Monday, November 9, 2015

Gunnar Hansen: The Passing of a Horror Icon.

Every generation has their iconic movie monsters, for kids in the 1940s 1950s and 1960s they had Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. We had Gunnar Hansen.

The year was 1974 and the America was going through many social changes and political upheaval. People would pick up the paper and read about Watergate,Patty Hearst and and a gas shortage. It was also the year "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was unleashed on movie goers. Audiences were shocked at the presents of this towering man wearing human flesh as a mask and jumped when they heard the mighty roar of a power tool he wielded. In the films final frames, as Leatherface does his chainsaw dance in the glow of the setting sun few film patrons knew they had just witnessed the birth of the first modern horror icon. Under that frightening mask of skin (Or in this case rubber) was Mr. Gunnar Hansen who stood an imposing 6 feet four inches.

The Man Behind the Mask: 
Gunnar Hansen was born March 4th 1947 in Reykjavik, Iceland which is the Capital, known for its mountains, sweeping landscapes and booming nightlife. At age five his family had moved to the United States, settling in Maine. Hansen was a bright student with high marks in both Mathematics and English and would later attended the University of Texas. Fresh out of college his first job was in the computer field but his true passion was writing. He had been published in several magazines and tried his hand at screen writing. Fate it seems would have something totally different in store for the hulking actor. Gunnar had met Tobe Hooper a bright young man looking to make his mark in cinema and he was looking for his villain, a leather skin wearing brute who has a fetish for killing and power tools.  After a successful interview he would don the now iconic leather mask and apron and the film would roll on "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" Though he utters no actual dialogue he along with Hooper created a language all his own and helped add layers to the character. It was a hot and grueling shoot but nobody could predict that they were going to make film history and literally change the face of horror films forever.

Life after "Chainsaw" 
Work was few and far between after filming wrapped.Later that year he starred in "The Demon Lover" in 1977 and only one film in the 80s, the now cult film "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers" However it was the late 80s he would see a resurgence in popularity and worked steady in the 90s and continuing for the rest of his career. One thing about Gunnar was despite playing big bad brutes he was in reality a very kind and thoughtful man who very much enjoyed meeting and talking to his fans at various conventions such as Chiller, Monster Mania, Cinema Wasteland etc. Film maker Jeff Burr was in pre production on the third Leatherface Texas Chainsaw Massacre III for New Line. He wanted Gunnar to reprise the role that made him famous. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr.Burr and he had this say regarding Gunnar
"Basically in a sense I felt obligated to Gunnar. I had met him and he had not been in number two and I felt I should offer it to him. So I offered it to Gunnar and I thought it would increase awareness of this movie and I thought since the title was Leather and having the quote unquote real Leatherface would be a perfect marriage. But unfortunately he wanted more money than what New Line was willing to pay and what he wanted wasn't out of line as all it was absolutely a fair figure. So once Gunnar was out of the picture" 

Strangely enough in 2003 he was asked to make a cameo in the remake of "Texas Chainsaw" but declined because he felt it was a classic not to be remade. In 2007 he starred in "Brutal Massacre: A Comedy" and he got to show off his skills in breaking people up, this time not with a chainsaw but with his comedic timing. He dove into the role with much madcap gusto and steals every scene hes in. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. Ironically one of his finale film roles was in "Texas Chainsaw 3d" in 2013. It seems that his career had come full circle.

I woke up yesterday morning and was shocked to read on my news feed that Gunnar Hansen has passed away at only 68 years old. To many fans it was not just merely an actor who died but a larger than life iconic movie monster, there Karloff or Lugosi. Not long after his agent confirmed the tragic news an out pour from fans flooded social media, sharing stories and pictures. It is just further proof of how this man touched so many lives. Truly its a huge lose, not only was he a talented guy but was very generous with his fans, something that is sadly becoming rare these days. I`d like to share my own experience.

Meeting Gunnar: Like so many other horror fans this movie made such a huge impression on me and I knew what I saw was something very special.  Over a decade ago I had the extreme pleasure of attending "Cinema Wastelands Chainsaw 30th Reunion" It was the first time coming face to face with the very imposing Gunnar. Being fairly new to conventions and a long time fan I`m not ashamed to admit i was a little bit nervous. I had in my hands a poster (replica because I was a poor High School Student) and my 18" Leatherface figure (McFarland) which was a Christmas present from my parents (and the coolest gift I`ve ever received) I approached him and to my delight he had a huge smile and said "Hello" As a dork I said how much I loved him in Texas Chainsaw which was something he heard all day i`m sure, but he was very humble and said Thanks and he enjoyed seeing the figure and told some behind the scene stories. Later on I got to meet Paul Partin, Robert A Burns, Marilyn Burns who all sadly passed away untimely. Looking back it remains bitter sweet but out of all the conventions I would later attend it remains my favorite.

Famed horror artist Jason Edmiston whose art can be seen on posters, blu releases and Neca toys gave Gorehound Mike's blog this exclusive quote:

"Gunnar Hansen's portrayal of Leatherface was terrifying and nuanced. Despite never revealing his full face, you got the clear impression that he was a disturbed, confused baby inside the body of a giant killing machine. Simple minded, but extremely loyal to his maniacal family members. All of this was evident despite never speaking a word of actual dialog."

Senior Writer at Gregory Burkart had this to say to Gorehound Mike's
I've had the honor of sharing Gunnar's company a few times over the past 20 years, and each time I learned something amazing. My favorite was a Weekend of Horrors back in the mid-'90s -- he was very tired and I didn't want to take up his time, but we got to talking about Viking history, and you could see him light up with enthusiasm. That's my lasting image of him, as a wise and sharing person.

Before Michael Myers stalked babysitters in Haddonfield and Jason donned his famous hockey mask, the gentle giant Gunnar terrified millions of people and made a huge impression on many including this humble film journalist. Gunnar Hansen may be gone but his legacy he left us will live on in celluloid form. Also he will remain alive in the treasured memories of the people he worked with and the many fans that was lucky enough to meet the man behind the mask.

R.I.P March 4th 1947- November 7th-2015

A Special Thank you to Jason and Gregory for taking time to share your thoughts with us. 

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