When you watch a horror film you always look for someone to identify with. Someone to root for, and more times than not you find a protagonist that you want to survive. A figure that will outlast the brutal monster or vengeful spirit on their tail.
Then there are those rarest of moments when you see something in the villain that you get. You see how what they are doing to these people may be justified in even the slightest way. Granted there are films where this is obviously not the case in any way. A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t depict Freddy Krueger as someone who was initially wronged before anything bad had happened and is now seeking vengeance. He’s just a legit monster.
So today we take a bit of a dive into what’s behind the human face mask and ask;
IS LEATHERFACE A SYMPATHETIC VILLAIN?
The origins of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre lay two-fold. Part in the history of the Butcher of Plainfield – Ed Gein. A convicted murderer and body snatcher from Plainfield, Wisconsin. Gein wasn’t a mass murderer or serial killer like a lot of folks like Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy, no what Gein did may be far far worse.
Gein only killed two women. Tavern owner Mary Hogan in 1954 and the owner of the Plainfield hardware store, Bernice Worden in 1957. When authorities caught up with Gein they found Worden’s decapitated body in a shed on his property, hung upside down by her legs with a crossbar at her ankles and her torso dressed out like a deer. The mutilations were made post mortem. I’m not here to get into the extremely gritty details but here is a small list of what he did, to show just how bad the man was. When searching the house authorities found:
Whole human bones and fragments, a wastebasket made of human skin, skulls on bedposts, a corset made from a female torso skinned from shoulders to waist, masks made from the skin of female heads and far too much more to count at this point. The list is horrifying.
A lot of thought is that Gein was so incredibly close to his mother and when she passed he had nothing and was almost seemingly unleashed onto the world. There is also speculation that Gein killed his brother because he spoke ill of their mother and told Ed to move away.
The other part of the origin of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre is from Tobe Hooper Christmas shopping. He was in a store full of people and kind of dreading the experience and saw a wall full of chain saws and thought about how using one would make things so much easier to get through.
But at the end of the day, we aren’t here to talk about the shopping mishaps of Tobe Hooper or the use of human skin as a decorative mantlepiece in the Gein household. This is about Leatherface and whether or not he’s the monster that he’s made out to be.
For this, we are only going to focus on the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Because the character changed dramatically in the ensuing sequels. And as fun, as it would be to lay everything on “You don’t just walk into someone’s house, especially in West Texas”, I fear things are a little deeper than that!
Leatherface is mentally a child. Which is more than evident as we watch the film. And no I’m not using the “He didn’t know any better” argument but its partially that. The only sequel I feel captured the characters of the original is Texas Chainsaw 3D (with the exception of that horrible line. You know the one).
In that film, they openly say that he was just defending his home. The only person he openly stalked in the original film was Sally and that’s just because she had gotten away and he was worried about what would happen to him. What his family would do to him. Leatherface is a man of immense size and yet when the Cook asserts himself, Leatherface cowers in fear to a man much less his size and stature.
Plus there is the elephant in the room we need to discuss in the scene where he sits by the window, rocking back and forth, obviously nervous about what’s going on and what the outcome will be. Where are these people coming from!? We catch a glimpse of his face for the first time. The closest we get to it at least and we notice that his teeth and mangled and he reacts like someone who doesn’t work with his full mental capacity, possibly from generations of inbreeding.
Then once they have Sally back in the house and detained, you notice that Leatherface isn’t reacting violently to her like the Hitchhiker is. He isn’t going after her like a real monster would, with malice and an abnormal lack of compassion. He almost seems curious about her, inspecting her closely as she sits there tied up and doesn’t start to scream till the Hitchhiker does mockingly.
He is the least evil of his family by far. Anything he does he does so out of fear or obedience to them. He’s prone to tantrums if someone he catches gets away. It’s almost like Leatherface suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder or Multiple Personality Disorder. At the very least an intellectual disability.
So when the saw has quieted and the screams have subsided, and all you can see are the stars in the dark Texas sky, we are left with the question; IS LEATHERFACE A SYMPATHETIC VILLAIN?
Well if we only focus on the Leatherface that we see on August 18, 1973, then the verdict would have to be a very simple one. Yes. Leatherface is a sympathetic villain. Because at the end of the day, one could argue that he isn’t the villain at all. That is just the weapon that the rest of the family uses in order to accumulate victims.
What about you? Do you think Leatherface is a sympathetic villain? Let us know below!