Feb 3, 2009

Why haven't you seen... 7

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Dir: Scott Glosserman

What’s it all about?
Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) want to be the next great horror bogeyman, to follow in the footsteps of Jason, Freddy and Michael. He’s putting a lot of work in, and he’s got a crew of three young grad students making a documentary about the building of his legend, his preparation, and his final killing spree.

Why haven’t you seen it?
A lot of horror movies end up going direct to DVD, and those that make it to the cinema tend not to get particularly massive releases (with the exception of the most mainstream examples of the genre). Behind the Mask is a film by and for horror fans and so, of course, it bypassed cinemas entirely in the UK and got an unheralded DVD release.

Why should you see it?
Behind the Mask is the cleverest horror film, hell, the cleverest film, I’ve seen in quite some time. It works on multiple levels throughout, playing as a mock documentary, an extremely smart, affectionate and funny spoof, a deconstruction of the slasher film, and a straightforward and solidly mounted slasher. Balancing all these traits is a fine trick from Director and co-writer Glosserman and his unknown but accomplished cast.

Nathan Baesel plays Leslie as a kid in a candy store, he’s incredibly excited about living out what is clearly his dream, and Baesel is so magnetic in the part, making Leslie so oddly charming and funny, that you almost find yourself rooting for him, despite how awful his plans are. In this respect Angela Goethals, who plays the grad student fronting the documentary about Leslie, becomes the audience, going through all the same steps that we do, culminating in a very well played, and very funny scene in which she holds Leslie’s hand just before he goes off to begin his spree.

The documentary section of the film is probably its best aspect, taking up the first hour of an 82 minute movie, it follows Leslie in minute detail as he prepares his spree, and finds some hilarious answers to all those questions of logic that dog slasher movies. How can he keep up with the kids who are running away, while appearing to walk? “I have to do so much cardio.” he complains. Why do all the lights go out at just the right time? He’s got the main fuse on a remote. It’s these things, as well as some more unexpected touches like Leslie’s joy at finding a nemesis (played, in a clever bit of casting, by Robert Englund), that make Behind the Mask feel so very fresh.

Behind the Mask completely deconstructs the horror genre, from its clichés to its Freudian symbolism, but it still manages to have its cake and eat it, as with 20 minutes to run the documentary ends and the film becomes a straight slasher, but one that has several well deployed and genuinely surprising twists in its tail. It’s destined to be compared with Scream, but its analysis of the genre is deeper, and its jokes are better. This is a film for horror fans, but it’s one that any horror fan should make time for and seek out.

How can you see it?
The UK DVD by Anchor Bay is pretty good; it boasts two and a half hours of extras, including deleted scenes and a commentary track by the main cast. It’s also very affordable now; my own copy cost £2.99 from Play.com. The US edition is exactly the same.

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