Horror’s Icons: Leatherface
A LONE STAR KILLER
In 1974, the horror world bore witness to one of the first slashers to hit movie screens in Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The movie followed a group of young kids that unfortunately run into a family of cannibals while driving through Texas. The kids soon meet their fates at the hands of Leatherface, the main antagonist of the family.
Flanked by his psychotic family, Leatherface was inspired by real life killer Ed Gein. But like with most movie characters, Leatherface would be a lot more scarier than Gein. Leatherface wore an apron covered in blood and, of course, a mask. But this mask was no usually mask. They were made from the skin of his victim’s faces. And his victims would usually meet there fate by the blades of Leatherface’s chainsaw.
And since this 1974 horror classic, Leatherface and the clan has made an appearance in six other films, the last being released earlier this year. And each time, Leatherface has undergone some changes. But the one thing that didn’t change was Leatherface’s urge to kill anyone that stumbled upon his small hometown in Texas.
THE SAW IS FAMILY
The original film followed Sally and Franklin Hardesty as they travelled with three friends to check their grandfather’s grave after they heard reports of recent grave vandalisms. On they way they pick up a crazy hitchhiker that eventually scares the kids and is dropped off. The group stops at a gas station but there is no gas available. They head up to a house in the Texas countryside and meet the family of cannibals.
In the end, only Sally Hardesty would manage to escape the house. Leatherface chased her down but she got away when a truck picked her up and drove away. Leatherface would swing his chainsaw in frustration as he watched her fade away in the distance. She got away but that was not the end of Leatherface’s reign of terror.
In 1986, 12 years after the original, Leatherface and the family would return in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The movie begins with two young teens that call a late-night radio DJ named Stretch. While on the phone with her, the teens are killed by Leatherface.
The next day, Lt. Boude “Lefty” Enright, a former Texas Ranger and uncle of Sally and Franklin Hardesty, hears of the murders and writes an article in the newspaper. The article catches Stretch’s attention and she plays the recording of the call with the recent murder victims. They play the call on the air and soon Leatherface and the family arrive at the radio station.
After escaping with their lives, Stretch and Lefty head to the clan’s house and wage a war on the cannibalistic family. Lefty goes after the family with his own chainsaws. He fights Leatherface and impales him with a chainsaw through the stomach. Everyone except Stretch and family member Chop Top have apparently died in a grenade explosion. The two survivors battle until Chop Top falls to his death.
After the sequel, the fanchise would again remain silent until 1990’s Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. The third installment was a sequel but also somewhat of a reboot. There was no continuation of the story from the first two films since apparently everyone died, except Stretch, and there were new characters introduced in the “Sawyer Family”. Leatherface was now flanked by Tex (an unknown Viggo Mortensen), Tinker, Alfredo, and “Mama” as the family hunted down a couple passing through Texas. The couple, Michelle and Ryan, eventually run into a bounty hunter named Benny and the three of them fight together against the Sawyer’s and try to stay alive. After stunning Leatherface, Benny and Michelle escape and drive away to safety, not knowing that Leatherface is revving up his chainsaw again.
The franchise seemed dead after the third film. So the next film, 1994’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, was made to reboot the franchise for another generation of horror fans. And once again, it was also a sort-of sequel. But the problem with this film was that it was ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE. Even though it starred a young Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger and was directed by the co-writer of the original film, the movie was just terrible all around.
The film felt like a mix between another film in the franchise mixed with a bad teen horror film. It revolved around a group teens standed in the Texas countryside that are eventually hunted down by the Sawyer family. I really don’t want to waste too much time on this film so, as usual, only Zellweger’s character survives in the end. Everyone else dies. And if you watched this, you may have wished you did too.
Fans of horror these days know that almost every old film from the 1970’s and 1980’s has gotten the remake treatment. And one of the first films to get a redo was the 2003 release of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This film closely followed the plot of the original with a few minor tweaks. This time, a group of teenagers travelling through Texas decide to pick up a hitchhiker who ends up shooting herself in the van. They contact the police, but the Sheriff turns out to be a part of the Hewitt family, the same family that Leatherface belongs to. The kids are then abducted and brought to the family house where they are killed off until only Erin, the sole survivor, injures Leatherface, kills the Sheriff, and escapes.
