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On the Passing of Gunnar Hansen…

Leatherface Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Yesterday brought the sad news of the passing of Gunnar Hansen, the man who played “Leatherface” in the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Hansen passed away Saturday at his home at the age of 68 from pancreatic cancer.

Hansen was, in his own right, a horror icon. While he only only played Leatherface in the original film, it was his portrayal that cemented the character as one of the most notorious and iconic slashers ever committed to film. To this day, the scene of Leatherface hitting Kirk with the hammer, dragging him into the abattoir, and then slamming the metal door shut is one that gives viewers nightmares.

I don’t know what it is about Leatherface that makes him such a fascinating slasher. He has no lines and his movements are, if you stop and think about it, almost Looney Tunes-ish in nature. Remember when Sally is running from him in the dark? There’s a moment where Sally runs along the side of a house through a fence gate. Leatherface could’ve easily gone diagonally through the gate and continued without breaking stride. Instead, he keeps going straight, comes to a stuttered halt (just add a cartoon “screech” sound and it’s perfect), and then continues after her. It’s comical in its innocence, even with a chainsaw blaring.

This idea is furthered when you take into account that Tobe Hooper, in the documentary The Shocking Truth, states that Leatherface is a “big baby”. Additionally, Gunnar stated that the character was defined to him as, “…as someone who was severely mentally retarded and severely mentally disturbed [Source].” The infamous “chainsaw dance” at the end of the original film is essentially an exaggerated temper tantrum, the throes of a child who didn’t get his way.

David Gregory, director of the documentary, explains, “…Leatherface…put the family in jeopardy by committing a string of murders after he misinterprets a group of teenagers looking to find gas and leave as a group of home invaders.” This helps put one of my favorite scenes from the original film into perspective. Leatherface is scrambling around the bone-filled living room, frantically trying to see if there is anyone else that is invading his home. He then sits down, his hands fidgeting and beating his head. It’s the actions of a child that knows he’s in trouble and isn’t sure of how to get out of it.

A quick little addition is that Leatherface is also a character that is concerned with his appearance, using only the nicest faces to cover his own and applying makeup in a measure to beautify himself. No other slasher that I can think of has that kind of interest in their own appearance, as though he is fully aware of the ugliness of his actions so he tries to cover it with his own ideal of beauty.

Gunnar brought all of this to a role where he didn’t have a single line. He knew how to portray a character that pushed boundaries, created abject and absolute terror, but also inspired sympathy. There was a poetry to his portrayal of a character that is often seen as a big, dumb lout. But he was our big, dumb lout and we loved him, flaws and all.



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COMMENTS

33 Comments
  • Dick Pickman

    Thank you, I am a bit surprised so many of our online brethren have not taken any notice of his passing.

  • Zach

    Wow, just finding this out now. So sad. I read his book last year. A true horror icon. R.I.P.

    • Dennis Portz

      The Amazon audible version is great as well because he reads it himself.
      Crack open a beer and turn it on, it like hanging out and hearing it straight from the man himself!

  • Blade

    ” Leatherface is scrambling around the bone-filled living room, frantically trying to see if there is anyone else that is invading his home. He then sits down, his hands fidgeting and beating his head. It’s the actions of a child that knows he’s in trouble and isn’t sure of how to get out of it. ”

    This ^ That scene is one of my favorites, it really makes the character stand out IMO. Plus the way he peers out the window also adds to that as well lol idk that’s why I was always fascinated with him, he is like a child in a grown man’s body.

    No one (IMO) has replicated or even come close to portraying the character as good as he did.

    • oh_riginal

      Yep, nothing but agreement coming from me. The portrayal in part 2 at least comes from what was established in part 1, but I don’t recall any other Leatherface even trying to take anything away from the first performance. It got worse in the remake, when Leatherface was made to be basically a running Jason with a chainsaw, rather than a slow-minded-but-extremely-dangerous man-child.

      • Blade

        I agree. Part 2 Leatherface is probably the second best, because you can still tell they tried to make him a bit strange, like you could just tell something wasn’t right with him. The chainsaw thrusting lol

  • nope

    http://houseoftorturedsouls.com/andrew-bryinarski/

    Check out the disrespectful things Bryinarski had to say about his death.

    • TheLulzyHunter

      And here is his ‘response’ to the responses he got to his messages: http://sofakingcoolonline.com/andrew-bryniarski-gives-official-response-to-gunnar-hansen-comments/

      Of the of the drama fits/moments/behavior of popular celebrities, I’d say that at this point Andrew may possibly make Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, and Axl Rose at their worse look saintly.

      Whenever I watch the reboot film, which I happen to enjoy, I do it for co-writers and producers Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel, as well as the other actors like R. Lee Ermey, and even director Marcus Nispel now.

