B is for Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon: 2006, dir. Scott Glosserman. Seen July 17, 2007 on DVD.
I like my horror movies to be funny, and not in too much of an immature way. My favorite horror movies are probably Evil Dead 2 and Re-Animator, because they made me laugh. The combination of horror and humor can be cheesy, but the two can work well together — you’re laughing to relieve a little of the tension caused by suspense, but the suspense ratchets right back up there again. I didn’t have a lot of interest in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon until I saw a trailer and realized that it had the right sense of humor to appeal to me.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon starts out as a joke and grows a bit scary along the way. It begins as a mockumentary: Some grad students are making a documentary about Leslie Vernon, a guy who was thought to be dead a decade earlier when a town’s lynch mob drowned him. Now he’s back to take revenge and begin his life as a serial killer, following in the footsteps of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, etc. The filmmakers follow him as he demonstrates how to pick out a “final girl,” how to set up a house to best attack a large group of people, what to wear for a night of mass murder, and so forth. The filmmakers are faced with the age-old issue that plagues documentarians — how much should you interfere, if at all?
The movie makes fun of horror-film conventions, especially the horror movies in which a bunch of teenagers are menaced and killed, one by one, by some guy with a chainsaw or razor fingernails or wearing a freakish mask. At one point, Leslie visits some friends of his, including Eugene, who has “retired” from “the business” that Leslie is currently pursuing. In other words, an ex-serial killer. But he talks about being from the bad old days, where you just went into the house and “did your job” without all of these fancy plans and motives. That reminded me of In Cold Blood, somehow — the book, since I haven’t seen the movie. So I didn’t realize until afterwards that Scott Wilson, who played Eugene, also played Dick Hickock in the 1967 movie In Cold Blood. Nice touch. Robert Englund (best known for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies) also has a small role, but since he’s not dressed like Freddy Krueger you might not recognize him either.
My one regret was that I saw this movie on DVD and not in a theater. Behind the Mask needs a lively audience — it would be a great midnight movie. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see it at SXSW in 2006; I suspect it played very well to the receptive festival crowd. The living room seemed too quiet at times; the movie needs a group of people all reacting and laughing. This would also be a good Movie Night film, if you like having people over to watch movies.
First-time director (and co-writer) Scott Glosserman made a smart and funny horror movie, without too much gore or “jump” moments. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.