Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Call it Man Bites Dog Lite.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a faux-documentary (though the perspective at times does shift to a regular film) that pulls back the curtain on how notorious “supernatural” movie monsters like Jason, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger operate. The result is surprising, and pretty entertaining.

The documentary part of the film follows a burgeoning serial killer named Leslie Mancuso. He’s taken a town’s myth about a drowned boy named Leslie Vernon and warped it to his own purposes. On the anniversary of the death, he dresses up in overalls and a mask and scares the teenagers who have gathered at Leslie Vernon’s childhood home. This creates the first part of Mancuso’s mythology: Leslie Vernon is back from the dead, and he’s seeking revenge.

Mancuso is a charismatic host, revealing the secrets of the trade to the three graduate students documenting his preparations. The main conceit of the film is that all the famous movie monsters we’ve seen in the past haven’t been supernatural, unstoppable agents of Satan. They’re just ordinary men, extremely well-prepared.

The training and set-up is comprehensive. The trap is set for a group of teens partying in the Vernon home on the anniversary of the boy’s death. Mancuso nails windows shut so the teens will have limited ways to escape. He sabotages weapons in a shed so they will break with the first swing. He does detailed surveillance on his chosen victims and plays pranks (I.e girl see him standing by a tree, but next thing she knows he’s disappeared) to know exactly how they’ll react and what character they’ll be classified as (stoner, jock, virgin, etc.). He always makes sure to wear a bullet-proof vest under his overalls (to survive pesky bullets) and has trained himself to slow his body functions and heart rate to appear dead. This is how a slasher like Jason Vorhees can seemingly come back from the dead – he was never dead to begin with.

What I really enjoyed about this movie was that it necessitates new viewings of the Friday the 13th and Halloween series (Mancuso doesn’t really explain how Freddy, as a real person, could kill people in their dreams) because the supernatural veneer is torn away with logical explanations. This is how The X-Files‘ Dana Scully would view slasher films.

Unfortunately, the most interesting part of the movie (the behind-the-scenes documentary format) is abandoned at the climax in favour of a traditionally shot thriller sequence. The film also doesn’t  implicate the documentary filmmakers in quite the same way as Man Bites Dog (in that film, the filmmakers become increasingly involved in the murders of their subject – which culminates in a graphic rape scene of a victim). In Behind the Mask, the worst thing the crew does is slam a door behind a victim, giving her a good scare. And by the end, the crew sets out to stop Mancuso from killing the innocent teenagers. They want to have their cake and eat it too.

I doubt Leslie Vernon will become the next great slasher killer (his name doesn’t have quite the same ring as Vorhees or Myers), but it’s an interesting re-imagining of slasher mythology. I just wish they stuck with the documentary format to the bitter end.

Grade: B-

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2 Responses to Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

  1. Leon Smith says:

    What I love about this movie is how Leslie outlines the formula for Slashers in a fun and witty way.
    E.g.: “Once you have a location lined up, then its time to move on to step 2, find a target group…the girl’s the key, yes, but she’s got to have a supporting cast…the good looking, athletic kids with healthy libidos.” -Leslie Vernon, Aspiring Slasher Villain

    • Modest Movie says:

      Hey Leon,

      I do like Vernon’s quotes, probably my favorite part of the movie. I especially like his delight about having an “Ahab” – a good guy who is trying to stop his purposes, generally a doctor or psychiatrist (and in this case it’s played by Robert Englund a.k.a Freddy Krueger, who is awesome).

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