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Bill Johnson as Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 1986
|Classification:||Mass murderer, Butcher|
|Portrayed by:||Gunnar Hansen
R. A. Mihailoff
Leatherface is a character in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre horror-film series and its spin-offs. He wears masks made of human skin (hence his name) and engages in murder and cannibalism, alongside his inbred family. Leatherface appeared in the first film in the series (1974) and in its six subsequent continuations and remakes. Wisconsin killer Ed Gein, who wore a mask made of human skin, was reportedly the inspiration for elements in the original film. He is considered to be the main antagonist of the franchise because he drives most of the plots and appears in all of the films even though he takes orders from his older family members.
The original film never showed Leatherface without one of his human-hide faces on. Leatherface used to work as a butcher at the meat factory alongside his brother, presumably "The Cook" (referred to as "Drayton Sawyer" in further films), as "The Hitchhiker" (Nubbins in part 2, following his death in part 1) claims he didn't work at the slaughterhouse, but he states, "My BROTHER worked there. My grandfather, too! My family's ALWAYS been in meat." Gunnar Hansen, who portrayed Leatherface in the original 1974 film, sees Leatherface as "completely under the control of his family. He'll do whatever they tell him to do. He's a little bit afraid of them." In the documentary The Shocking Truth, Tobe Hooper portrays Leatherface as a "big baby" who kills in self-defense because he feels threatened. In the first film, Leatherface shows fear when new people enter his home.
Leatherface's family uses the bones of the people he kills, along with some animal bones for decoration, and human skin to upholster bone-based furniture similar to a leather couch, to build the inside of their house. They process the victims' flesh into barbecue and chili, which Drayton Sawyer, a skilled chef, sells at his restaurant/gas station, "Last Chance Gas." Drayton also enters the human flesh chili dishes the brothers prepare at cook-offs, feeding it to unsuspecting customers and judges without telling them what they're eating, past the point of saying it's "prime meat," and that the key to his recipe is to "never shirk on the meat" (according to the sequel, Drayton has won two cooking awards doing this). As previously stated above, aside from Leatherface and Drayton, the Sawyer clan includes several more brothers, a hitchhiker named Nubbins Sawyer, Nubbins' twin brother, a Vietnam vet known as Chop Top or Plate Head, a hitchhiking cowboy named Eddie/Tex, a hook-handed man named Tech/Tinker, a deranged pervert named Alfredo/Fred, a tow-truck driver named Vilmer and a redneck know-it-all named W.E. Apart from the brothers, the Sawyer clan includes the supercentenarian Grandpa, the dead Grandma/Great-Grandma Sawyer (whose corpse has been poorly preserved), a wheelchair-bound mother called Mama who claims to have mutilated and promptly removed her own genitalia as well as those of the family patriarch a number of years ago, and Leatherface's daughter (first names unknown).
In the first film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), siblings Sally and Franklin Hardesty go out with their friends to investigate the robbing of a local cemetery in order to assure themselves of the safety of the Hardesty siblings' grandfather's grave. They run afoul of Nubbins and eventually the rest of the Sawyer family, culminating in Leatherface's killing of all but one of the group, the exception being Sally. Sally is kept alive and manages an escape attempt, with Leatherface and Nubbins in pursuit. Nubbins, being much faster than his considerably large brother, chases mere inches behind her, getting close enough to stifle her escape. However, he instead decides to toy with her by slashing at her back with his straight-razor knife out of sheer amusement. Sally manages to stop a passing truck, which runs over Nubbins, who was too enthralled with the damage he was doing to Sally to pay attention to where he was going, and practically jumps into the truck's path. While the panicking trucker and Sally escape, the trucker throws a pipe wrench at Leatherface, causing him to fall backwards and cut into his leg with his own chainsaw. After the driver panics and runs down the street, leaving Sally behind out of fear for his own life, Sally makes another escape attempt, and manages to escape Leatherface by lunging into the bed of a pickup truck, parrying Leatherface's chainsaw out of her face as the truck drives away. Angered by the loss of his target and understanding how much trouble he's in, as she would surely inform the authorities, he begins angrily swinging his running chainsaw around in all directions, holding the trigger down to rev the saw up as he does it. This scene is considered one of the most iconic moments in horror history, and ever since, has been referred to by fans as the "chainsaw dance."
