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Blu-ray Reviews: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Not previously published
Last updated 7 April 2010

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen, John Dugan, Robert Courtin

Movie: 5 Picture: 3.5 Sound: 3 Extras: 4.5

A few years ago I purchased this movie on DVD, never actually having seen it before. It was the tensest, scariest thing I'd seen for many, many years. Pretty impressive, really.

But the DVD was the Force Video version, proudly proclaimed to be the '25th Anniversay Special Edition', and with a box-wide boast: 'Digital Superscan Widescreen'. Sounds impressive.

It is anything but.

Back in 2002 I reviewed this movie. I think I was far too kind. I did note that this DVD appeared to have undergone a '16mm film to NTSC to PAL progression'. Back in those days, this didn't look as bad as it does now, since back then I typically used a 76cm CRT TV. Now I use a 212cm full HD front projector. I also noted that the movie was not anamorphic, and thereby further softened.

Combing exampleNow the aspect ratio of the movie is nominally 1.85:1. On the DVD, it's actually 1.74:1. Being letterboxed, this aspect ratio is achieved simply by black-banding the top and bottom of the 4:3 screen, reducing the vertical resolution. In fact, the vertical resolution is a mere 434 pixels. It is likely that this has a lower effective resolution because it's pretty obvious this PAL version was created from an NTSC version. So it's likely that a 4:3 NTSC image with 480 vertical pixels was scaled up to 576. But let's be kind and ignore that.

How do I know that this PAL DVD was created from an NTSC video version? One reason is the run time. PAL movies run four per cent faster than NTSC ones (and the original cinema presentation). At least that is the case where the PAL DVD has been created from a film source. But the Blu-ray version of this movie runs for 83 minutes and 24 seconds, while the PAL version runs for 83 minutes and 26 seconds. No four per cent reduction there.

The second indicator is that most of the frames have horizontal combs (see the screen grab to the right). That's an artefact of NTSC to PAL conversion.

The net result of all this is that the Force Video PAL DVD has, at best, a vertical resolution of 434 pixels. But wherever the scene is moving, or for those parts of an otherwise static scene which are moving, the vertical resolution halves to a mere 217 pixels.

Apparently Shock Entertainment has since produced an anamorphic version of this movie, so I suggest you look at it if you aren't interested in buying from Amazon, as I did, this Blu-ray.

This film originated on 16mm, so you simply cannot expect the sharpest picture in the world, even on Blu-ray. But as we shall see below, the Force DVD PAL version is so horrible, just about anything would be better.

Running time: 83 minutes
Picture: 1.78:1, 1080p24, VC1 @ 29.46Mbps
Sound: English: DTS, 3/2.1 @ 1,536kbps; English: LPCM 16/48 2/0.0 @ 1,536kbps; English (original mono), 2 x commentaries: Dolby Digital 2/0.0 @ 192kbps
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Features: Documentary: 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth' (480i60, VC1, LPCM2.0 @ 1536kbps - 73 mins); Documentary: 'Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw' (480i60, VC1, LPCM2.0 @ 1536kbps - 72 mins); Featurette: 'A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen' (480i60, VC1, LPCM2.0 @ 1536kbps - 8 mins); Featurette: 'A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen' (480i, VC1 - 8 mins); Featurette: 'Off the Hook with Teri McMinn' (480i60, VC1, LPCM2.0 @ 1536kbps - 17 mins); Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (480i60, VC1, LPCM2.0 @ 1536kbps - 25 mins); Blooper Reel (480i60, VC1, LPCM2.0 @ 1536kbps - 2 mins); Outtakes from 'The Shocking Truth' (480i60, VC1, LPCM2.0 @ 1536kbps - 8 mins); Two Still Galleries (1080p24, MPEG2 - 102 stills total); Five Trailers (480i60, VC1, LPCM2.0 @ 1536kbps - 5 mins); Two radio trailers (480i60, VC1, LPCM2.0 @ 1536kbps - 6 mins)
Restrictions: Rated R (Australian rating); Region Free

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.3:

Texas Chain Saw Massacre video bitrate graph

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the Force PAL DVD and the imported Blu-ray version of this movie. At the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison, with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 768 by 576 (to present in the correct aspect ratio). I then scaled it, in order for it to be comparable to the Blu-ray version, to 1,920 pixels wide.

The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again. In some cases, noted below, I deinterlaced the picture to better present what you would actually see on screen. The right side is from the imported Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, and normally I put a disclaimer in here about not being comfortable comparing the colour between the two. But, really, the DVD colours were muddy and weak, so you can take these as representative.

Picking Up the Hitchhiker: This says it all really. Note that in this frame, the DVD is one of the rare non-combed ones, so you are getting the full DVD resolution. Decidedly unimpressive:

Comparison 1

Shouldn't Have Done That: It was so hard to glean detail from the DVD that it appears I accidentally grabbed a DVD frame which didn't exactly match the Blu-ray grab. Still, close enough. I had to deinterlace the DVD for this shot. On the Blu-ray, at least you know the weirdo has teeth -- grubby, rotting ones at that:

Comparison 2

A Lousy Source: Even with all the poor choices made in creating the transfer of this DVD, the following example shows that much must have had to do with the use of a lousy copy of the film in the first place. As you can see, the writing on the two signs is indecipherable on the DVD version, and can be clearly read from the Blu-ray version. What's interesting is that in the full frame, which I shrunk from the Blu-ray grab down to a mere 500 pixels wide, the signs are more easily read than in the DVD. I'm starting to wonder if the DVD source spent some time on videotape, since the horizontal resolution seems very low and there is considerable loss of red, and some red bleed:

Comparison 3

A Leather Face: Can you tell from the DVD, with what is one of the most revealing shots in the movie of ol' Leather Face, that his leather face is roughly stitched together? I can't. This one had to be deinterlaced:

Comparison 4

Reducing a (deadish) person to a barely discernible smudge: That's what the DVD does here:

Comparison 5

© 2002-2010, Stephen Dawson