With his first appearance in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Leatherface instantly earned a spot among the alltime classic horror movie villains. His story has become somewhat muddled throughout a series of sequels, prequels, and reboots, but don't worry, we're here to sort it out for you.
Leatherface looks like the kind of monster that director Tobe Hooper probably saw in a nightmare, but he wasn't a product of Hooper's imagination; he and the rest of the cannibalistic Sawyer family were loosely based on a real person: serial killer and graverobber Ed Gein, who was also known as "The Butcher of Plainfield."
Several residents of Plainfield, Wisconsin went missing over the years, and Gein was found responsible for their deaths. An investigation of his home resulted in authorities finding organs stored in jars and masks made of human skin.
In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Leatherface doesn't just wear one mask, he actually switches between a few, depending on the scene. Why does he change his mask? According to the late Gunnar Hansen, who originally played Leatherface, the masks were not just creepy accessories. They were actually the only way Leatherface could really express himself. Hansen said:
"The mask really determined his personality. Who he wanted to be that day determined what mask he put on. So when Drayton comes home with Sally, Leatherface is wearing the 'Old Lady Mask' and he's wearing an apron and carrying a wooden spoon, he wants to be domestic, helpful in the kitchen. At dinner he wears a different face, the 'Pretty Woman,' which has makeup."
In the 40plus years since the original film was released, different films in the franchise have explored slightly altered "origin stories" for Leatherface. The 2003 remake and its 2006 prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, offer up an interesting explanation. Keep watching the video to see Leatherface's backstory explained.
Based on a true story | 0:17 Meaning behind the masks | 0:52 Born a victim | 1:36 Fighting his family's influence | 2:40 Institutionalized | 3:41 Nature or nurture? | 4:48 His first mask | 5:34 Laid off | 6:08