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, a direct sequel to the 1974 film, featured a more campy and over-the-top atmosphere than the original. Tobe Hooper stated on The Shocking Truth that he wanted to expand on the dark comedy in the original film, as he felt no one truly picked up on this element. In this film, the Hitchhiker is replaced by his hippy twin brother Chop Top (who transforms his dead twin's corpse into a puppet), while the cook, Drayton, has become an award-winning chef. Leatherface develops a "crush" on one of his victims, and in one scene, removes the skin from the face of her still-living friend and places it on her to hide her from the rest of his family. At the end of the film, he apparently dies in an explosion after being impaled with a chainsaw in a fight with the uncle of his previous victims from the first film. Leatherface's clan's last name is also revealed in the film when brother Drayton wins a local cook-off, their family name being Sawyer.
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, became the second sequel in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre film series. The film was made as a reboot and a sequel, so the audience could interpret it as a direct sequel or as an alternative sequel in a different continuity of the previous two films, though several references are made to the previous two films, including Leatherface having a knee brace from his chainsaw accident at the climax of the first film, brother Alfredo owning a gas station and truck labeled "Last Chance Gas", the family's last name remaining Sawyer from the previous film and the inclusion of several characters from both earlier films. The filmmakers attempted to make the series darker and grittier (much as the film-makers of the original had intended), but they had to tone it down and change the ending after interventions from the MPAA. New Line released an uncut version to the home-video market in 2003. In this film Leatherface has an extended family and a daughter, possibly the product of a rape.
A four-issue comic series based on the film, entitled Leatherface, was created; portions of the comics are narrated by and shown from Leatherface's point of view. Note that horror actor Kane Hodder choreographed the stunts and played the stunt-double Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation's prologue describes the second and third films as "two minor, yet apparently related incidents". The film features Leatherface as a yelping, pizza-eating transvestite involved in an Illuminati conspiracy to provide society a source of horror, and, again, with a different family.
Texas Chainsaw 3D, a Leatherface returned in the direct sequel to the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The films picks up directly where the original 1974 film ended, thus ignoring the events of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, as Sally escapes and flees to the local Sheriff of Newt, Texas, whom then drives out to the Sawyer property to arrest Leatherface. However, during the negotiation between the sheriff and the Sawyer clan, a rowdy group of local citizens arrive, intent on vigilante justice, and soon the townspeople toss a molotov cocktail onto the Sawyer house, setting it on fire, as a large shoot-out begins between the angry mob and the Sawyers, in which all but three Sawyer family members die, the survivors being Leatherface, his apparent sister and her baby daughter. Later that night, the half dead Sawyer female is found by one of the vigilantes, whom promptly kicks her to death, whilst he steals her baby, which he gives to his childless wife as a gift. Several years later, the surviving Sawyer baby, the young adult Heather, learns of her true parentage via news of her natural grandmother's recent death. Heather is then invited to go to Newt, Texas, because she was left a large estate in her grandmother's will. Heather's boyfriend Ryan and a couple of friends accompany her to give her support. However, they soon discover that Heather was not the only Sawyer to survive the 1973 house fire, because living in the basement of the large family home is her cousin Leatherface, whom soon begins another killing spree. In this film Leatherface is identified as Jedidiah Sawyer.
In a post-credits scene, Heather's adoptive parents arrive at the mansion, greedily discussing how they plan to split the assets Heather now owns. Leatherface then shocks them as he answers the door, chainsaw in hand.
Remake and prequel
Marcus Nispel directed a remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 2003. Its success greenlit a prequel, released in 2006, which delved into the origins of Leatherface and of his family. In this continuity, Leatherface's real name is Thomas Brown Hewitt; his mother Sloane dies giving birth to him on August 25, 1939 at the Blair Meat Co., a slaughterhouse where she works, and her uncaring boss leaves the infant to die in a dumpster. Luda Mae Hewitt finds him and takes him home to raise him.
The Hewitts worked at the Blair Meat Co., but after losing their jobs they switched to kidnapping people, murdering them (often by chainsaw or shotgun) and butchering their flesh, as family member Charlie claims that he got the idea from eating human flesh in the Korean War after he became a prisoner of war. The prequel reveals that they do eat the meat of their victims; the remake only implies this.
Leatherface in this continuity suffers from a facial disfigurement and a skin disease that caused severe deformities and tumors to his face. Due to this disfigurement, his muteness and mental retardation (carried over from the first series), other children bullied the boy. He wore a small leather mask to cover up his deformity, and worked at the same meat factory where he was born, for the same boss as his mother - the same man who had left him for dead. He also had a tendency toward self-mutilation, and a doctor diagnosed him as suffering from a type of neurodegeneration at age 12.
After health inspectors shut the factory down, Hewitt's boss and a reluctant co-worker ordered him to leave. When Hewitt didn't, the boss and the co-worker bullied him, calling him a "retard" and a "dumb animal". Acting on a long-burning rage, Hewitt killed his boss with a sledgehammer. He later discovered the chainsaw he used as a weapon after searching the now abandoned factory. When Winston Hoyt, the local sheriff, tried to apprehend him, Thomas' uncle, Charlie Hewitt came to his aid and killed the sheriff with his own gun. Charlie later assumed the sheriff's identity.
