Tag Archives: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Fright Club: Library Horror

Google has meant a lot of changes, perhaps the most tragic is the end of the old library scene in horror. While we find ourselves settling for the new cliche of the quick online search to uncover the hidden history behind a haunted home or town tragedy, this never used to be the case. Countless horror films led invariably to the Act 2 discovery in the old library. Either a helpful librarian carried large, impressive volumes to our hero at their tidy, green lamp lit library table, or a plucky sleuth scrolled their way through the old microfiche via the big microfilm machine.

How much do we miss those days? Enough to look into the very best in library horror.

Big thank you to Jennifer Snoek Brown of Reel Librarians for dropping loads of knowledge.

5. Se7en (1995)

Countless horror films begin Act 2 with a trip to the library. Act 1 has something creepy happening that puts our hero (or, more often than not, heroine) on edge and there’s nothing that can put them at ease except a little information search.

But David Fincher is not like other directors. While the beats are all here: big books stacked on an elegant desk, green lamps illuminating pen-and-ink drawings of the macabre and unsavory, a montage of pages being copied. But here, by flashing back and forth between Somerset (Morgan Freeman) doing the research and Mills (Brad Pitt) simultaneously studying case files, we learn a great deal more about what has happened and – don’t overlook all those decapitation images – what will happen.

The music gives the whole affair am appropriately religious fervor. This is how you make that cliche library scene work.

4. It (2017)

Poor Ben. It’s not enough that he pines in poetic silence for the lovely Beverly. It’s not enough that he’s the lonely new kid without even a posse of losers to hang out with (yet, anyway).

Nope, now he’s got intel and he doesn’t even have anyone to talk to about it.

This is the traditional “digging up big ol’ books about my spooky new hometown” scene, complete with a very creepy librarian. (Keep an eye on her in the background while Ben’s reading.)

But then comes the balloon. I have come to learn that a red balloon is never a welcome sight in a small town library.

3. It (1990)

Normally, we don’t include TV horror, but this scene is just so good! The Nineties TV miniseries is inferior to the later big screen adaptation (Part 1, anyway) in many ways, but not here.

Part of the credit goes to the fact that this film does not recreate that same, tired library scene. No microfiche, no big books on the history of Derry. Not in this scene. Just lunacy, Prince Albert in a Can jokes, and exploding, blood-filled balloons.

Plus Tim Curry, who improves any scene.


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

Another film that takes what you know to expect and serves it up to you in the most delightful way, Behind the Mask is among the greatest of all horror comedies and satires.

This particular scene points out the inevitability of that library research scene in horror movies. That would be reason enough to appreciate it, but Zelda Rubenstein (of Poltergeist, obviously) is the icing on the cake. Ever the dramatic, weirdly helpful librarian that the genre relies on for all its historical towny gossip, Rubenstein shines as a woman who really wants to shine in the spotlight.

Just one more reason this film is such a treasure.

1. Ghostbusters (1984)

No, it’s not horror – but it is a scary scene! In fact, for most people it is the scariest scene in Ivan Reitman’s comedy classic.

What makes it perfect is the tension it generates before the jump scare because we know Pete Venkman (Bill Murray, perfection) is going to get in trouble. You just can’t keep talking like that in the library.

Get her? Heh heh heh.

Fright Club: Murderous Mentors

Everybody needs a hand now and then, a little guidance. Everybody, even cold-blooded killers, because murder can be really difficult to pull off. You can’t just google a how-to. I mean, you probably can, but where’s the personal connection? The relationship? The trust.

It’s all here, in our list of the best films focusing on murderous mentors.

5. Addiction (1995)

Like most of director Abel Ferrara’s work, the film is an overtly stylish, rhythmically urban tale of brutal violence, sin and redemption (maybe). Expect drug use, weighty speeches and blood in this tale of a doctoral candidate in philosophy (Lili Taylor) over-thinking her transformation from student to predator.

Taylor cuts an interesting figure as Kathleen, a very grunge-era vampire in her jeans, Doc Martens and oversized, thrift store blazer. She’s joined by an altogether awesome cast—Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco and Christopher Walken among them.

Ferrara parallels Kathleen’s need for blood to drug addiction, but uses her philosophy jibberish to plumb humanity’s historical bloodlust. In monologues and voiceovers, Taylor waxes philosophic as she comes to terms with her own evil nature, and here is where the film nearly implodes. It begins to feel like Ferrara’s real warning is that philosophical pretentiousness spreads like a disease. But just when you are tempted to give up on the pomposity, Walken appears as Kathleen’s vampiric mentor. Thank you.

