Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

“Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

The names are so legend amongst slasher fans that only first names are needed: Jason. Michael. Freddy. But what is it that makes these deranged killers tick? Why do they do what they do, and how do they do it? This question gets answered by going behind the scenes with the newest slasher on the scene looking to make a name for himself: Leslie.

When we first meet Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) in the opening moments of “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon,” he’s affable, unassuming, good humored, and seemingly good natured. He jokes around with the documentary film crew that he allows into his inner sanctum to make a movie about his process in planning and executing mass murders. Things seem perfectly normal about him, as if he could be talking about planting a garden or working on a car. But he’s not: He’s talking about killing people. The joyous ease with which he has such conversations makes the director/interviewer of the documentary, Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals), a bit uneasy. But as Christina Ricci’s Wednesday Addams so astutely pointed out in one of the “Addams Family” movies, the scariest thing about psychopaths is that they look like everyone else.

The most fun and imagination in “Behind the Mask” are the interview scenes with Leslie. He takes the crew through his process step by step on how he chooses a “survivor girl,” goes about terrorizing her, and sets up the final showdown. For anyone who has ever wondered how these slasher killers can walk while their victims run away, why cars never start, why flashlights never work, and why weapons used to fight off the killer fail constantly, those details are meticulously and hilariously explained.

We also meet a friend and mentor of Leslie’s named Eugene (Scott Wilson). He’s an old school psycho killer who has some choice words about killers of the past that got caught or arrested and ruined the psycho killer industry for those who truly dedicate themselves to their craft. He also professes his admiration for the likes of Jason, Michael, and Freddy for upping the ante by coming back again and again. The hint is also dropped that his wife Jamie (Bridgett Newton) was once Eugene’s chosen “survivor girl.” Now that she’s married to him, she seems to be totally on board with the need for psycho killers to counter balance all that is good in society—following the relativist philosophy that without evil, there is no good. However, she did forget about Eugene being buried for three days in a sensory deprivation tank, so there might be some hard feelings lingering under the surface. We don’t know or find out, but it’s interesting to contemplate the underlying dynamics of that relationship.

Co-writer/director Scott Glosserman took a chance by mixing styles in “Behind the Mask.” But it works. About two-thirds of the footage is filmed by Taylor’s documentary crew, cameramen Todd (Britain Spellings) and Doug (Ben Pace). We don’t see too much of them when they do the filming, but they --play a significant part in the one-third of the movie that is shot the same way as a straight up slasher movie, complete with mood-setting lighting and eerie music. Both styles are well-suited to telling the story in just the right way.

There is also a surprise cameo role by a slasher movie icon that I will not reveal here, and encourage you to not look up. His sudden appearance is a wonderful surprise, and he plays a different type of role than he did in the franchise for which he is known. You’ll know him when you see him, and let’s just say that he plays the Donald Pleasence “Dr. Loomis” role in this movie. A funny revelation is that in the psycho killer industry, such a person is referred to as an “Ahab.”

I encourage everyone who watches “Behind the Mask” to not shut it off as soon as it fades to black and the credits start rolling. Not only does one of the most classic and iconic Talking Heads songs ever—“Psycho Killer”—play over them, but we get treated to some morgue security footage showing the aftermath of the events of the movie. Two things I will say about it for the “realism” challengers out there: 1) He manipulated all of the other weapons, is it a stretch to think that he didn’t manipulate the cider press to not go down all the way and didn’t say anything, for obvious reasons? and 2) Listen when he puts on his makeup—he says that he added flame retardant to the mixture, and he easily could have covered his whole body with it. Think about it. Buy it on Amazon: Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon [Collector's Edition] [Blu-ray].

Also New This Week

Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi

Disney’s yearly crank out of “Star Wars” movies continued this past December with “Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi.” They seem determined to milk this franchise the same way Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) milks giant alien creatures for sustenance. Sure, it makes sense, but it’s also kinda gross.

