Leatherface signs books, serves chili at Coast City Comicon
By Timothy Gillis
Gunnar Hansen, the actor who played Leatherface in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” will be appearing at this year’s Coast City Comicon, to sign autographs and discuss his new book. The comic book convention is at the DoubleTree in South Portland on Nov. 9 and 10. He will also host a chili cook-off and enter a concoction of his own recipe.
Fans of this spooky genre know Hansen’s alter ego, the intimidating Leatherface from the most famous horror film in history. Hansen also appeared in “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers” with fellow Coast City Comicon guest Linnea Quigley. Following a screening of their film, fans can participate in a Q&A session with Hansen and Quigley.
As part of Hansen’s appearance, he’ll be posing for photos with fans all weekend, and promoting his new book, which gives a compelling retelling of the making of the film and the reception it received in 1974.
“Chain Saw Confidential” is confidently written and engaging. It opens with an overt allusion to “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville, whose own hero was also disconsolate and looking for a sea change.
“Call me Leatherface. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse and nothing particular to interest me otherwise, I thought I would do a little acting and see how movies were made. Even once in a while, when the world gets to be too much and I start to feel a bit spleeny, I feel the need to lift my spirits by killing someone,” the book begins. It goes on to debunk many of the myths surrounding the movie – that it was based on a true story, that the stars made millions, and that someone died during filming.
Hansen, for all the notoriety, did not make much money for his part at the chain saw-wielding maniac who carves up a van full of teenagers and devours them with his crazed family.
“Back then, $10,000 or $15,000 would have meant the world to me,” Hansen said from his home on the coast of Maine last week. The movie’s backers were connected to the Colombo crime family in New York, and even a badass like Leatherface wasn’t going to tangle with them over a contract dispute.
The making of the film was horrific enough. Filmed in the Texan heat that often reached higher than 100 degrees, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was directed by Toby Hooper, who used method acting throughout the filming. He worked overtime to keep the actors in character and, especially, kept those who played victims away from the Chain Saw family, and Leatherface, in particular. Hansen spent many hours alone on the set between shots.
“My feeling was ‘he doesn’t trust his actors if he thinks they need to be genuinely frightened. I felt that was not a very insightful way to approach actors,” said Hansen. He conceded that Alfred Hitchcock had resorted to such measures when filming “The Birds,”
but he thought Hooper went too far in an unnecessary direction.
“When I interviewed for the role, Toby asked me if I was violent, if I was crazy. That concerned me. Does he think I need to be violent or crazy to act this part?” said Hansen, whose family moved from Iceland to Searsport when he was five years old. He subscribed to Looney Tunes comic books as an early way to learn English.
When approached for the film role, Hansen was a college student in Texas, delving into the poetry of T.S. Eliot.
“I tried to write short stories as a kid. In college, I was really interested in poetry, and was poetry editor on a magazine in Austin,” he said. He has published a chapbook of poems called “Bear Dancing on the Hill.” and has forayed into film, working on several documentaries.
“I started out writing them, and then directed and produced them as well,” Hansen said. “Of all of those functions, it was the writing I enjoyed the most.”
For the comic book convention, Hansen gets to get back into his Leatherface character. In addition to posing for pics and signing his new book, Hansen will also host a chili cook-off.
Jarrett Melendez, of Coast City Comics, said, “We’re tired of the conventions that just plop movie stars behind a table and have them sign stuff. We like being able to provide a more intimate experience for fans. They won’t just get herded through a line and shoved away before they can manage a quick ‘Hello.’ They can actually take a minute and talk with idols like Gunnar. Heck, they can even taste food that he made! You don’t get that at national shows like New York Comic Con or San Diego Comic Con.”
“I’ll bring some of my own chili down,” Hansen said. “I’m hoping we can set it up as a blind testing. I’d like to find out if people like my chili. If they don’t, I can always say, ‘Well, they’re not from Texas, so they don’t know chili.’ There aren’t any beans in Texas chili.”
When asked about the secret ingredient in his chili, Hansen said, “The only beans in my chili are human bein’s.”