I just found out that Gunnar Hansen passed away of pancreatic cancer at age 68, and it’s a weird feeling, having such a monumental figure in horror die like this. Not to mention the fact that Hansen was, by all appearances, a kind and gentle person in life.
He studied poetry in college. Did some acting. For him Texas Chainsaw was just an acting opportunity. Nobody, not even the filmmakers themselves, had any idea the impact this film would have on the industry. Those of you reading this are well aware of the legacy of ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ but it is almost impossible to be able to quantify the effect that this movie had on the industry. It was a horror flick made in a podunk town in Texas by some aspiring — though largely amateur / experimental — filmmakers. It was potentially financed by mob connections, and the actors, including Gunnar Hansen, purportedly made pennies on the dollar for their involvement in the making of the film.
If you’re looking to get a firsthand look at what happened on-set for the making of TCSM, or to understand more about Gunnar Hansen’s life, then you should check out his memoir of the making of the film, Chainsaw Confidential. It’s an interesting read, and provides wonderful insight into the making of a horror movie, something I feel we don’t get enough of.
On a side note, my first memory of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not really even a memory at all. My mother used to tell this story of renting the movie when I was two years old and my older brothers were considerably older — twelve and thirteen, respectively — and watching it with them while my father was out-of-town on work-related matters.
She said it scared the group of us so badly that we slept in the bed with her for three weeks afterward. That story became a sort of shorthand for how effective that movie is, and anytime I see Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface, that’s the story I contemplate. I think millions upon millions of people have a similar story to tell about their experiences with that movie, and I think that’s the point. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t a towering inferno of a horror movie because it’s on a bunch of lists. It’s THE horror movie, in a lot of ways, because of the groundswell of love for it, and Gunnar Hansen is intimately linked to that movie, so here’s to that man. May he rest in peace.