Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

behind the mask

“This is a bad idea.  And I don’t like that I just said that given the circumstances.


Al’s rating: Psycho Killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est?

Al’s review: Leslie Vernon is a nice guy.  He’s good-natured, handsome, funny, loves his pet turtles, and—oh yeah—killed his family as a child before being kidnapped by a mob of angry townsfolk and drowned in a waterfall.  Now, thirty years later, he’s returning on the anniversary of his supposed murder to seek revenge on the small town of Glen Echo.

Being the nice guy that he is, Leslie also agreed to be filmed by a group of grad students as he preps for his return.  He reveals to them the process of victim selection (the stoner kids run slow and are good for padding your numbers late in the game), the logistics of stalking in the murderhouse (no attacking people hiding in closets; they’re sacred spaces symbolic of the womb), and exposes the secret of how killers get around so fast when they never seem to run (lots and lots of cardio).

It’s a little bit like Friday the 13th and little bit like The Blair Witch Project swirled with a dash of John Stossel reporting for 20/20.  The resulting witches brew is a terrifically clever look at the slasher genre called Behind the Mask.  It teaches you industry terminology like ‘survivor girl’ and ‘Ahab.’  We see the books aspiring killers read (Grey’s Anatomy, slight of hand, escape tactics) and training equipment they use (sensory deprivation chambers to teach control of body functions).  We even learn about the old days, courtesy of Leslie’s mentor Eugene, before “Jay, Fred, and Mike” revolutionized the business.

The whole thing is a silly brilliant idea that shouldn’t work.  Never in a million years would I bet that a horror/comedy/documentary could achieve the balance of intelligence, humor, and creepiness that it shoots for, but, somehow, Behind the Mask does.  Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) has the right mixture of affable weirdness and homicidal instability to make his presence consistently funny and interesting.  His counterpart, grad student Taylor (Angela Goethals), is effortlessly spunky and excited and determined, but also plays a mounting unease as events start to unfold.  Add a peppering of appearances by folks like Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and Zelda Rubinstein, and this is clearly a movie made for horror fans by horror fans.

I could say more about Behind the Mask, but I think I’ll cut this review short and let you see it for yourself.  The Rise of Leslie Vernon is smart, funny, and the most original thing to happen to horror movies since Scream.  Check it out.

They gave the ‘happy face’ drama mask the night off. It was decidedly a bad idea.


  • The first time Taylor interviews Eugene and his wife, a Lament Configuration puzzle box from Hellraiser can be seen sitting on a table.
  • Doc Halloran’s wardrobe (and beard) is nearly identical to that of Donald Pleasence’s character Doctor Loomis from the Halloween films.
  • When Leslie is applying his makeup, the song playing in the background is the same as that heard at the end of The Shining: ”Midnight, The Stars and You,” sung by Al Bowlly with the Ray Noble Orchestra.
  • When Leslie and the graduate students are scoping out potential victims at the school, three girls can be spotted playing jump rope in the background. This is a reference to imagery in the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
  • Leslie’s real surname is exposed to be Mancuso. Frank Mancuso Jr. is the producer of most Friday the 13th movies.
  • Be sure to stay through the end credits for the excellent Talking Heads song and the inevitable sequel setup.

A Glossary of ‘Industry Terms’

  • Ahab: A reflection of everything that is good in humanity.  Someone who is willing to defend others against evil, even at a great personal cost.  Acts as a protector/mentor for the survivor girl.
  • Fly-by: A brief, no-contact encounter with the survivor girl to instill paranoia and plant the seed that trouble may be coming.
  • Red Herring; A preliminary strike involving the survivor girl indirectly.  Tests the worthiness of a survivor girl.
  • Survivor Girl: A virgin girl who just might be able to walk away at the end of the day.  Will have the final showdown with the killer.

Groovy Quotes

Leslie: You have no idea how much cardio I have to do. It’s ridiculous.
Taylor: Why so much?
Leslie: Well, I have to be able to run like a frickin’ gazelle without getting winded.  Plus, there’s that whole thing about making it look like you’re walking while everybody else is running their asses off.  And I gotta stay with ‘em!  It’s tough, man!

[about survivor girls]
Taylor: What is it about this girl?
Leslie: She’s a virgin.
Taylor: A virgin.  How—how do you know that?
Leslie: How do the swallows find Capestrano?  I dunno.  Look at her.

Taylor: You mentioned most of the people in your line of work are hacks…
Eugene: I’m not talking about the guys who really worked hard—like Jay and Fred and Mike.  There weren’t nobody like them in the early years.  We just hit hard, wiped everybody out, and disappeared as soon as we could, never giving a thought to coming back.  Those boys lifted it to a whole ‘nother level.  Made an art form of it.  Turned themselves into legends by returning like a curse over and over again.  That was a radical change in philosophy.  Changed the whole business.

Leslie: The closet is a sacred place.  It’s symbolic of the womb.  It’s the safest place to be, because, in the womb, we are innocent.
Taylor:  So, does that mean you’re pro-life, Leslie?

Leslie: There are eleven exits from the first floor and another eight or nine that might be manageable from the second floor.  You want to eliminate as many as you can from being practical so I’ve discreetly nailed them all shut.
Taylor: Don’t they just smash them out?
Leslie: You’d think so, but you’d be surprised.  No.  And when they do smash them out, it’s on the second floor or higher. Then they’re out on the roof and they are screwed.

Leslie: Yonic imagery is extremely important in our work.
Taylor: Yonic?
Leslie: Yonic—opposite of phallic.  It’s girl parts.

Todd: This is a bad idea.  And I don’t like that I just said that given the circumstances.

If you liked this movie, try these:


  1. Aaaand onto The List it goes. You know, I can’t die ’til I’ve seen every movie on The List, so pretty much immortal at this point.

    Good review, Al, totally sold me on it!

  2. This is one of my favorite movies. If only Bruce Campbell were in it…then the world would have exploded from the sheer awesomeness of him and Robert Englund being in the same horror flick. So maybe that’s a good thing.

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