Leslie, My Name is Evil is director Reginal Harkema’s commentary on sixties American life. The decade saw the Vietnam War, the free love era, and the infamous Charles Manson murder cult, the trial of which features prominently in the film’s plot. Leslie skillfully unites these themes together through the trajectories of two parallel stories, which converge when Perry (Gregory Smith), a puritanical, sexually frustrated young teen is chosen as a juror to try the Manson death cult. The separation of Perry’s world from Manson’s is brilliantly executed throughout the movie. In the many graphic killing scenes, Manson and his murderous vixens are filmed in a highly stylized and richly colourful way, which is juxtaposed with Perry’s cold, drab existence, filmed in muted pastels. The dichotomy enhances the audience’s recognition of the culture of repression prevalent in Perry’s sixties religious family.
At the trial, Leslie (Kristen Hager) – the most beautiful member of the death cult – becomes an unusual object of desire for the sexually repressed Perry, who cannot make love to his wife-to-be because of her devotion to Jesus. The Charles Manson character, played by Ryan Robbins, is himself depicted as Jesus, once getting literally tied up to a cross, and worshipped by his female followers. Perry’s frustration peaks in the film’s most graphic scene – a dream sequence in which he violently stabs his wife, while she derives some sort of sexual pleasure from it. Eventually, Perry becomes so infatuated with Leslie that he begins to defend her actions, becoming the last juror to hold out against conferring a guilty verdict.
The courtroom scenes are intensely funny, with the courtroom itself serving as a mockery of the American legal system. The defendants are positioned in front of a giant American flag, while the camera occasionally flashes to the jury, busy making comical faces. Every time that Charlie and his three female cult members enter the courtroom, they present a new form of protest, ranging from their provocative clothes to the crosses carved into their foreheads. And in a seeming parody of the Leopold and Loeb trials, Manson’s beautiful followers develop a cult celebrity status during the trial, before they are ultimately found guilty.
The other theme in the film is protest of the Vietnam War. Bombarding the audience with stock footage of the war, the film makes a point about the outrage the war incited during the sixties – precisely what Manson claims to be protesting with his killings.
Leslie, My name is Evil is an amusing film decidedly not meant for the squeamish. But in spite of its senseless violence, gratuitous sex, and over-the-top killing scenes, the film’s political agenda nevertheless manages to be thought-provoking. Over four decades later, these themes have remained sensitive to North Americans, giving Harkema a reason to look at them with a fresh eye, however light-heartedly he chose to do so.
Leslie, My Name Is Evil screens at Cinéna du Parc (3575 Parc) on October 10 at 9 p.m. and October 13 at 5 p.m.