Gunnar Hansen, who played the iconic killer Leatherface in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, died yesterday from pancreatic cancer at his home in Maine, according to the LA Times. He was 68.
Hansen was born in Reykjavik, Iceland and moved to the United States at 5. His family moved to Texas where he grew up and attended the University of Texas, studying English and Scandinavian Studies. He was a hulking figure and was cast by Tobe Hooper as the flesh face, chainsaw-wielding psychopath in the 1974 horror classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
The 1974 film is about 5 youngsters visiting their grandfather’s old Texas house before getting interrupted by the Sawyer family, a family of crazed cannibals. Hansen’s Leatherface makes one of the most horrifying debuts in film history. As Kirk (William Vail) investigates weird animal noises in a spooky farmhouse, he trips and suddenly Leatherface comes out of nowhere to smash his face with a meat tenderizer. He drags the body away and slam the door; a scene that coincidentally opened the floodgates for horror fans. They had a new hero. Later, Hansen would chase stars Marilyn Burns and Paul A. Partain around with his famed chain saw. His agent Mike Eisenstadt said of Leatherface, “He’s one of the most iconic evil figures in the history of cinema.” Leatherface, like Norman Bates was loosely based on Ed Gein, a serial killer who kept flesh reminders of his victims.
The film would be as well known for the horrors of making it as it was for the horrors it produced. They were filming during an ungodly heatwave and using real animal bones and carcasses. Hansen described the shooting of the movie as the closest he’d been to hell in a panel discussion at the same horror convention. In 2013, he wrote a book, Chain Saw Confidential, detailing the making of his most iconic film.
According to IMDb, Hansen has 32 film credits, mostly all in the horror genre, he even made a cameo in Texas Chainsaw 3D in 2013. His other credits include Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988) and Mosquito (1995). He just finished a screenplay for a horror film chock full of iconic horror actors called Death House, which is listed as in pre-production. Along with his career in horror, Gunnar Hansen was a devoted naturalist and became involved in the Icelandic film industry, making a documentary about Greenland and starring in a Scandinavian horror film, Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre in 2009.
Being a lifelong horror supergeek, I was excited to attend my first of what would be 10 MonsterMania conventions at a hotel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I didn’t know what to expect. What are horror icons and slasher stars really like? The first person I met, spoke to, got an autograph from and took a picture with was the larger than life Hansen.
Some actors get remembered for that one iconic role. Gunnar Hansen will always be Leatherface. There have been 6 sequels with several other actors playing the role, but all will forever be compared to the original. The flesh mask, the bloodstained apron, the freakish squeals. Gunnar Hansen was a horror icon, who gave back to fans and the genre. He will be missed. We raise our saws to the late great Gunnar Hansen.
RIP Gunnar Hansen
March 4, 1947 – November 7, 2015
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Original Trailer 1974