Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
Glen Echo is known for its legend involving a boy named Leslie Vernon who is believed to have been possessed by evil and met his demise as he was thrown off a waterfall. Years later, after the serial killings in Haddonfield, Camp Crystal Lake, and Elm Street committed by Michael Myers, “Jason” Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger, respectively, Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), alive and well, invites a journalist, Taylor (Angela Goethals), and her two cameramen (Ben Pace, Britain Spellings) to document his methods prior to the terror he is about to unleash in his hometown.
Written by Scott Glosserman and David J. Stieve, one might assume that “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” is fun because its premise offers us a sneak peek on how a killer stalks his victims, manipulates their thoughts, and sets up his kill area. Although I was slightly amused, especially toward the beginning, its self-awareness eventually verges on boredom because it fails to offer the audience information that we do not already know. For instance, there are discussions about what the virgin means as a symbol, why she has to survive, and what she needs to do to be the last one standing. It is common knowledge, at least these days, that a virgin, almost always a woman, grabbing a knife or an ax, both resembling the shape of a phallus, is an act of claiming her sexuality. The interviews between Taylor and Leslie are supposed to be darkly comic, but the comedy relies on the information being given to us. Since we already know the implications, it is neither amusing nor interesting.
What I enjoyed most, however, is the third act because it surprised me. While it consists of typical slasher movie elements where the masked killer attempts to butcher teens who just want to have a good time, there is a catharsis derived from it. So much tension is built between the journalist and the killer, it is only natural that they eventually have to face each other. In other words, the picture proves why the formulas in horror movies, as tired as they are and as frustrated as we are of them, work. That is what I found brilliant about it, not the faux-subversive mockumentary elements that are, at best, contradictory of its ideas.
Further, the casting is smart. I adored watching Baesel because he embodies a charming every man. With his chiseled face and tendency to jump like a kid when he gets a little excited, one might not think that he is capable of gutting a person like a fish and feel absolutely no remorse. When he puts on the mask and the makeup, it made me feel very uneasy because we got to know him as a person even just slightly. Goethals is another nice choice. Although the script does not do much with her character, the little ticks she puts into Taylor made me want to get to know her as a person more than the girl in front of the camera who asks all the questions. When Taylor is not in her journalist persona, that is when the material begins to come alive.
Directed by Scott Glosserman, it is clear that “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” is not without inspiration. But in order to be inspiring like the films it references, it needs to command something unforgettable. Like a lot of horror films, from straight-faced slasher to docu-fiction, the execution of its ideas does not quite match its ambition.