  • Flu-Like Symptoms

    The only ‘flaw’ in Gunnar’s performance as Leatherface, and I use ‘flaw’ cautiously as I’m not sure if this was his doing or merely him following directorial, occurs during the night chase scene with Sally when she gets up from running into a tree branch where she nearly knocked herself out cold. As soon as she stands up, Leatherface has caught up with her and appears in the shot. As Sally begins to run again, Leatherface raises his chainsaw to allow her room to get passed him. It comes off so blatantly bad and is the only moment where the world that has been created in the film kinda breaks and I realize I’m watching a movie, as Leatherface could’ve easily shredded her right there but didn’t, because he technically wasn’t supposed to.

    • Brandon MisterJuicy Alexander

      good catch. this always bothered me as a kid too.

    • Blade

      If they had gotten him to bring the chainsaw down quickly as soon as she was out of the way it would have made it look like he lifted up the saw to draw back on a hard swing lol

    • Golic

      should’ve just cut that shot out.

  • Vader the White

    What the hell?!?

  • Evan3

    Thanks for this. I am no fan of TCM, but this actually makes me appreciate Gunnar’s take (and Tobe’s direction) and better understand why they went in that direction.

  • PsychoMantis18

    Gunnar’s Leatherface will always be one of the top 3 horror villains in my book.

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      • PsychoMantis18

        Sounds awesome.

  • eli

    There’s only one true Leatherface… & it’s definitely not that douchebag.

  • Blade

    What a disrespectful prick. The author of that article got him good tho. His little comments already made me instantly dislike him, but to find out he also partook in animal cruelty and sexually harasses women seals the deal for me. Fuck that guy.

    Puts me in an odd spot though, because I actually like TCM 2003 and The Beginning…

  • Let_there_be_rock

    gunnar said in many interviews that the tcm remake was basically crap. i’m sure bryniarski took offense to that

    • Dennis Portz

      It wasn’t a bad movie. According to a screen capture of an exchange between an interviewer at sofakingcool . C om, when asked about the grudge, Andrew shot him a link to a video shot in the TCM 3D house promoting that film, where Gunnar was “slamming” the famous slaughterhouse door really lightly and said “This is how Andrew Bryniarski slams a door”.
      He then slams it hard after saying “This is how The Original slams the door!” I guess that hurt his feelings.
      However, Gunnar didn’t start the feud. It started back during the original remake days, 2003, I beleive. There is also some shit talking by Andrew on the DVD special features where he says basically Gunnar wasn’t physically able to do what he does in the remake, but he says it in a rather snarky way. The ribbing went back and forth I’m sure, seems like they both let it get out of hand.
      Andrew comes off as a bit unhinged and rude at the conventions. He hasn’t been to one in awhile, as he has been blacklisted. He has reportedly groped women, arrived drunk and disorderly and spouted racial slurs. Basically he seems to be kind of a surly dude.
      Gunnar always had himself together and was carefully soft spoken and humble. I tend to believe Gunnar over the loose cannon. It’s just crappy to insult someone who can’t defend themselves.

      • Golic

        they were both being a couple of children. I love both the original and the remake equally for different reasons.

  • James Packman

    Shame the movie sucked.

    • Gadriel

      Wow.
      Just wow.

      • Dennis Portz

        This is the second comment thread I’ve seen that troll commenting on. The other comment said something to the effect of “Great boogeyman. Shit movie.”
        Really? You have nothing more to do with your life, James? You just scour the ‘net for threads about deceased actors and the movies they starred in that you hate and throw your irrelevant two cents in?
        Get a fucking life. Probably Andrew Bryniarski’s gimp or something.

        • James Packman

          I love it when little fan boys like you cry. The movie is dull and boring. I have an opinion, I’m gonna state it, got it ?
          Clowns like you, who have been brainwashed into thinking this is the best horror ever made can kiss my ass. I always have and always will hate this shit film, understand?
          Good.

          • Dennis Portz

            Why don’t you roll out from under Andrew Bryniarski’s limp cock, he blew his load a long time ago and from what I can see, all of the jizz got stopped up so far into your brain that you think the only relevant opinions are your own.

            Go stroke to Pieces….
            Because that’s a good film
            Hahaha

    • Golic

      I don’t agree, but I LOL’d!

    • Dia Zerva

      You must be talking about the 2003 remake

      • James Packman

        No the remake was great. . It was everything the original wanted to be. The original is a pathetic excuse for a film.

        • Dennis Portz

          You liked Unfriended, you obviously know jack shit about what constitutes a good horror film.
          Go watch Twilight. Jesus. You suck.

  • John

    I mentioned in a post about his passing that his Leatherface was scary as well as sympathetic so I am glad to read that here as well. Gunnar’s physical acting in this film was top notch.

  • William Watts

    If I had the health I would venture out into my old work shop and fire up the old chain saw in remembrance. R.I.P.

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