He injects the film with random violence and nuttiness, as is his way, and Ferrara pays you for your patience and thoughtfulness with viscera aplenty before settling on the uneasy answer that there is no excusing your own bad behavior.

4. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

John Erick Dowdle’s film is a difficult one to watch. It contains enough elements of found footage to achieve realism, enough police procedural to provide structure, and enough grim imagination to give you nightmares.

Edward Carver (Ben Messmer) is a particularly theatrical serial killer, and the film, which takes you into the police academy classroom, asks you to watch his evolution from impetuous brute to unerring craftsman. This evolution we witness mainly through a library of videotapes he’s left behind—along with poor Cheryl Dempsey (Stacy Chbosky)—for the police to find.

Cheryl is Carver’s masterpiece, the one victim he did not kill but instead reformed as his protégé. It’s easily the most unsettling element in a film that manages to shake you without really showing you anything.

3. The Last Horror Movie (2003)

A clever concept handled very craftily, The Last Horror Movie is found footage in that we, the audience, have found this surprising bit of footage recorded over the VHS tape we are apparently watching. What serial killer Max (a top-notch Kevin Howarth) has done, you see, is made a documentary of his ghastly habits and shared them with an audience that has shown, by virtue of the movie it intended to rent just now, its predilection for something grisly.

Like Edward in The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Max wants to pass on his expertise to a protégé. (There’s a reason the audience isn’t quite enough.) He hires an assistant (Mark Stevenson), who helps with the documentary Max is making. The assistant shoots the footage. Max tells the camera, step by step, what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, how he came to the decision. It’s a how-to, really, and the assistant is supposed to be paying attention.

But when push comes to shove, will the assistant have the stomach for it?

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

Writer/director Scott Glosserman’s film takes us to Glen Echo, Maryland. It’s a small town, exactly the kind of town that would be perfect for a slasher, and Leslie Vernon is just the villain Glen Echo doesn’t know it’s aching for.

This is a mockumentary and an affectionate ode to slashers. It pulls the concept of a documentary crew participating in the crime (a la Man Bites Dog), builds on the expected steps of every slasher film (Scream), and yet somehow feels fresh and fun.

One reason is Nathan Baesel as Leslie. He’s a charming, self-deprecating joy.

The second reason is the whole “training” concept. By way of the documentary being filmed, we’re invited into the hard-core training that goes into becoming the next immortal slasher villain. Not just cardio—although Leslie is very clear on the need for cardio—but all the little skills you can’t just pick up on your own. That’s why Leslie is blessed to have the help of a committed community who wants to see him succeed, including Eugene (Scott Wilson), a retired slasher himself.

Clever, funny and surprisingly adorable, this one’s a keeper.

1. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Henry offers an unforgivingly realistic portrayal of evil. Michael Rooker is brilliant as serial killer Henry (based on real-life murderer Henry Lee Lucas). We follow him through his humdrum days of stalking and then dispatching his prey, until he finds his own unwholesome kind of family in the form of buddy Otis and his sister, Becky.

“You mean to tell me you’ve never killed anybody before?” a disdainful Henry asks Otis, and the mentoring relationship is born. Otis really takes to it, too.

What’s diabolically fascinating is the workaday, white trash camaraderie of the psychopath relationship in this film, and the grey areas where one crazy killer feels the other has crossed some line of decency.

Rooker’s performance unsettles to the bone, flashing glimpses of an almost sympathetic beast now and again, but there’s never a question that he will do the worst things every time, more out of boredom than anything.

It’s a uniquely awful, absolutely compelling piece of filmmaking.


Fright Club: Homage Horror

Who loves horror? We do, you do, and that’s probably why homage horror is so satisfying. Filmmakers take a self-referential approach to draw attention to the tropes of the genre they – and we – love. It’s not a spoof, not a satire, it’s a loving ode to the genre. It’s like a big, bloody bear hug, and we are in!

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

This loving slasher offers not just clever, self-referential writing, but surprisingly likeable performances, given the topic. Leslie (Nathan Baesel – magnificent) intends to become the next great serial killer. Not your garden-variety killer, but the stuff of legend: Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers, Leslie Vernon.

A documentary news crew (of sorts) led by intern Taylor (Angela Goethals) documents Leslie’s preparations.

