By 1999, self-awareness films inundated the slasher sub-genre, beginning with the clever SCREAM (Wes Craven, 1996), and continuing with several less inspirational knock offs post-1996. While such self-awareness provided a moment of fun for long time slasher movie fans, few movies have shown a willingness to return to the roots and spirit of the sub-genre. The last thing most slasher movie fans have wanted in recent memory is another humor-laced, self-aware take on their favorite category.
So it comes as a surprise that first time director Scott Glosserman succeeded so well in creating the most self-aware title in slasher history. The material is handled far more intelligently than any similar venture to date, including SCREAM.
“BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON” (2006), follows a pseudo documentary style for much of the film. A group of graduate students studying journalism identify a budding serial killer named Leslie Vernon. And like all aspiring journalists, they want to know how Vernon operates. Suspend your disbelief for a moment as Vernon agrees to allow the students to follow him around with a camera to watch him ‘operate’.
But Leslie Vernon is no ordinary serial killer. Vernon strives to become a legendary “operator in the business”, much like Freddy, Michael, and Jason. Much like the aforementioned, Vernon already has an urban legend back story which terrorizes children around camp fires. All Vernon needs is to emerge from legend into reality, much like “the night He came home.”
Certainly! Continuing from where the review left off:
“BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON” takes viewers on an unsettling and darkly humorous journey into the mind of an aspiring serial killer. The film’s pseudo-documentary style lends an eerie realism to Vernon’s mission to ascend to the ranks of horror’s most legendary killers.
The film’s genius lies in its self-awareness, playing with genre tropes and the audience’s familiarity with classic horror icons like Freddy, Michael, and Jason. Vernon’s urban legend back story isn’t just a setup for scares; it’s a clever commentary on how horror myths are born and nurtured in our collective imagination. The film uses Vernon’s ambitions to satirize the very genre it’s a part of, without losing sight of its own chilling story.
As the students follow Vernon, they (and the audience) are drawn into his twisted world. The line between observer and participant begins to blur, creating moral dilemmas and raising questions about the ethics of journalism, the nature of fascination with violence, and the role of legend in shaping our fears.
Performance-wise, Nathan Baesel as Leslie Vernon brings an unsettling charm to the character. His portrayal is layered, providing glimpses into the mind of someone who is not only aware of his monstrosity but revels in it. The supporting cast, including the journalists, adds depth to the story, highlighting the complex relationship between horror and fascination, between myth and reality.
The film’s third act brings a shift in tone and style, departing from the documentary format and plunging into full-fledged horror. This transition is jarring but purposeful, mirroring Vernon’s own transition from myth to reality. It serves as a reminder that the terror we’ve been analytically dissecting is still capable of consuming us.
“BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON” stands as a unique entry in the horror genre. Its blend of satire, commentary, and genuine terror makes it more than just a slasher film. It’s a thoughtful examination of the horror genre itself, an unsettling reflection on our cultural fascination with monsters, and a testament to the power of myth and legend. Fans of both classic slasher films and meta-horror will find much to appreciate in this inventive and chilling tale.
Laughs without sacrificing Horror
“BEHIND THE MASK” is often funny, and at times produces truly hilarious moments. The very idea of what was happening on screen was enough to keep me chuckling throughout. Ever wonder how those legendary killers appear in the shadows, and suddenly cause a door to slam on the other side of the room? As you will see, these are the secret tricks of the trade. David Copperfield post-TERROR TRAIN (1979) would be envious. Now I know how Michael and Jason stay at the top of their ‘business’.
Have you ever wondered how legendary killers calmly walk behind their sprinting victims and still catch up? Aerobics, and plenty of them. How about how the best killers can appear to be dead, and then suddenly rise to attack? Ancient techniques similar to those used in Yoga. Want to know how to survive a fire? How do killers know where to hide before their victims show up? How do you choose a final girl? How do you identify a virgin?
When asked why he chooses to live deep in the forest rather than in his childhood home (which is considered haunted much like the Myers house), Leslie quips that if he is to make a frightening return, he “can’t exactly be seen mowing the lawn.” This line had me laughing for several minutes.
Rest assured, slasher fans, BEHIND THE MASK treats the slasher sub-genre with the utmost respect and is done very intelligently. And before the end of the movie, it switches gears out of documentary style and accelerates into a respectable slasher in its own right.
A strong supporting cast aids BEHIND THE MASK. Scott Wilson is solid as Vernon’s mentor. Robert Englund is wonderfully intimidating as Doc Halloran, an obvious homage to Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980) in name and Carpenter’s Doctor Loomis in character. Angela Goethals does a fine job as Taylor Gentry, a journalism student who is torn between her desire to get Vernon’s story and her need to save his targeted victims.
But it is Nathan Baesel who steals the show as Leslie Vernon. Baesel oozes charisma. He is funny and scary at the flip of a switch. His performance screams ‘psycho’. And much like the appeal of David Arquette’s performances in the Scream movies, it is obvious Baesel enjoys his role.
BEHIND THE MASK requires the proper mindset to be enjoyed. If you are interested in a straight forward horror movie, save this flick for another occasion. However, if you want some slasher fun intermixed with intelligent humor and respect for the sub-genre, look no further.
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