Nathan Baesel of Invasion stars as Vernon, a good-natured killing machine who invites a documentary film crew to follow him as he reminisces with his murder mentor (Scott Wilson of In Cold Blood), evades his psychiatrist/nemesis (Robert Englund of A Nightmare On Elm Street), deconstructs Freudian symbolism, and meticulously plots his upcoming slaughter spree.
But when the actual carnage begins, where do you draw the line between voyeuristic thrills, mythic evil, and good old- fashioned slasher movie mayhem? Angela Goethals (24) and Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist) co-stars in this ingeniously twisted and award-winning shocker.
eyelights: its basic conceit. the picture’s meta quality. Leslie Vernon’s genius. Nathan Baesel’s performance.
eyesores: its more traditional final act.
“You have NO idea how much cardio I have to do! It’s ridiculous!”
‘Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon’ is a 2006 pseudo-documentary motion picture that is set in the same world as Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddie Krueger, suggesting that all of them were real serial killers.
It’s main conceit is that a documentary crew gets in touch with a new kid on the scene, Leslie Vernon from Glen Echo, who legend has it was murdered many years ago by a group of villagers. Now he’s back for a little revenge.
The crew follows him around as he shows them his preparations for the big night, which is held at his family farm house, where a bunch of teenagers will congregate to party on the anniversary of his death; it’s set behind the scenes.
But the picture blurs the lines by having him explain to the crew his strategy and tactics, and then it shifts modes as we see the plan unfold before our eyes – or, in some cases, as he and the crew anticipate that it will unfold.
It’s a terrific deconstruction of all the serial killer film tropes, showing us how these “random” attacks are carefully planned and executed, with every move and counter-move anticipated and calculated by Vernon weeks in advance.
He even introduces us to Eugene, his best friend, an “old pro” in the serial killer game who is now retired – but still uses sensory deprivation tanks to condition himself, discussing how the game changed since he first got involved.
They also talk about the importance of the “Survivor Girl” (or “Final Girl”), what qualities a killer looks for and what he hopes to get out the dynamic. What’s interesting is that Eugene’s spouse was once his own survivor girl.
The picture is a lot of fun because it also winks at its audience, subtly making references to well-known horror films with visual clues, character names, music, or even with cameos by the likes of Robert Englund and Zelda Rubinstein.
I was immediately taken with Nathan Baesal’s portrayal of Leslie, echoing Jim Carrey in his delivery. He made Vernon funny, engaging, intelligent, emotional, but also very deadly. I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job of it.
Honestly, how this guy has not made a name for himself with this role is beyond me.
The rest of the cast is as good as it gets with this genre, though Angela Goethals sometimes over-acted as Taylor, the interviewer and documentary lead – which I found unfortunate because she otherwise does grab one’s attention.
The picture isn’t especially gruesome, particularly not in the first two thirds, which is all set-up. By the 55-minute mark, however, when Vernon’s night arrives, ‘Behind the Mask’ gets a little bit more bloody, as much as can be expected.
This is when the film goes from looking like a low-budget documentary to a feature film for the remainder of its 30-minute run: Now the documentary crew are inside Vernon’s movie and we get to watch as they all try to survive.
Though one might think that this would be the most gripping part of the picture, it’s actually its weakest: while it does a terrific job playing into the genre and picking it apart at the same time, it’s obviously far less ingenious than the rest.
The best part is, without a doubt, the first two-thirds of the picture, which deconstructs the genre and explains how it might actually work in a real-world context; it’s crafty, well-thought out work by writer-director Scott Glosserman.
Honestly, ‘Behind the Mask’ is an unsung treasure of the horror genre and I really wish people would finally wake up to it. It’s a picture laced with self-referential wit, dark humour, self-awareness and intelligence. It’s a rare gem.
Date of viewing: September 17, 2016