The Saw Is Family [R.I.P]

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Gunnar Hansen who played the original Leatherface has passed away. He was 68 years young. While he only played Leatherface once, he went on to appear in numerous other horror films as well as parodies over the years. The title quote is actually from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (which Gunnar was not in), but it seemed very apt for horror fans mourning an icon.

The first time I saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre was on Christmas day. I’d heard about it for years, but living in a small town it was nearly impossible to track down a copy. Sam The Record Man didn’t carry it. The remake was still a couple years away. It had been stolen so many times at the two video stores my family went to, they stopped replacing it. That was actually a big issue in the area.

Anyway, I was an awkward teenager who had graduated from being obsessed with spooky kids movies (Dark Crystal, Monster Squad, The Addams Family, Gremlins, Tim Burton’s early works) to being a full blown horror fan. In no small part due to a VHS copy of Nightmare on Elm Street 1 through 3 that my babysitter taped off the movie network; whose daughter had shown it to an impressionable 12 year old me. I quickly became obsessed and was introduced to Halloween, Hellraiser, Carrie and countless other classics. But Chainsaw was rumoured to be banned in Canada (this was before the internet was big in Canada). What was a baby gay gore fan to do?

My father was a long haul truck driver, and in his attempt to encourage my more “manly” interests, had taken to my new found horror love. While definitely not a horror fan himself, we had always had a strained relationship for a number of reasons we won’t get into. He was the one who got me my Nightmare On Elm Street box set for my birthday in 2002. At the time Amazon wasn’t a thing, and stuff like that wasn’t available at the Mall. That year for Christmas, my mom told him I wanted a copy of a movie that was banned in Canada. Since he worked in the states for the most part, he picked up a copy on dvd and brought it home to place under the tree.

As a weirdo with vague authority issues, I of course brought it with me to my Aunt’s house where the family would hang out while my mom, aunt and grandmother made Christmas dinner. Since my aunt is what one might call rich (unlike us), she had several rooms with TVs. So after being resolutely bored with cousins who view reading as something one only does because children are legally required to attend school. I snuck off to a small den with a dvd player and popped the movie in. It was unlike anything I had seen before. And Leatherface was mind blowing. He had all the unspeaking terror of Michael Myers. The bizarre home full of skeleton furniture like something from Pinhead’s home decorating blog. The mad cap weirdness of Freddy Krueger.

Horror fans often have very vivid memories of certain films and seeing them for the first time. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of only a handful of movies I actually watched for the first time with an adult. It was a formative experience to say the least. We lost Marilyn Burns and now Gunnar, but we will always have the memories. Rest in peace Gunnar.

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