Jenny (Renée Zellweger) arrives with her date to the high school's prom night. Her friend Heather (Lisa Marie Newmyer) is searching for her boyfriend Barry (Tyler Cone) and finds him getting close to another girl, so in a rage, Heather leaps into her car and tries to drive off. Barry stops her, and climbs in beside her, then she speeds off with Jenny and her date in the back seat. Driving aimlessly, soon they are lost in the middle of nowhere, and a car heading in the opposite direction smashes into them. The driver gets out, dazed, and collapses. Jenny, Heather and Barry go to get help, but they find that help is not forthcoming from the locals they meet - especially the homicidal ones.
Where first two sequels to the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre had the benefit of increased budgets, for the fourth in the series it was back to the low budget basics, and an independent movie, to boot. Scripted and directed by the co-writer of the original, Kim Henkel, it would prove to be a disappointment to those fans hoping for a return to the more visceral thrills rather than the jokiness of parts 2 and 3 had opted for, and most agreed this stranger outing was not up to scratch, some even calling it one of the worst horror movies ever made.
The echoes of the original are never far away. Once more the young people have no luck in finding help, and asking the locals for assistance gets them into deeper trouble. One thing the film has in its favour is a spooky atmosphere along the dimly moonlit woodland roads, where Barry and Heather stumble upon an old, dark house. It's not long before the inhabitants, including Leatherface (Robert Jacks), the only returning character, are holding them captive, while Jenny discovers that her date has been killed and strung up by a crazed truck driver, Vilmer (Matthew McConaughey), who is related to the psychos back at the house.
One of the points of intrigue is seeing two stars-to-be (at least, I think McConaughey counts as a star) in early roles that they wouldn't dream of taking when they got famous. As Jenny, Zellweger doesn't seem all there, she screams all right, but she acts as if she's having an unpleasant dream. When she's trussed up in the back of a car with a bag over her head, she attracts her kidnapper's attention by kicking and yelling; the kidnapper asks her to stop, and she meekly replies, "OK, but I can't breathe", and that's the end of her protests until she's back in the house, despite a policeman being close by.
As you may have guessed, the tone is very odd, dangerously close to campy, without being all that funny. Take McConaughey's villain, for example: Freddy Krueger has his glove as his trademark, Jason Vorhees has his hockey mask, so what does Vilmer have? A robot leg. Which occasionally stomps his victims. Henkel mistakes hysteria for, well, having his cast wail and shout a lot, and a bizarre conspiracy angle arises which may be an innovation of a sort, but is a needless complication.
The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not particularly gory and nobody gets made into dinner. In practice, it's a curiously distant experience, and at times downright weird - why take off Jenny's glasses for her to see better? Why have one psycho sound like the Reader's Digest page of Quotable Quotes? And why dress Leatherface as a woman?! However, it's just odd enough to be worth a look if you like the series - or if you're a hardcore bad movie fan. Watch for a few of the stars of the original in tiny cameo roles. Music by Wayne Bell.