The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary Restoration

Saturday, June 28
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1hr 24mins // directed by:Tobe Hooper // featuring:Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen // DCP

In 1973, Tobe Hooper, a cast of unknown actors, and a crew of Austin film students and recent graduates headed to Round Rock, Texas, in the middle of July.

For the next 32 days they worked around the clock in 100 degree weather to make The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The finished film cost $125,000 ($60,000 over budget) and was sold to Bryanston Pictures, a distribution company with ties to a well-known crime family. While the members of the original production never saw a dime, the movie became a huge hit on the drive-in circuit and eventually grossed $30 million, was invited to the 1975 Cannes Film Festival Director’s Fortnight, and was acquired as part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Since then, it has spawned three sequels, a remake, a prequel, a 3-D sequel, an Atari 2600 video game, four comic book series, and has become the eighth highest-grossing horror franchise of all time. In 2012, Sight & Sound magazine named it one of the 250 most important movies ever made. 

About the Restoration

This is the only transfer of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to go back to the original 16mm A/B rolls. Chain Saw was shot on less expensive 16mm reversal film stock, which means that there is no traditional negative. Instead, after editing from a workprint, A/B rolls are conformed from the original camera rolls into “checkerboards” to strike distribution prints, a technique unique to 16mm because cuts on 16mm film happen across part of the picture in a frame, rather than between frames, as in 35mm.

So the first step in this restoration was to take the original 16mm film that actually rolled through the cameras and to make a 4K scan of every frame of film.

For six weeks, the Preservation Supervisor, Todd Wieneke of Dark Sky Films, worked with engineer Boris Seagraves of NOLO Digital Film in Chicago in scanning every single frame of film using an ARRISCAN Film Scanner. Then the process of conforming the A/B rolls began. Reviewing every single one of the 120,960 frames of film, Wieneke and Seagraves made sure each scan was complete and solid as they resolved technical issues regarding dissolves and fades that weren’t on the same reel, and wrangled with the impact old glue splices had on the original film which had caused parts of individual frames to fall out of focus.

After this, they had a complete DPX file of Chain Saw, and then the hard work really began. It took five months of 40-hour work weeks to perform the color grading and restoration. “This film probably needed the most restoration of any project we’ve done,” Seagraves says. “I would say it took us five to ten times longer than most other projects just based on the shape the film materials were in.”