Leatherface was a fictional character, but some of the elements from 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were loosely based on true stories. The slasher was directed by horror legend Tobe Hooper for a remarkably low budget, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or "Chain Saw" as it was first written, is still considered one of the most influential movies in the horror genre.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre followed a young woman named Sally and her brother as they traveled to an old family home in Texas with a few friends. On their way, they run out of gas so they stop at a nearby house for some assistance. The house was owned by a family of crazed cannibals, particularly the chainsaw-wielding villain, Leatherface. The giant madman killed Sally's brother and friends while she was held hostage inside the home. Leatherface and his family then tortured Sally until she found an opportunity to escape.
1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was loosely inspired by a number of real-life events that caught the attention of Hooper. The concept for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came to Hooper in the early '70s, as he was directly inspired by much of the violence featured on various San Antonio news outlets. More specifically, Hooper credited serial killers Ed Gein and Elmer Wayne Henley as the influence for Leatherface. Like Gein, who was also the inspiration behind Norman Bates in Psycho, Leatherface had a history of wearing women's clothes and mutilating bodies. The idea of the chainsaw being used as the primary weapon came to Hooper when he was stuck in a hardware store and envisioned ways to violently get through the crowd.
Many viewers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre walked away thinking that the film was actually based on true events. This was due to the fact that the opening narration insinuated that the film was based on a true story and "one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history." The narration decision was made by Hooper as a marketing tactic to attract a wider audience. He also wanted the misleading information to act as a response to cultural and political discussions involving lies from the government during that time.
Leatherface wearing the skin of other people was meant to add a level of mystery to a faceless killer. The figure went on to justify his case as one of the most iconic figures in horror history. The character, as well as elements from the original film, were credited as the inspiration for a number of other horror movies in the following decades. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's success led to the creation of a long-lasting franchise. Sine the 1974 film, Leatherface has appeared in video games alongside many more movies, including a remake and two prequels.