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Why Does Leatherface Wear A Mask? The Reason Is Creepier Than You Remember

If there's one fashion staple no self-respecting horror movie murderer can live without, it's an iconic mask.

From Michael Myers in "Halloween" to Jason in the "Friday the 13th" films, unforgettable headgear is basically the number one must-have serial killer accessory, and Leatherface from "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" is no exception. His unsightly flaps of loose human skin tell everyone exactly what they need to know about him. In fact, his mask is such a statement piece, he's basically named after it.

But why does Leatherface wear his mask? Insofar as we can ever assign normal reasoning to larger-than-life slasher villains, that is. Does he wear it just to scare people? Does it cover up an even more terrifying visage? Is he paying homage to Ed Gein, as many who wonder if "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" was based on a true story might think? Or is he simply trying to be more proactive with his skincare, with the mask providing valuable protection from the merciless Texas sun? Let's peel back those layers of human leather and take a peek at what lies beneath.

Leatherface's mask as personality substitute

In the original "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," you might notice that Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) actually has a small collection of different masks that he wears throughout the film. Although the hulking murderer is the iconic villain of the piece, he's surrounded by a family just as evil and bloodthirsty as he is, and his masks represent his efforts to fill the various roles expected of him by his relatives. We've got the Old Lady mask, which is used while Leatherface operates in the domestic sphere; the Pretty Woman mask, which provides a dolled-up look for special occasions like when Leatherface attends family dinner; and the Killing mask, which is ... well, self-explanatory.

In interviews, Hansen has expressed the belief that these different masks were representative of the various personalities his character wanted to embrace in different moments. Since Leatherface is not, it would seem, one of the most expressive villains in the horror canon, his reliance on these masks to take on various moods and personas is significant.

Masking to cover facial difference

But although that's the approach the original film takes, 2006's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" offers an origin story that gives us a different explanation for Leatherface's iconic masks.

In this film, Leatherface has a facial difference that he seeks to hide, having experienced a childhood injury that destroyed his nose and a large portion of his lower face. This creates a more sympathetic aspect to the character: His original intentions behind the increasingly frightening masks were not born out of malice, but simply the hope that they would prevent him from being bullied by his peers. Although this doesn't excuse the horrors Leatherface goes on to unleash, it does give viewers a logical — and even quite sad — explanation for his choice in facial accessories.

However, the two backstories we've been given regarding Leatherface's masks don't necessarily contradict one another. There's every possibility that what was originally meant to hide his facial differences eventually grew into a means of expression, allowing Leatherface to take on different personalities that suited him at any given moment.