A prequel to this remake was made in 2006 titled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. The prequel begins with a woman that gives birth to a boy in a slaughterhouse and dies. The manager puts the baby in the dumpster but another lady finds him and saves the baby, naming him Thomas Hewitt. Fast-forward to 30 years later and Thomas is now working in the same slaughterhouse for the same man who put him in the dumpster. Leatherface eventually kills his boss and, with the help of another Hewitt, escapes.
The movie then goes into the typical horror story with a group of four teens getting stranded and then getting attacked by the Hewitt clan. The group is killed off one by one as Leatherface and the family begin their tradition of killing those who cross their paths. The movie was a good set-up of the Hewitt family but was nothing too special in the end. And it would be the end of Leatherface until 2013.
A RETURN TO THE PAST
In January 2013, Texas Chainsaw 3D was released and took the franchise back to the original series. Omitting all the events of the sequels, this film picked up immediately at the end of the original. After learning about the recent events at the Sawyer household, the people of Newt, Texas, including the mayor, burn the house down with the Sawyer family inside, against the orders of Sheriff Hooper. However, a young baby was taken away and raised by other people from the town.
Decades later, a young girl named Heather is notified that her grandmother in Newt has passed away and she realizes she was adopted. So she goes out to her grandmothers house with her boyfriend and two other friends. As is with other films in the series, they pick up a hitchhiker named Darryl. They get to the house and soon leave Darryl there while they go get supplies, Darryl soon tries to steal valuables throughout the house. When he goes into the cellar, he unleashes Leatherface, who had survived the fire and been living in the house.
Leatherface soon attacks the other people there and this gains the attention of the mayor. He sends police to the house to kill Leatherface but they are unsuccessful. In this time, Heather learns her true family history and her relationship to this crazy killer. The mayor tries to kill Leatherface himself but Heather arrives and assists Leatherface. When the sheriff shows up, he does nothing as Leatherface kills the mayor and leaves. In a post-credit scene, Heather’s adoptive parents arrive at the house in Newt to try to get some of the assets that Heather has now. But when the door opens, it is Leatherface with chainsaw in hand.
THE FACES BEHIND THE FACES
The original Leatherface was played by Gunnar Hansen, an Icelandic-born actor. Hansen is the best known Leatherface actor and gave the character traits that are forever tied to the villain. Since the classic film, Hansen has had roles in many other small horror movies and has became an author. He returned to the franchise in 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D playing Boss Sawyer in the beginning of the film and Leatherface in archive footage.
Bill Johnson and R.A. Mihailoff played the cannibalistic killer in the second and third films respectively. Johnson, a Texas native, has appeared in a few films but is best known for his portrayal of Leatherface. Mihailoff is a former professional wrestler and actor that has appeared in numerous movies and television series, including Hatchet II, a movie I discussed in a previous entry of Horror’s Icons. Also, Kane Hodder donned the Leatherface gear in the third film for stunts, making him the only actor to, in some way, portray Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger (he wore the glove in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday).
In the ill-fated fourth film, Robert Jacks played the cross-dressing version of Leatherface. He is credited with being in three films, including the parody film Scary Movie. Unfortunately he passed away in 2001, a day before his 42nd birthday, from an abdominal aneurysm.
The 2003 remake and its prequel featured Andrew Bryniarski as Leatherface. Bryniarski is a former bodybuilder and made Leatherface a lot bigger than he had previously been cast. Even though best known for being Leatherface, Bryniarski has also appeared in films such as Pearl Harbor, Any Given Sunday, Batman Returns, The Program and Street Fighter.
And lastly, Dan Yeager donned the human mask in Texas Chainsaw 3D. Director John Luessenhop chose Yeager because he felt a sense of “menace” after seeing Yeager and couldn’t imagine another actor in the role. Yeager is a relative unknown with only one other movie to his credit before playing Leatherface. But all that could change if another sequel does indeed get released.
Well, we are done here once again. We reviewed Leatherface and it is time to give him the axe, um, I mean chainsaw. But, while many have felt Leatherface’s wrath, we still move on and next week we will look at another horror great. We will leave the hot confines of Texas and travel to the happy confines of the toy store. But it won’t be such a happy trip as we look at the worst gift any kid could ever receive. Next time, Horror’s Icons looks at the killer Good Guys’ doll named Chucky. Thanks for reading and see you next time.