The Return Of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation

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.
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.  Besides it's 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 pretty sure 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 seems to be 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, 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 mark those DVD covers well.  Though they look very similar, what's on them is very different (you'll see even more so when we get to the comparison below).  The one on the left is the Canadian DVD, released by Lions Gate in 2001.  And the one right, with the LA Times quote, is Columbia Tri-Star's 1999, double-sided US DVD: widescreen on one side, fullscreen on the other.  Lions Gate re-released their disc here in the US in 2003 [pictured, right].  Now, I don't own that one for a full comparison, but my understanding is that it's exactly the same as the 1999 DVD, but single-sided (losing the full-frame version).  And you might be asking, who even cares about the US discs if the Canadian DVD has the preferable cut of the film?  Well, unfortunately, as you're about to see, there's reason to want both.
2001 Lions Gate DVD top; 1999 Columbia Tri-Star DVD fullscreen side mid;
1999 Lions Gate DVD widescreen side top.
Yep, the Canadian DVD is fullscreen; so fans have to choose between seeing the film uncut or widescreen (not unlike the Return Of the Living Dead 3 situation until 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's no winning here; both discs are interlaced, and on the US DVD, it's on both sides.  
The Canadian just gives us 2.0 Dolby Digital audio, and it's got a slight buzz to it.  The US DVD has basically the same track without that buzz, plus a Spanish dub and English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Thai subtitles.

Disappointingly, both discs are also essentially barebones.  The Canadian DVD is quite literally barebones, while the US DVD at least has the trailer and a 2-page insert with liner notes.  That's still basically nothing, though.  However, you can 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.
Look.  This is Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one of the originals.  Not the original, of course, but it's got a dedicated fan base.  And unfortunately, this is all they've got to work with.  The uncut version is only on an out of print Canadian DVD, and you still have to get a separate version to get the film in widescreen.  And even then it's a pretty old, standard def picture.  And they're all barebones.  It's a big part of a major horror franchise, so we're always hoping for a big, special edition blu-ray, but with rumors of the stars' agencies working to suppress the film, let alone contribute to special features, who knows if that'll ever happen.  It's 2017, and we don't even have a DVD with a basic featurette on it yet.  So, in the meantime, it's a collection of old DVDs like pieces of a puzzle.

1 comment:

  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.