clan.  The moderator does a great job of pulling good info out of Henkel, with the other two throwing in some good bits, too.  Huberman also talks about making his documentary, which makes me wonder if maybe it was originally intended to appear on this disc, too (the packaging lists "Behind-the-scenes footage" that's nowhere to be found).  But it's not.  What we get instead are three new, Red Shirt interviews with DP Levie Isaaks, Tyler Shea Cone who played the infamously obnoxious Barry and a combined piece with effects artist JM Logan and production designer Deborah Pastor.  We also get the trailer, a slipcover and reversible artwork.  A stills gallery mentioned on the packaging is also MIA, but there are a couple hidden TV/ VHS spots (not accessible by the menu, but they're on the disc).  And if you pre-ordered the film directly from the site, you also got a limited edition poster that matches the slipcover.
Look.  This is Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one of the originals.  Not the original, of course, but it's got a dedicated fan base.  It's a big part of a major horror franchise, so it's surprising it's taken us this long to get any kind of special edition, and even with Scream Factory's best efforts, it's a bit compromised.  With rumors of the stars' agencies working to suppress the film, though, let alone actually contribute to the project, I think we're lucky to have gotten as much as we have.  And if you want more, you can still get that DVD of Huberman's doc.  All together, it's a pretty solid package.  Finally.

6 comments:

  1. I recently bought the Canadian dvd thanks to the cover pics in this article- thank you! You may be interested in knowing that the Japanese laserdisc has the longer version but also keeps the original title in the opening credits, The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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  2. HELP! I've scoured the web, tried every variation on the search phrase i can think of & tried evero combination of every directional action w/the remote...no luck finding any hidden items. i even can't make it through the movie as i keep stopping it to look for the hidden items. where?

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    1. Sure! The trailer that CAN be accessed from the menu is 1.38 and is Title 5 on the disc. Title 6 is 1.33 and consists of shorter, alternate spots. I've poked around, and there doesn't seem to be any way (like an easter egg) to access it from the menu. It's easier to do on a PC if you have a blu-ray drive, but if you get your player to go directly to Title 6 (not to be confused with Chapter 6 of the movie), that's it.

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  3. thanks. i only have a blu player, i hope i can see it. I've nearly driven myself mad trying to find it like an easter egg! edit: after looking thru a dozen manuals, looking for web jank, i can't input the title entry. i give up. thank YOU though! it's cool they're on the disc, though I'm sure only a tiny amount of cats will ever see em on disc. i should just go search for the spots on youtube! thanks again

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    1. Yeah, my main player won't let me do it at all, and my back-up player seems to only let me go direct to titles on DVDs, not blu-rays. I wish they'd design more players to give us a little more freedom to do things like hop around by title, change subtitle size/position, etc.

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  4. agreed. oddly, i have no problem accessing title search & plugging in the #, but getting to the "enter" or "input" part of the process ...just can't figure it out, which is ridiculous, just makes me feel all the more stupid. thanks again, great bit if writing on this release, as always.

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