This movie hit nerves with everyone who saw it—some for good, some for bad. For me, it was mostly good. I liked going back again to the galaxy from long ago and far away to see Luke, Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Yoda (voice of Frank Oz). It was like catching up with old friends at a reunion. This episode also continues the journeys of the new generation of heroes—Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Rey (Daisy Ridley)—as well as next gen baddie Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

I say my experience was mostly good because this movie certainly has issues. Chief among them is the cringe-worthy attempts at hip, self-referential humor that go over like a lead balloon. Poe’s messing around with General Hux (Domhall Gleeson) in the beginning and Yoda saying that the ancient Jedi texts are not “page turners” are particularly egregious. There are also some plot holes (How did Rey get out of the pit/cave? How??) and story issues (Rey’s origin, Princess Leia uses her Force powers in a ludicrous way at one point) that drag the movie down. Don’t even get me started at how under-used and ultimately pointless Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and Snoke (Andy Serkis) turn out to be. But at two and a half hours long, there is enough good surrounding the bad to make it a worthwhile watch. Since a lot has already been written about this movie, I’ll just address some key issues surrounding it.

Vice Admiral Holdo Represents the SJW/Feminist Agenda

My radar is up for this kind of thing, and I would call it out if I saw it, but I don’t see it here. Sure, this character, played by Laura Dern, has purple hair and a surly demeanor, but that’s all she has in common with the typical female campus protestor. There is one overriding thing about Holdo that leads me down the path to say that she is not part of any propaganda. That is because, simply put, as a leader she is total crap. She isn’t just a bad leader as far as the “Star Wars” movies go, she’s quite possibly one of the worst leaders in the history of all movies. She’s arrogant, condescending, doesn’t share key information with Poe that she absolutely should have shared, and created an escape plan that resulted in the majority of her Rebel comrades getting killed. She’s an absolutely horrendous decision maker whose mistakes cost the Rebellion greatly and create a major set back for them. If she was there to push an agenda, she would have been great—borderline perfect. But she most certainly is not. She isn’t even flawed yet overall good at doing her duty. She’s just terrible all around. But speaking of perfect—

Rey is a Mary Sue

I held out on this one after Episode VII, when people were claiming she was too perfect, using the Force without any training, flying the Millennium Falcon better than Han Solo, etc. I saw their points, but at the same time I figured that Episode VII was one movie out of three and I was willing to give the other episodes a chance to explain things. I wasn’t ready to call her a Mary Sue just yet after Episode VII. However, after Episode VIII, with two movies down, one movie to go, and her continuing to use the Force with very little training from Luke, who doesn’t show her much, not to mention besting him in a duel, and getting no explanation as to how or why she is so amazing at everything, I’ll say it: Yeah, she’s a Mary Sue. I’m ready for Episode IX to provide a full and detailed explanation of Rey’s flawless abilities and prove me wrong, but I don’t have my hopes up that it will happen.

Luke Skywalker is a hermit who wants the Jedi to end

I think this is what Mark Hamill referred to when he talked about his surprise with the decisions made by writer/director Rian Johnson for this character, but it’s not a problem for me. The hermit aspect is one of the rhymes that these movies insist on for some reason, harkening back to Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) being a hermit in Episode IV. As for Luke wanting the Jedi to end, I think it’s an interesting direction. If Johnson had gone with Luke being an enthusiastic teacher like Obi-Wan, fans would have complained that it was once again too much like Episode IV. I appreciate Johnson for making a bold move and taking the character in an unexpected direction—a far cry from where we last see him at the end of Episode VI.

The Kylo Ren/Luke Incident

To anyone who insists that Luke would never have acted out of fear and tried to kill Kylo, go through this exercise with me: Think back to Episode VI, when the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) goads Luke into taking up his light saber to strike him down. Now pretend that Darth Vader (David Prowse) was not there to stop that blow. That’s right—Luke’s emotions would have completely taken him over to the point where he lost control and killed someone. It happened then. What makes you think it couldn’t happen again? This is part of his character. He’s always been quick to anger and frustration, even back in the original trilogy, and Jedi training can only do so much to govern his inherent nature. The real problem isn’t the Force or the Jedi, it’s Luke—fundamentally, due to who he is as a person.

Rose Tico is the Jar-Jar of this series

That’s not fair—to Jar-Jar. While adults may despise him he’s at least funny for the kids and a memorable character. Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) is neither funny nor memorable. She’s just there and doesn’t add much to the proceedings except for one egregiously annoying thing she does toward the end, completely ruining what could have been an awesome moment for Finn. Jar-Jar deserves a better comparison, the poor Gungan. Rent it.

More New Releases: “I Remember You,” decent chiller from Iceland about a haunted town, the movie is two stories in one that shift back and forth until they come together at the end in a clever and surprising way; and “The Last Movie Star,” about an aging former movie star forced to face the reality that his glory days are far behind him, starring Burt Reynolds.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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