Courtesy of Netflix, Leatherface returns to our screens nearly fifty years after his debut in Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The 2022 release is a direct sequel to the 1974 film, and based on social media posts from fans, it is perhaps more terrifying than the original.
Leatherface is a member of the cannibalistic Sawyer family, who, rather handily, wears a leather face made from human skin. The use of human skin to make objects might seem fictitious, but it famously happened in Plainfield, Wisconsin, in the 1950s: Ed Gein used human skin and bones to fashion artifacts for his home.
Unsurprisingly, Ed Gein is one of the inspirations behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Leatherface, aka Ed Gein, passed away in 1984 due to cancer complications
Ed Gein’s horror earned him many nicknames, including the Butcher of Plainfield and the Plainfield Ghoul. However, compared to other murderers of the United States ‘golden age of serial murder,’ Gein had a modest body count of two.
Gein preferred to skin bodies that were already dead, but his bloodlust drove him to kill Mary Hogan in 1954 and Bernice Worden in 1957. Rural Plainfield learned that a monster lived in plain sight when police visited Ed’s house to investigate Worden’s disappearance.
Ed was an unusual character, and based on the bloodstains at Bernice’s hardware store, police expected to find her murdered. However, they didn’t expect to discover the house of horrors curated by Ed Gein.
Authorities found all manner of objects, including Ed’s chair, upholstered in human skin. They found a belt made of nipples, lips fashioned into a drawstring, a lampshade made from a human face, and masks made from faces.
Leatherface’s skin mask makes him infinitely more terrifying than an ordinary man carrying a chainsaw. Gein did not wear a leather face – at least not in public – but director Tobe Hooper admitted that he studied Ed Gein when creating the film.
Tobe added that serial murderer Elmer Wayne Henley also inspired the film. Fellow killer Dean Corll influenced Wayne to lure, rape, and murder teenage boys. Hooper used his narrative to craft the sadistic Sawyer family.
Neither Ed nor Elmer used chainsaws to commit crimes. Ed preferred a gun, while Elmer used deception to snare would-be victims. Tobe told Texas Monthly that he dreamed up the idea of a chainsaw during Christmas:
“There were these big Christmas crowds, I was frustrated, and I found myself near a display rack of chain saws. I just kind of zoned in on it. I did a rack focus to the saws, and I thought, ‘I know a way I could get through this crowd really quickly.’”
Ed Gain spent the rest of his life in mental institutions. Doctors diagnosed him as schizophrenic; he never recovered enough to stand trial. Ed Gein, the inspiration behind Leatherface, passed away due to cancer complications at the Mendota Health Institute aged 77.
Elmer Wayne Henley was sentenced to six 99-year terms and will likely die in prison.
Ed Gein stated that he wanted to crawl into his mother’s skin
Ed Gein’s obsessive mother didn’t help the mentally fragile Ed. Gein’s mental fragility manifested itself through strange mannerisms. He was often alone as his mother rebuked any attempts by Ed to socialize.
Gein’s mother, Augusta Wilhelmine, taught Ed and his brother that women other than herself were evil. She referred to immorality and drinking as vessels of the devil. Augusta used their isolated family home to turn away anyone that could influence her sons.
Ed’s brother, Henry George, wriggled out of Augusta’s spell and secretly started to detest her. Ed, however, adored Augusta and couldn’t stand Henry’s hatred of her. It’s believed that Ed killed Henry to avenge Augusta and remove any obstacle between him and her.
Unfortunately, Augusta suffered a stroke shortly after George’s death. Following a second stroke, her health declined rapidly. Augusta passed away in December 1945; for the first time in Ed’s life, he was utterly alone.
However, Ed refused to let go of Augusta. He convinced himself that he could recreate her using skin from corpses. Gein targeted the local graveyard, where he exhumed bodies. Ed then transported them to his isolated residence and used them to craft clothing and household artifacts.
Evidence suggests that he killed when the need for fresh parts emerged. Authorities found Worden decapitated, bound by ropes, and hung upside down by her legs. Ed had removed some internal organs and started skinning her body.
Ed revealed his motive: he wanted to create a ‘woman suit’ resembling Augusta that he could crawl into. Gein’s obsession with Augusta – which she’s entirely responsible for – fueled his depravity.