Director/co-writer Scott Glosserman nails a tone that’s comical, affectionate to the genre, and eventually scary. Part Man Bites Dog, part Scream, the film could easily feel stale. It does not.

This is partly due to the wit and intelligence in the screenplay, but an awful lot of the film’s success rides on Baesel’s shoulders. As the budding legend, Baesel is so charming as to be impossible to root against. He’s borderline adorable, even as he slashes his way through teen after teen unwise enough to party at the old, abandoned Vernon farm.

4. Stitches (2012)

There are a lot of scary clowns in films, but not that many can carry an entire film. Stitches can.

This Irish import sees a half-assed clown accidentally offed at a 10-year-old’s birthday party, only to return to finish his act when the lad turns 16.

Yes, it is a familiar slasher set up: something happened ten years ago – an accident! It was nobody’s fault! They were only children!! And then, ten years later, a return from the grave timed perfectly with a big bash that lets the grisly menace pick teens off one by one. But co-writer/director Connor McMahon does not simply tread that well-worn path. He makes glorious use of the main difference: his menace is a sketchy, ill-tempered clown.

Dark yet bawdy humor and game performances elevate this one way above teen slasher. Gory, gross, funny and well-acted – it brings to mind some of Peter Jackson’s early work. It’s worth a look.

3. Tucker and Dale Versus Evil (2010)

Horror cinema’s most common and terrifying villain may not be the vampire or even the zombie, but the hillbilly. The generous, giddy Tucker and Dale vs. Evil lampoons that dread with good natured humor and a couple of rubes you can root for.

In the tradition of Shaun of the Dead, T&DVE lovingly sends up a familiar subgenre with insightful, self-referential humor, upending expectations by taking the point of view of the presumably villainous hicks. And it happens to be hilarious.

Two backwoods buddies (an endearing Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) head to their mountain cabin for a weekend of fishing. En route they meet some college kids on their own camping adventure. A comedy of errors, misunderstandings and subsequent, escalating violence follows as the kids misinterpret every move Tucker and Dale make.

T&DVE offers enough spirit and charm to overcome any weakness. Inspired performances and sharp writing make it certainly the most fun participant in the You Got a Purty Mouth class of film.

2. Cabin in the Woods (2012)

You know the drill: 5 college kids head into the woods for a wild weekend of doobage, cocktails and hookups but find, instead, dismemberment, terror and pain. You can probably already picture the kids, too: a couple of hottie Alphas, the nice girl, the guy she may or may not be into, and the comic relief tag along. In fact, if you tried, you could almost predict who gets picked off when.

But that’s just the point, of course. Making his directorial debut, Drew Goddard, along with his co-scribe Joss Whedon, uses that preexisting knowledge to entertain holy hell out of you.

Goddard and Whedon’s nimble screenplay offers a spot-on deconstruction of horror tropes as well as a joyous celebration of the genre. Aided by exquisite casting – particularly the gloriously deadpan Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – the filmmakers create something truly special.

Cabin is not a spoof. It’s not a satire. It’s sort of a celebratory homage, but not entirely. What you get with this film is a very different kind of horror comedy.

1. Scream (1996)

In his career, Wes Craven has reinvented horror any number of times. When Scream hit screens in 1996, we were still three years from the onslaught of the shakey cam, six years from the deluge of Asian remakes, and nearly ten years from the first foul waft of horror porn. In its time, Scream resurrected a basically dying genre, using clever meta-analysis and black humor.

What you have is a traditional high school slasher – someone dons a likeness of Edvard Munch’s most famous painting and plants a butcher knife in a local teen, leading to red herrings, mystery, bloodletting and whatnot. But Craven’s on the inside looking out and he wants you to know it.

What makes Scream stand apart is the way it critiques horror clichés as it employs them, subverting expectation just when we most rely on it. As the film opens, Casey (Drew Barrymore) could have survived entirely (we presume) had she only remembered that it was not, in fact, Jason Voorhees who killed all those campers in Friday the 13th; it was his mother. A twisted reverence for the intricacies of slashers is introduced in the film’s opening sequence, then glibly revisited in one form or another in nearly every scene after.

We spent the next five years or more watching talented TV teens and sitcom stars make the big screen leap to slashers, mostly with weak results, but Scream stands the test of time. It could be the wryly clever writing or the solid performances, but we think it’s the joyous fondness for a genre and its fans that keeps this one fresh.