Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Scott Glosserman

Nathan Baesel - Leslie Vernon
Angela Goethals - Taylor Gentry
Robert Englund - Doc Halloran
Kate Lang Johnson - Kelly
Ben Pace - Doug

Year - 2006

Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4

It takes a lot of hard work to be a horror icon. Horror icons need to stand out from the rest of the litter to make a memorable impact in the horror community. Some are given supernatural powers, like blood sucking and turning into a wolf during a full moon. There are those who need to dress like their mother, or get revenge for their mother after being believed to have drowned. Others just put on a blank white mask and hunt babysitters. And then there's the guy with the leather razor-sharp gloves who haunts people in their dreams. It's not easy being a brand name serial killer.

If you're wannabe serial killer Leslie Vernon, you have to top all the others to become the next horror icon. So why not have college graduate students film your ascent to "greatness"? Not only will your legend be documented, but you'll be showing others how to get BEHIND THE MASK...

Graduate journalism student Taylor (Angela Goethals) and her crew are invited to document Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), a soon-to-be serial killer who idolizes Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Kruger [this film takes place in a world where these characters actually DO exist]. Leslie believes in the Carnage Code, which is a guideline of rules, regulations, and principles that all horror icons must follow to be successful at their profession. Sexual teens must die. The closet is sacred because it represents the mother's womb. The person who defeats you must be virginal. And you must always be aware of your personal Ahab [the person who's out to stop you from hurting others]. Taylor becomes more involved in Leslie's world and his goals, learning about his backstory and the horrible events in his childhood that's led him to become the man he is now. During the documentary, we meet Leslie's "survivor girl" (Kate Lang Johnson), his crazed psychiatrist who happens to be his Ahab (Robert Englund), and learn his true motivations behind achieving his goals. As the big night of killer arrives, Taylor and her crew question their morals and wondering if they should stop Leslie. Fortunately, they get their chance because things aren't what they seem.

BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON is an interesting horror film that tries to point out and poke fun at usual horror film conventions while creating its own horror identity. It's awfully self-aware like SCREAM 11 years ago and disassembles every plot device, horror tradition, and every ridiculous outcome that horror films are known to have. While BEHIND THE MASK is a decent film with some good performances and an interesting premise, it's not perfect and won't be making its own franchise happen anytime soon.

I did like the whole documentary feel of the first hour of the film. It was like a watching a graduate thesis unfold in front of your very eyes - detailing every aspect and analyzing every horror staple with a speck of sarcasm. Have you ever wanted to know why the heroine always hides in closets, or why they pick the largest phallic weapon? Ever wondered why the killer never seems to take advantage of the situation? This film explains it all. BEHIND THE MASK puts you inside the mind of a deranged individual who actually WANTS to kill innocent people just to be as famous as Mike, Fred, Jay. You see how the killer must plan every part of his murder spree, like picking the right location, creating a situation to lure people to that location to have sex and do drugs, and creating traps to successfully complete the mission. A killer also has to do a lot of cardio if he wants to keep up as he chases teenagers all over the place. The stuff of legends isn't a piece of cake, apparently.

Putting the film in the same world as Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Chucky, and others allows us to understand why Leslie Vernon would want to be like them. These killers do horrible things and keep coming back for me, even after death. What immoral person wouldn't want to be like these icons? It's a comical take on the balance of the world created by our society. For every good, there must be bad. When there's a yin, there's a yang. BEHIND THE MASK isn't an in-your-face satire-parody like SCREAM [although that film works alot better than this one on many levels], but it allows you think about the Carnage Code and how maybe real serial killers think this way when they murder innocent people. Maybe sometimes, life does imitate art.

I think where the film starts to falter is the last half hour of the film. Leaving the documentary style behind, it turns into a generic slasher film without the blood and gore to really complete the mood. There's not much tension in the chase scenes or suspense because we know who's gonna die and who's gonna live. The first hour set that up perfectly. What makes it worse is that even knowing how horror films work, these characters STILL fall for the traps and end up getting killed! I know horror victims are supposed to be stupid, but I didn't realize they were borderline retarded too! As smart as the first hour was, it really dumbed down towards the end. VACANCY showed that horror films can have smart characters in scary situations. BEHIND THE MASK should have followed that trend.

I also thought it was ridiculous for a college film crew to even want to document a serial killer to begin with. Did these people not have morals? Did they not realize the consequences of even attempting this? They would be accessories to murder. It seemed they thought Leslie Vernon was a joke, but after all the planning and admission of his plan, how could they still believe that? Why would they put themselves in a situation like that? It doesn't make sense. I know it's trying to be a parody of a horror film, but even this plot device is too illogical to get around.

And for a parody of a horror film, it wasn't really funny. It wasn't much of a spoof either. SCREAM made fun of itself while being scary at the same time. BEHIND THE MASK was more like a history lesson to the world of horror movies, which took the scare factor out. And the predictable ending didn't help. I know it's supposed to be funny and clever, but I just rolled my eyes. Still, the film was clever enough to make most of what it was trying to do work.

Director Scott Glosserman directed a fine motion picture. It looked a lot better than most straight-to-DVD films look and it had lots of visual style. The shaky-cam bits for the documentary worked to perfection, creating a nice introspective into the mind of a devious person. Too bad the horror portion of the film wasn't too memorable and pretty much looked like every other slasher film out there. Maybe that was the point, I dunno. But at least the pacing was decent and the picture looked nice. Not a bad directorial job by Mr. Glosserman.

The acting was also pretty good. Nathan Baesel was very good as Leslie Vernon. He was funny and scary in a goofy way, but that was part of his charm. I was convinced that Baesel was a potential serial killer, with his body language and facial expressions constantly changing with every situation. Just a very natural performance that the role needed.

Angela Goethals was pretty good as the morally-conflicted journalist who wanted the big story but knew what she was doing was wrong. I thought her relationship was Baesel was very interesting. There was some sexual tension between the two that would have been oddly believable if the characters were headed into that sort of direction. My only beef is when she completely changes into the heroine at the end. I just wasn't convinced enough that she was this tough chick ready to take Leslie down. I don't know if it was the acting or just how the character was written. But Goethals was focused all the way and I admired the performance.

Robert Englund did what he could with his cameo as Doc Halloran. He tried to channel Dr. Loomis, although it was more the Malcolm McDowell version than the Donald Pleasance version. I kind of wished he were in the film more because he really didn't do anything but mug for the camera. But at least he does that well.

Everybody else did their part and played their roles well. I was expecting worse but didn't get it. That has to count for something!

BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON doesn't totally match up to the hype this film had. If you're looking for a really clever horror satire, watch SCREAM. But BEHIND THE MASK is still watchable and a nice attempt to poke fun at the horror genre while still using the cliches its poking fun at. Nice direction, nice performances, a good first hour - it's worth a rental. Now if you'll excuse me, it's Clown Hunting Season. Let's see who'll get the last laugh now!

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