Two weeks before the Halloween of 2003, New Line Cinema released director Marcus Nispel's remake of Tobe Hooper's seminal horror film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Produced by Michael Bay and co-produced by Tobe Hooper, the film
recouped over ten times its budget at the box office, despite largely negative critical reviews.
The original was banned by the BBFC in 1975
The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre is rather infamous for being unavailable in the UK for many years. BBFC Secretary Stephen Murphy saw the film informally in early 1975, but expressed to the distributors that the film's overt presentation of
"abnormal psychology" was unsuitable for an X certificate (the equivalent of today's 18 rating). The distributors made some minor cuts, particularly to the 'family dinner' scene towards the end of the film, and formally submitted the
film for a BBFC certificate on March 12th 1975. Since there was very little in the way of explicit gore and violence (even before cuts had been made), the BBFC felt that the cuts to the film had done nothing to change the overall grim tone of the
picture. Two days later, the BBFC banned the film. However, since statutory powers on film remain with local councils, councils may overrule any of the BBFC's decisions, including passing films the Board rejects (and vice versa), waiving cuts or
making new ones, and even changing the ratings of films that are exhibited under their own licensing jurisdiction. As a result, the Greater London Council issued Chainsaw with their own uncut X certificate in 1975, and nine other local councils
also issued X ratings for the film. Nineteen other councils upheld the BBFC ban.
Stephen Murphy stepped down as Secretary in the summer of 1975, and was replaced by James Ferman. Ferman was asked to re-evaluate Chainsaw on at least two occasions in the late 1970s, but agreed with his predecessor that the sustained
terrorisation of the film's female victims was too much for an X certificate. Perhaps one of the more famous of Ferman's quotes was his reference to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as "the pornography of terror."
By the early 1980s, the home video market was in its infancy and until 1985 there was no requirement for videos in the UK to be classified by the BBFC. Chainsaw was thus released on video without a BBFC rating. By the time the Video Recordings
Act (VRA) was introduced in the mid-1980s, the distributors spoke with the Board about the possibility of making cuts to the film in order to produce an officially-sanctioned BBFC version. These requests were not granted, and the 'pre-cert'
version was removed from the shelves after the introduction. The BBFC later commented in the late 1990s that:
The reason that the film was refused certification was the result of the perceived degree of terrorisation of women and threat to defenceless women. The Board has for many years operated a very strict policy with regard to sexual violence, based
on the incidence of this sort of behaviour in real life and the fact that a great deal of research does indicate that this is the one area where media representations do seem to have quite direct effects on attitudes and behaviour. The film was
rejected by the Board on film and is most unlikely to be classified on video.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remained unavailable to UK audiences until 1998 when, following a series of exclusive screenings in Camden and the London Film Festival (which was taking place just five minutes' walk from the BBFC offices), it was
resubmitted for a theatrical BBFC certificate in 1999. It was passed uncut with an 18 rating and VHS and DVD classifications quickly followed, and the film has been available uncut in the UK since then. By this time, it is worth noting that James
Ferman had left the BBFC. Following the film's classification in the UK, the BBFC issued a second statement. Despite the steadfast nature of the first statement just weeks before, their second took on a decidedly different tone:
There is, so far as the Boa rd is aware, no evidence that harm has ever arisen as a consequence of viewing the film. For modern young adults, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is unlikely to be particularly challenging.
Possibly the most notorious feature is the relentless pursuit of the 'Final Girl' throughout the last half hour or so of the film. The heroine in peril is a staple of the cinema since the earliest days. It is nonetheless legitimate to question
the unusual emphasis THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE places on the pursuit of a defenceless and screaming female over such an extended period. The Board's conclusion, after careful consideration, was that any possible harm that might arise in terms
of the effect upon a modern audience would be more than sufficiently countered by the unrealistic, even absurd, nature of the action itself. It is worth emphasising that there is no explicit sexual element in the film, and relatively little
The remake was cut for the MPAA in 2003
Four years later in 2003, Marcus Nispel's remake posed no such issues with the BBFC, although the version the Board classified 18 was the R-rated version as released in the United States. Two scenes had been censored to satisfy the demands of the
MPAA, and in this episode of the show we'll be taking a look at the cuts that were made to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to avoid an NC-17 rating.
Cut Scenes: Hitchhiker's suicide
The first scene to receive cuts was the suicide of the hitchhiker at the start of the film. Nispel's original assembly of the scene was flagged by the MPAA as being a deciding factor in awarding an NC-17. As a result, a few minor trims were
made to attain an R rating, including a reduction in the splattering of blood and brain matter and the sight of the hitchhiker's severed ear falling in the van.
Nispel later commented on the scene, and expanded upon the cuts he was forced to make, remarking:
You work on a movie like this too long, you develop a low threshold for those type of events... In the actual cut, the blood is less red, which I think is actually much scarier in a way. I like that it's dark, and I never like blood that
looks like syrup or ketchup or whatever.
Cut Scenes: Morgan's murder
The second sequence to receive trims was the killing of Morgan at the hands of Leatherface. The original cut of the film featured the explicit sight of the chainsaw approaching and cutting into Morgan's groin, along with the sight of blood
splashing and his insides falling out and onto the floor, all of which had to be removed for an R rating.
Nispel was less enamoured with the MPAA's decision in this instance, as he later recounted:
Nobody wants to see on camera how somebody gets sliced from below, so we shot cutaways -- his face screaming, and a little blood splattering against the wall -- but even that seemed to be too much for many, so two shots had to go out, which
really don't show you all that much... but somehow it leaves me wondering what had really happened to him by removing them.
After cuts were made, New Line Cinema was granted an R rating for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by the MPAA for:
Strong horror violence/gore, language and drug content.
The remake on Home Video
Unfortunately for horror fans, neither an NC-17 version nor an unrated version was released on DVD or Blu-ray. As a result, the standard version released throughout the world is the censored R-rated version. Having said that, the release of The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003 kick-started the Hollywood trend of remaking "old school" horror films of the 1970s and 1980s, and in the years that followed the studios began to see the potential of offering salacious extended versions
of horror films on home video. To name but one example, Nispel's remake of Friday the 13th in 2009 was first released with a R rating in theatres, with a so-called "Killer Cut" following on home video with added sexuality and
violence. However, in spite of having the option of releasing this version of the film unrated, Warner Home Video opted to have this extended cut of the film classified by the MPAA, and even with additional sex, nudity and violence the film was
passed with an R rating.
The material excised from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still vaulted and fully sound mixed, so there appears to be no reason for the lack of an unrated edition of the film now or further down the line. Perhaps one day we shall see an uncut
version, which will most likely be released to tie-in with another remake, reboot or remake of the remake in a few years' time. Until then, fans can pick up The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Blu-ray, knowing that they are getting the most complete
version of the film that has been released to date.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Two, Episode 36: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.