Closing out the first ever MondoCon with a scream, Death Waltz Records brought its unique, refreshing mindset for event programming to Austin, Texas with a screening of that 4k restoration of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that’s been touring around the country this year. For fans of the film who have likely already devoured this 40th anniversary print, or for those seeking a different kind of experience, there was a twist to the screening. Tobe Hooper’s seminal, nightmarish classic was accompanied by a live score by Anton Maiovvi and Umberto.
Death Waltz delivered a similar experience in Los Angeles last year when it welcomed Umberto to live score Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces. The result was a fascinating, moody experiment that elevated the film from a gonzo slasher effort to something slightly more sinister. It probably helped that the dialogue track was absent so Umberto could transport audience members through a synth-heavy aural landscape. Alas, there were those that wanted the live score event to come with the dialogue wholly intact, not taking into account that if the volume on the film was turned up Umberto would be fighting against the original music the entire time. Hell, a copy of Pieces sans original soundtrack probably doesn’t even exist.
With the Texas Chain Saw Massacre experiment, there was no concern about dialogue being sacrificed in a soundtrack duel this time around. Hooper’s original film isn’t heavy on “music,” if you can even call it that. What exists is more of a sparse “abrupt collision of sound effects to unsettle the soul” than traditional score. This worked out to Maiovvi and Umberto’s benefit. Not only did they bring their own wall-to-wall soundtrack to the film, but they worked the existing elements into it, so, what the audience got was a truly new ‘saw experience.
The good news is, Maiovvi and Umberto have delivered a soundtrack that brings just the right level of madness the film requires. Unlike what was evoked in Pieces, this new score hasn’t transformed Chainsaw into some transcendent piece of work. It’s hard to place The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on any higher pedestal than it already rests. Instead, Maiovvi and Umberto – with their drums and synthesizers – have crafted something that’s equally deranged and upsetting and perhaps more aggressive. Once your ears adjust to the marriage of synth and Hooper’s visuals – which we’re conditioned to being accompanied by sounds that are raw and quite simple to recreate – it makes for a different, startling, complex and successful reimagining. It tirelessly runs you through the gamut and Umberto slyly samples Marilyn Burns’ scream and Leatherface’s chainsaw at different moments, incorporating both into the score’s tireless pulse.
There was still a bit of a struggle a play. At times, their score dominated both soundtrack and dialogue, but it’s something that can be easily be fixed with a volume adjustment.
If you live in the Los Angeles area, Death Waltz, Maiovvi and Umberto will be bringing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre live score experience to the Egyptian Theater on September 27th (details, ticket info here). Attendees – like those in Austin – will have the opportunity to buy the score, the first in a line of “Death Waltz Originals,” on vinyl.