Evolution of Horror Legends: Leatherface

  • May 23, 2013
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It’s been a while since our last entry in this Horror series. Alas, our sick need for blood has returned. Mental Note: If we don’t regularly write a horror related article here at Weird, then bad things happen. Let’s jump back into things by discussing another inbred maniac inspired by Ed Gein…the chainsaw wielding Leatherface. For those of you unfamiliar with this horror icon, here’s a quick rundown. Leatherface is the murderous nut-job from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. He’s a cannibal who wears masks made of human flesh, he has a rusty collection of chainsaws, he enjoys hours mumbling to himself incoherently, and we’re told he also likes long walks on the beach.


An Inbred Cannibal is Born

cannibal is born

THE FILM: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974

Leatherface made his first appearance in the horror classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was written, directed and produced by Tobe Hooper. Although, we’re only focusing on Leatherface, we have to at least mention his insane family members, the Sawyer clan who varied throughout the films. Much like horror icons such as Freddy, Chucky and Hannibal Lector, the first incarnation of Leatherface was arguably his strongest and most terrifying. The low-budget, grind-house feel of the original film enhanced the sinister impression of the murderous persona. Check out the grim trailer below to see what we mean. Back then it must have been tough to tell if this was a teaser for an upcoming movie or police footage of a snuff film.

If you haven’t seen TCM yet, and generally don’t mind crapping your pants then we highly recommend it. Much like the shark in Jaws, (spoiler alert) you don’t even see Leatherface until later in the movie. However, once he’s finally revealed the impact is quite visceral. There’s something fundamentally disturbing about watching a chubby maniac with a horrid mask running around on a homicidal rampage.

cannibal is born1

Here’s a horror icon that makes modern movie killers look
like ballerinas swatting at people with their tampons.

The film is alarming on many levels because it feels revoltingly authentic. Surprisingly,8 it’s not the victims but Leatherface who holds the disquieting corner of the world together. There’s nothing sleek or ‘Hollywood’ about the performance of Gunnar Hansen who portrayed the mentally disturbed character. Hansen played the part as brutal and honest as it needed to be. There have been many actors to tackle this role, which we’ll get to shortly; however Hansen’s depiction remains the most memorable.


The Sequel Chopping Block

sequel chopping block

THE FILM: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 1986

Unlike most horror franchises, TCM took over a decade before the sequels finally hit theaters. With the release of the follow-up, Tobe Hooper returned and took things in a different direction. The sequel, despite being gory as hell, was a much goofier, and over the top, black-comedy.

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Yup, that’s a chainsaw wielding Dennis Hopper dueling with Leatherface.
If you have a problem with that - go talk to Hollywood.

Interestingly, director Tobe Hooper admitted his intent with the original movie was also for it to have comedic elements. However, that aspect was clearly lost along the way due to the original being pants-shittingly terrifying. Regardless of the altered tone, Leatherface, played this time by Bill Johnson, was still a chainsaw wielding maniac. Thankfully, some things never change. In terms of appearance, the character looked similar to his earlier adaptation however he was far more animated. We also saw a side of the character we’d actually rather not have. Curiously, during the film Leatherface became quite enamored with the female lead. He even hesitated slashing her into several pieces. That was quite a departure from his customary murderous greeting of strangers he encountered. Instead, Leatherface chose to do a lot of whatever this is…

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Creepy phallic symbolism?


The Franchise Takes a Chainsaw to the Knee


THE FILMS: Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, 1990 & Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, 1994

The next two sequels in the series featured radically different takes on the Leatherface persona. In terms of continuity, things got really confusing. TCM 3, hampered by studio interference, was a cross between a reboot and a sequel. Meaning it was meant to be taken as both a direct sequel and / or events taking place within its own continuity. The main issue we have is the movie needed to be one thing or the other. Either ignore part 2 completely or embrace it. Instead there were direct references to both earlier entries in the series. Also, Leatherface seemingly died in part 2, yet in part 3 he was inexplicably alive and residing with a new hellish family of cannibals. Go figure.


To hell with all those other families though.
We prefer the original freak-fam.

TCM 3, featured a much nastier version of the character as the role was taken over by a third actor, R.A. Mihailoff. Aside from looking like a crazed heavy metal head-banger, Leatherface was back to being a malevolent force. Sporting an epic new chainsaw he also added rape and booby traps to his sick repertoire. Indeed, the movie was quite a sick brew of mayhem and chaos. Here’s the infamous ‘Excalibur’ teaser which was created before the movie itself was officially in full production.

Despite mixed reviews, TCM3 was far better than the shit-fest that was to come in the form of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. By that point continuity was completely tossed out the window. The fourth movie existed as a campy stand-alone entry yet its prologue acknowledged the previous movies anyway as "two minor, yet apparently related incidents". In other words, use your imagination to sort out the cluster-fuck of inconsistencies. As far as Leatherface’s character development went, this movie took Leatherface and turned him into a ridiculous drag-queen portrayed by a fourth actor, Robert Jacks. We’re unsure which drugs the film-makers were using during production, but they clearly weren’t the awesome ones.


Still hotter than Paris Hilton.

