March 08, 1993 12:00 PM

LEATHERFACE,THE MASKED MAN WHO ran amok in the 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was last seen at the film’s conclusion in a danse macabre, his chain-saw slicing the air as a would-be victim made her escape. Nearly 20 years later, the cult hit has been re-released, and Gunnar Hansen, 45, is wondering whether he’ll ever escape the monster he played. Now a writer who lives alone in Maine, producing poetry and features for several magazines, the ex-actor has had as much luck escaping Leather-face as did most of his screen victims. “I could win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and my gravestone would say, ‘Gunnar Hansen: He was Leatherface,’ ” he laments. “It is a strange juxtaposition—Leatherface whipping his mask off and pulling out a quill.”

Hansen—who came to Maine at the age of 5 from his native Iceland with his divorced mother and older brother—became Leatherface almost by chance. In 1973 he had finished an M.A. in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Texas, where he had acted in a few student productions. An acquaintance told him he was perfect for a horror film then in the works. Days later he met director Tobe Hooper and screenwriter Kim Henkel. “They said, ‘Are you violent?’ I said no. ‘Are you crazy?’ No. ‘Can you do it?’ Yes.”

A handful of B roles followed, but Hansen returned to Maine in 1975 to concentrate on writing. He is the author of the forthcoming book Islands at the Edge of Time, an account of barrier-island life, and is currently coauthoring a book about Texas mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas.

Hansen doesn’t expect his life to change when Leatherface re-emerges this month. His take was $2,800 the first time around, and with the small cut he’ll earn from the reissue, “I may get enough to take a friend out to dinner,” he says. As for attracting a new generation of Leatherface fans, he’s not interested. “People come up and say, ‘Didn’t you used to be Gunnar Hansen?’ ” He laughs. “I say, ‘Yeah, I still am.’ ”

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