Hewitt later made masks of human skin by slicing off the faces of his victims.
Although Leatherface's family still manipulate him in this interpretation, they do show themselves somewhat more caring for him and less abusive than in the original film. Before killing the sheriff, his uncle Charlie even defends him by saying, "He's not retarded, he's misunderstood." The cruelty he suffers at the hands of his peers, in part, inspires his murderous behavior, however it's his uncle, Charlie, who encourages his anti-social behaviour and impulses.
At the climax of the remake, protagonist Erin Hardesty cuts off Leatherface's chainsaw-wielding arm with a meat cleaver, and Erin is able to escape him, though Leatherface survives the cleaver attack. Leatherface escapes after police discover his ranch house and find the remains of 33 people. The police fail to secure the crime scene properly, allowing Leatherface to attack and kill two officers. Leatherface then escapes and disappears, and the case remains open.
Andrew Bryniarski, who portrayed Leatherface in the remake, states: "In my estimation, Leatherface is like a beaten dog — he was ostracized and ridiculed, and treated harshly by his peers. The psychological damage they inflicted was immense — there's no chance for him." Terrence Evans, who played Leatherface's uncle Old Monty, says, "I think there was a chance Thomas' life could have been different. But the teasing he suffered, coupled with a bad temper, and following Hoyt around like a puppy dog, left room for Hoyt to get absolute control."
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Writer Mort Castle based the 1991 Leatherface miniseries loosely on the third Texas Chainsaw Massacre film. He stated: "The series was very loosely based on Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. I worked from the original script by David Schow and the heavily edited theatrical release of director Jeff Burr, but had more or less free rein to write the story the way it should have been told. The first issue sold 30,000 copies." Kirk Jarvinen drew the first issue, and Guy Burwell finished the rest of the series.
The comics, not having the same restrictions from the MPAA, featured much more gore than the finished film. The ending, as well as the fates of several characters, also changed. The roles of the Sawyer family members and their personal backgrounds are also elaborated on, for instance Mama reveals that Grandpa was adopted into the family, Tinker is revealed to be a former hippy and Tex is seen to be the more sane family member, actually showing some signs of remorse. Much of the story takes place from Leatherface's point of view.
In 1995, Topps Comics released the three-issue miniseries Jason vs. Leatherface, a non-canonical crossover between the Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises, written by Nancy A. Collins with art by Jeff Butler.
The series premise involves accidentally placing Jason Voorhees, the main antagonist of Friday the 13th, on a train headed for a dumping ground in Mexico when Crystal Lake is drained of radioactive waste by a company. Running amok on the train, Jason kills its crew and causes the vehicle to crash in Texas, where he meets and befriends Leatherface and his inbred family (consisting of Cook, Hitchhiker, Grandpa and several other original relatives, all of them dead). After he lives with the family for a day, relations between them and Jason ultimately sour due to a series of misunderstandings (including Jason seeing a maskless Leatherface's badly deformed face, which greatly angers Leatherface, who is self-conscious), which result in Leatherface and Jason battling. In the end, Hitchhiker apparently kills Jason with a sledgehammer and the family dumps him in a nearby lake. But Jason arises several hours later and decides to begin trekking back "home" to Camp Crystal Lake, away from the place that encouraged dangerous things such as friendship.
In 2005, Avatar Press began to release Texas Chainsaw Massacre comics, set in the continuity of the 2003 remake of the original film, but serving as prequels to the film. The comics had a multitude of variant covers, such as "Gore", "Terror" and "Die Cut".
The final release by Avatar Press, the one-shot The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Fearbook, had text written by Antony Johnston with art by Daniel HDR and Mauricio Dias. The premise of this one-shot involves a quartet of friends in the midst of a cross-country trip who run afoul of Sheriff Hoyt, who forcibly takes them to the Hewitt house, where Leatherface kills them all except one, a girl named Lucy, whom he knocks unconscious; Leatherface, when Lucy awakens, puts on a mask created from her boyfriend's face and hammers one of his own masks onto her before forcing her to dance with him as she succumbs to her injuries.
Leatherface became a prominent character in Wildstorm Comics's continuation of the remakes. With the family exposed after the events of the first film, the comics show the Hewitt family living in a series of tunnels in the sewers of Travis County.
As at the end of the remake, Leatherface in the comics has only one arm. Halfway through the first story arc, Leatherface's uncle Monty helps Leatherface build a "prosthetic arm" (consisting of a hook attached to a bone and tied to Leatherface's arm with a belt) to assist with his nephew's handicap. Leatherface later uses this hook in addition to his chainsaw on victims, at one point spearing a man's leg to prevent him from escaping.
