ByRob Taylor, writer at
Rob Taylor

Today we lost the actor behind one of the most iconic and terrifying characters in movie history. Gunnar Hansen, who has passed away at 68, was the man behind the monstrous visage of Leatherface, in Tobe Hooper's seminal The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Associated Press reports that the Icelandic-born Hansen died of pancreatic cancer, while working on his latest film Death House.

At 6ft 4" tall, Hansen was perfectly cast as the mute but gigantic killer in Hooper's 1974 masterpiece. Before Michael Myers, Jason and Freddy, Leatherface was the prototype for the single-minded, sadistic behemoth, slashing his way through teenagers which has become such a staple of the horror genre.

What made Leatherface so terrifying was the physicality and humanity that Hansen was able to bring to the role, despite never saying a word and spending the whole film in a series of gruesome masks. The scene where he takes a moments pause was unheard of in the horror genre and so much can be read through his eyes and broken mouth about who Leatherface is.

When he later changes for dinner into the 'lady mask', we see another side to the character, again presented without words and utterly terrifying.

Of course the murders are what the movie and thus Hansen will be primarily remembered for and there are fewer more chilling scenes than Leatherface's introduction, raising his lump hammer in an ominous and inevitable way.

It is only surpassed by the movies final scene of a thwarted, frustrated and wounded Leatherface swinging his chainsaw with sheer malice. It was no small physical feat for Hansen to be able to pull that off safely, and it arguably gave birth to the dearth of sequels, and the idea that the monster doesn't always have to die at the end.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gunnar Hansen (along with the late David Hess) at a double showing event of Chainsaw & Last House On The Left in Northampton, England some years ago. He was very friendly and appreciative that so many fans would show up to see a film, which at the time could only be shown with special permission but still had impacted so many people. Sadly I don't have any photos, but he was definitely a great guy.

If you've never watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, today is a good day to do it.

Rest In Piece Sir... You will be missed!


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