Leatherface first appeared in 1974 in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He is the main killer in the film and went on to feature in the three sequels and the recent remake and prequel. The original character was played by Gunnar Hansen but a number of actors have taken the role in subsequent films.
Leatherface is so called because he wears a mask of human skin carved from one of his victims. Bullied by the rest of his hillbilly clan he murders with a chainsaw or sledgehammer and seems to be severely mentally retarded. In the original two films made by Tobe Hooper we learn little else about him and he dies after being impaled and blown up at the end of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
In the 2003 remake we get a history of Leatherface, supposedly his real name is Thomas Hewitt and his mother dies giving birth to him at a meat plant. He is picked out of a dumpster by his new adoptive family who treat him like some kind of pet. According to the remake he also has some kind of facial deformity and that's why he wears a mask. More interestingly in the original film he wears three masks and Hooper's idea was that he´d wear a different mask to represent his different personalities.
The real life killer Ed Gein has long been claimed as the obvious inspiration for Leatherface, he wore a mask and suit of female human skin because he wanted to be a woman. Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and Norman Bates from Psycho are also both loosely based on Gein. Hooper said in an interview that members of his family lived down the road from Ed Gein and he grew up hearing stories about him but he was never the conscious inspiration for Leatherface, it was only a few years after the Chainsaw Massacre came out that he realised how similar the character was.
Leatherface also featured in a series of comic books from Wildstorm. He has definitely stuck in popular culture and the image of a killer with a chainsaw or a mask of human skin has often been repeated.
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