The comics also imply that the other people in the town, while perhaps not involved with the Hewitts' cannibalism, at least know of it and have agreed to help them deal with outsiders. In one scene, when a potential victim runs into a bar looking for help, she is stopped from calling the police by the owner and patrons, who tell her that they "don't want no Hewitt trouble." They later reprimand Leatherface for not looking after his "livestock."
Later one-shot comics published by Wildstorm also dealt with Leatherface. One of them, About a Boy, focused on parts of Leatherface's childhood that The Beginning did not reveal. It shows that bullies severely picked on Thomas Hewitt as a child, and thus he spent most of his time alone drawing in his notebook, hunting and skinning animals, and later making clothing out of them. A foreshadowing of his future as Leatherface takes place when, after the book's antagonist, Chris, the leader of the bullies, throws rocks at him at a swimming-hole, Thomas attacks Chris and skins off his face while he is still alive.
About a Boy also details how the Hewitt family remain for the most part apathetic towards Thomas's actions. His brother/uncle Charlie (the future Hoyt) helps him get rid of Chris's body (his only criticism stating that Thomas needs to "learn how to fix 'em proper", after putting the faceless victim out of his misery with a shotgun). Later, after Thomas's teacher Mr. Hanson questions Luda May about her son's behavior and tells her that he plans to file a report with the city to get him some help, Luda May bashes his head in with a shovel and kills him, stating, "There is nothing wrong with my boy."
In the original film, Leatherface wore three different masks: the "Killing Mask", "Old Lady Mask" and "Pretty Woman Mask". Gunnar Hansen commented: "The reason he wore a mask, according to Tobe and Kim, was that 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." The "Pretty Woman" outfit consists of a female wig and a black suit, as Leatherface is "dressing up" for dinner, an old deep south tradition which stems from his southern upbringing, and the "Killing Mask" is the skin mask he wears while chasing and murdering captives. Tobe Hooper also discussed the multiple masks and dinner scene on the audio commentary for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Hansen later added, "The idea of the mask is that there is no personality under the mask. That was the idea in talking with Tobe and Kim. When they created the character, they said he has to put on masks to express himself because he himself can't do it. The way we tried to create him, there is nothing under the mask, which is what makes him so frightening."
The remake offered a more concrete explanation as to why Leatherface wore masks. As a child, a severe facial deformity ate away most of his nose and made him subject to cruel ridicule from his peers. Prior to killing people, he wore animal hides, cloths and leather masks that covered up the bottom of his face. Later he began to skin some of the people he killed and wore their faces as masks. In contrast to the original film, Leatherface does not seem to have different masks for different purposes, although he does change masks occasionally. He appears briefly without his mask on in one scene of remake, his face suffers badly from deterioration and he is missing a portion of his nose. According to the Making of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, How Thomas loses his nose is while at the slaughterhouse searching for Chrissy, distracted by Dean calling out for her, she attacks him and cuts Thomas badly on the nose with a knife she found.
The Wildstorm comics that took place in the remake's continuity had Leatherface taking off his mask when alone with his family, something that did not occur in any of the original films.
In other media
Leatherface is featured as a guest character in the 2015 fighting game Mortal Kombat X. Leatherface is available in three different variations; a 'Killer' outfit based off his standard appearance in the original 1974 film, a 'Pretty Lady' outfit based off his appearance at the end of the original film and a 'Butcher' outfit which is similar to his appearance in the 2003 remake. Each variation comes with different abilities and fighting styles. He is able to use both his chainsaw and his hammer as weapons. Leatherface's story involves him killing various combatants in a quest to impress Cassie Cage. After Leatherface kills Shinnok, he cuts off his face and presents it to Cage after murdering several of her friends to get to her. She reacts with condemnation, so Leatherface kills her as well and cuts her up into "tiny pieces" for use in his brother's chili. The story concludes with Leatherface removing Cage's face and setting to work on it for a new mask, deciding that "if she wouldn't be his girlfriend, she could still be his...in other ways".
- Hansen on Leatherface and his family.[dead link]
- His brother, The Hitchhiker, was supposed to be home watching over him, to keep the mentally-retarded Leatherface from doing anything that could get them in trouble, or worse, caught and brought to justice. Instead, he ditched Leatherface and his babysitting duties to go graverobbing and take some pictures of the corpses he dug up, allowing Leatherface to 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. By coincidence, earlier in the film, the group gave his hitchhiking brother who was meant to watch him a ride halfway to the house they ultimately died in. Gregory, David (Director and Writer) (2000). Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (Documentary). Blue Underground.
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