Also, we learned some important back-story, Leatherface and his latest collection of relatives were apparently involved in an Illuminati conspiracy. Seriously, at the conclusion of the film a limo pulls up and a member of the secret society scolds Matthew (Dear God why did I star in this movie) McConaughey. “You are here for one reason and one reason only, I want these people to know the meaning of horror.” So Leatherface and his ever-changing family existed to supply the world with horror? As if no other horror existed in society other than the Sawyer clan. Sadly, the Halloween franchise tried similar bullshit which we mentioned in our previous article on Michael Myers.


Bring on the Reboot!

texas chainsaw massacre

THE FILMS: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2003 & The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, 2006

You know all those remakes of 70’s and 80’s horror movies everyone’s always whining about? Well the 2003 version of TCM and its box-office success is credited for starting that assembly line of remakes. Mixed reviews and the involvement of Platinum Dunes and Michael Bay set aside, let’s discuss the updated take on Leatherface.

texas chainsaw massacre1

We’re not sure wtf he’s doing here, but we don’t want any part of it.

The rebooted TCM and its prequel presented a surprisingly consistent and frightening incarnation of Leatherface. While we could have lived without the revelation of his ‘skin-disorder’ and ‘disgruntled employee’ back-story, Leatherface was back to kicking ass again. American actor and former bodybuilder Andrew Bryniarski took over the key role and as of this writing he’s the first person to ever play Leatherface twice. Such stability was refreshing considering the jumbled and inconsistent history of the series.

texas chainsaw massacre2

Did we mention bad-ass R. Lee Ermey was in these movies too?
That fact alone should get you interested.

Much like Gunnar Hansen’s original depiction of the murderous character, Andrew Bryniarski wisely portrayed Leatherface as a borderline mindless brute. However, Bryniarski’s larger physique added an even more menacing presence to the character. Thankfully, neither film featured any cross-dressing, asinine love interests or pussified behavior from Leatherface. Say what you will about the ‘03 and ‘06 movies being flawed torture porn, they at least achieved a solid interpretation of the horror icon.

Truthfully, we can’t fault the film makers for trying to add some depth to Leatherface. At least they didn’t go overboard with it like Rob Zombie’s bloated back-story in the rebooted Halloween films.


Bring on Another Reboot…in 3D!


THE FILM: The Texas Chainsaw 3D, 2013

With Platinum Dunes eventually out of the Texas Chainsaw business, Twisted Pictures and Lions Gate Entertainment stepped up to the plate with yet another reboot, this time in shiny new 3D. The story attempted to pick up where Tobe Hooper's original film ended. In other words, the movie was a sequel that was 39 years late…and really awful.

However, keeping with TCM tradition of inconsistency they did manage to toss continuity out the window once again by ignoring dates, skewing the timeline and inexplicably adding new family members to the original Sawyer residence. Basically the movie was a “direct sequel” that overlooked the fact that it was a “direct sequel”.


Wait, who are these people? Only minutes into the movie
hardcore fans were given the middle-finger.

Playing the part of Leatherface for the 3D installment was actor Dan Yeager. To his credit Yeager channeled Gunnar Hansen’s original performance as best he could. In an interview with Collider he stated, “I have so much respect for what that man did in creating that character because he was a complete human being in that mask which is hard to do when you don’t have words... the basis of what I’ve tried to bring to it is all Gunnar Hansen and it’s all his work.” So how did the latest depiction of Leatherface add to the mythology of the series and the lead character? Unfortunately the 2013 take on Leatherface was mostly just dull. To make matters worse, a weak attempt was made to turn him into a sympathetic victim of the mob, akin to Frankenstein’s monster. No doubt future sequels or reboots are in order. We here at Weird though have had our fill of old Leatherface. Enough is enough. Hollywood however, likely feels different.


Wait! Crap, did we mention all the masks? You see
Leatherface had lots of masks and…and 3D…and…eh, who cares.

Written by Anthony Quaglia – Copyrighted © www.weirdworm.com

Image Sources

Image sources:

  • - An Inbred Cannibal is Born: http://imageshack.us/a/img838/4812/introzs.jpg http://imageshack.us/a/img833/7575/intro2x.jpg
  • - The Sequel Chopping Block: http://imageshack.us/a/img197/8292/sobaditsgood.jpg http://imageshack.us/a/img7/70/hoppere.jpg http://imageshack.us/a/img22/9462/wtfffffffl.jpg
  • - The Franchise Takes a Chainsaw to the Knee: http://imageshack.us/a/img27/6434/freakya.jpg http://imageshack.us/a/img341/3645/thefamg.jpg http://imageshack.us/a/img571/1869/wtfmanr.jpg
  • - Bring on the Reboot! : http://imageshack.us/a/img259/3513/80434465.jpg http://imageshack.us/a/img259/8681/88553421.jpg http://imageshack.us/a/img545/838/rlee.jpg
  • - Bring on Another Reboot…in 3D! : http://imageshack.us/a/img690/415/2013lf.jpg http://imageshack.us/a/img607/9141/whouz.jpg http://imageshack.us/a/img191/3187/masksss.jpg