Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a unique and quite enjoyable little horror parody. Up-and-coming serial killer Leslie Vernon is looking to join the ranks of the greats like Freddy, Jason and Michael. He agrees to allow Taylor Gentry and her documentary film crew to tag along as he preps for his next big killing spree, to provide the world with some exclusive insights into the secret tricks of the trade of serial killing.
The film parodies the classic slasher flicks of the '80s simply by breaking down the films scene by scene, shot by shot, and dissecting the psychology and meaning behind each scene. For example, many of those '80s films have some sort of scene early in the film in which the lead female is startled by some stranger in the shadows that sets a tone of fear for the rest of the film. This such scene in Behind the Mask involves the lead female, Kelly, taking out the garbage at work. Leslie describes how he will scare her by hiding behind a dumpster and pulling away the brick she uses to hold the door open by using thin fishing wire.
So many more tricks the secrets of which Leslie reveals to Taylor and her crew bring such a light-heartedly funny light to those old movies. Industry terms such as "survivor girl" and "Ahab" for certain characters, the set up steps, like leaving an old newspaper clipping hoping that the survivor girl might happen to stumble on it, the face paint laced with cut-stopping medicine and flame retardants, the cardio and physical training required to make it seem like you're walking when everyone else is sprinting. All these revealed trickeries provide a smart satire of the '80s slasher films that, once you intellectualize, is really quite funny.
Through such simple methods this breakdown of slasher films really calls into question the methods and pathology of the killers of the '80s. Why does the killer show up only to startle and make paranoid their victims, and not out-right kill them? The excitement and effervescence Nathan Baesel (who plays Leslie) shows in the film adds to the wonderful mockery of those older movies and makes you question why these killers go about all these tricks to scare their victims.
Leslie Vernon has a psychology to him that is completely singular within slasher films. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are (for the most part) emotionless and without any clear motivation. They exist mostly as mindless embodiments of evil, as is suggested by their expressionless masks. Freddy Krueger has a little more personality, with his cynical humor and more-developed back story. But Leslie is unique. Leslie is clearly in control of his faculties; he is utterly sane. He is self-aware, he's ambitious, determined and enthusiastic. He thinks of serial killing as his life's calling, a volition Freddy, Jason and Michael don't even come close to expressing.
There are further points of interest of Leslie's pathology that aren't as clearly explained. Doc Halloran, played by the one and only Robert Englund, tells Taylor that Leslie's real name is Leslie Mancuso, and is a former patient of Halloran's. This clearly makes Leslie a human and not an outright monster, making us question even further his motivations. Is he perhaps just a crazed fan who's misplaced his adorations in these cinematic depictions of evil?
It is clear that Leslie chooses to do what he does. The reasoning behind his choice is revealed later, and is quite similar to the Joker's nihilism in The Dark Knight: "I made a choice to provide a counterbalance to all those things we hold good and pure," which to me is far more intellectually disturbing than the cold emptiness of Jason and Michael, or Freddy's bitter sarcasm.
Taylor and Leslie's interaction is also quite fascinating. Throughout Taylor's crash-course in Serial Killing 101, she questions the ethics of what Leslie does, which is to be expected. Their interaction become far more intriguing when it comes out that Taylor is the intended survivor girl to Leslie's plot, and not Kelly. Throughout the film Leslie expresses to Taylor how he intends to empower the survivor girl in to doing battle with him, and possibly killing him. This means that Leslie is basically telling Taylor in pain-staking detail how he wants her to empower herself and kill him, which brings in retrospect a weirdly suicidal tilt to Leslie, making his pathology even more confused and dangerous.
Writer and director Scott Glosserman has truly earned my respect because of this movie. The sheer amount of research and analysis that went into writing this film is mind-blowing. Glosserman must have watched and studied every major slasher film dating back to the late '60s in preparation for this film, and his knowledge of the subject matter truly comes across in the film. From the study of the killers and their philosophies to the analysis of the imagery of slasher films, Glosserman has covered every thematic inch of these films and spun them into a gleefully sarcastic slasher parody and, at the same time, a poignant and respectable slasher film.