In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Next Generation*, four vapid teenagers shirk prom’s aftermath and take a spontaneous drive in the country, only to meet up with a family of demented freaks. The featherbrained Heather (Lisa Newmeyer), crashes into an oncoming vehicle, rendering the other driver unconscious; while checking a slight facial abrasion in the mirror, she bemoans, “God, this is gonna leave a scar.” Her unsympathetic boyfriend Barry (Tyler Cone) helps Sean (John Harrison) drag the injured driver out into the road, telling Sean to stay put while he and the girls search the surrounding forest for assistance.
Brandishing a flashlight, the trio start into the woods, where hooting owls and the mangled carcass of a coyote foreshadow their descent into hell. “I can feel someone’s eyeballs on my back,” Heather prattles as they pick their way through the tenebrous woodland, “We could all be killed out here, and they’d cut out our hearts and put them in the refrigerator.” Remaining pensive, nerdy Jenny (Renee Zellweger) adjusts her spectacles and ill-fitting prom dress until she somehow gets separated from her friends.
Meanwhile, psychotic tow-truck driver Vilmer (Matthew McConaughey), in a parody of Good Samaritan virtue, arrives to break the neck of the unconscious driver before hunting down Sean with his tow-truck; a mechanical leg prevents the traditional foot chase. Upon catching up with the obtuse teen (he flees down the center of the road!), Vilmer repeatedly backs over him until crunching and squishing sounds denote a pulverized state. (Throughout the film, barely any gore splatters onscreen, a director’s trick.)
When Barry and Heather discover a peeling, weather-beaten clapboard house, they breathe a collective sigh and knock for assistance. This vestige of civilization, though, has a few tricks up its proverbial sleeve, being home of the thrill-kill clan to which Vilmer belongs. When Barry shuffles off to find a back entrance, Heather sits delicately on a porch swing, only to feel the hairs on her scalp rise; infamous Leatherface (Robert Jacks) has crept up behind her and is plucking teased hairs from her tiara.
Far from the glitz of prom, Heather and friends have fallen instant prey of rural savages. Though the male victims are perfunctorily done away with before the close of act one, the females remain to endure whatever heinousness this band of maniacs can inflict; this suggests a nimiety of aggression aimed at the stereotypically more timid, empathetic and nurturing gender.
Upgrades abound in the film, from Leatherface’s rock music and penchant for pearls, to the literary quotations and electric cattleprod of scrawny W.E. (Joe Stevens). Vilmer’s cluttered box of remote controls symbolizes a longing for yet confusion about the urbane. The clan’s decisive switch from cannibalism (as in the first three films) to vegetarian-style pizzas ordered by phone connotes an evolution of sorts. The chainsaw itself, tempered to noisemaker status, gives way to more sophisticated forms of torture. Vilmer’s girlfriend, Darla (Tonie Perenski) admits to breast implants while spitting out blonde jokes, further proof that even the vilest hawbucks follow pop culture. Yet these human monsters have also developed a refined paranoia, claiming the FBI has installed transmitters in the walls; while dressing Jenny for her last meal, Darla tells her that Vilmer works for “the people nobody sees, those people above the government who’ve run things for thousands of years.”
The pinnacle of the film contains a scene where Jenny is forced to watch as a slumped over Heather, after dismounting from a meathook, runs screaming into a wall while Vilmer sets her ablaze with a blowtorch. Vilmer then informs Jenny that his brother, wearing the excoriated “leather” of a previous victim, would like a new face, meaning hers. (This, then, is a smack to the jaw of plastic surgery, of changing one’s looks at will!) With a survivalist instinct, Jenny snatches the remote control to Vilmer’s mechanical limb and, armed with this tech-tool, makes her escape from the garish house of horrors.
In the final daylit sequence, as Vilmer lurches after Jenny, a crop-duster somehow nose-dives into the back of Vilmer’s skull, killing him. Jenny, lured by the honking of an approaching limousine, then climbs inside, where one of “those people above the government” (James Gale), claims credit for the night’s odious events by stating that “it was supposed to be a spiritual experience.” But for these four adolescents who wandered off the beaten path, it seems like anything but.