A young couple are driving across Texas on a journey from California to Florida. They are held up when reports on the radio about a large pit of dead bodies turn out to be true, and a traffic jam beside the area is the result. Not paying much attention to this, they drive on through the lonely Texan countryside until they stop at a gas station to refuel and use the bathroom. However, the owner is eccentric to say the least, and after spying on Michelle (Kate Hodge) while she's in the bathroom, he is confronted by passing cowboy Tex (Viggo Mortensen) and loses his temper, producing a shotgun and threatening the couple as they make their getaway. Their nightmare is just beginning...
After the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel, New Line thought they could make a franchise out of the story, and this was the over-familiar result. The production was troubled, and although splatter merchant David J. Schow was brought on to the project to write the script, much of the expected gore was edited out of the final cut. Later, the unrated version was made available, but even that doesn't pack the punch of the first film, despite largely being a straight remake, only this time with Leatherface the sole character returning in name.
It's a pity the film becomes less interesting as it goes along, because the early stages are promising. Texas gets a poor deal from these films, and their tourist industry must surely suffer; the police are unfriendly and unhelpful, and when the psychos start their rampage the law is nowhere to be seen. The locals are untrustworthy at best and murderous at worst - the only person the couple meets who helps them is hunter Benny (Ken Foree). For the first half, Schow manages to keep the tone of the action uncertain, as although we know what will happen it helps not to know how it will happen.
That is until it is revealed that all the Texans we've met are related to each other, and all belong to a family of cannibals. New variations on the killer relations include a little girl and a woman in a wheelchair - the grandfather really is a corpse now - and they all have a taste for blood. The title sequence sees Leatherface sewing his mask together in the same way that Freddy Krueger assembles his glove at the start of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but the comparisons end there: Leatherface is always a team player, not a loner, and has to have the backup of his family, so he's not exactly a Michael Myers or a Jason Vorhees, either.
The black comedy of the first two films is in short supply here (except maybe Leatherface's Speak and Spell game), but there's no intensity to replace it, and it's a little ordinary overall. The predictament of the innocent couple should be a potent one, where they are victimised not for being different, but for being normal. The addition of a trauma for Michelle, where she refuses to kill an injured armadillo which she has run over, turns to savagery when she has to fight for her life, but it's an underdeveloped and half-hearted theme. A missed opportunity maybe, but more likely an example that there was only one really good way to tell this story, and they got it right the first time. Music by Jim Manzie and Pat Regan.