Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Movie Review: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

I don't know why I don't listen to my fellow horror lovers more when it comes to movies like this. I've been seeing Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon mentioned for years but never thought it was one I should rush out to see. Dang it, I hate being proven wrong. Behind the Mask was pretty sweet, and the first movie I've seen in a long time that had me incredibly impressed with its writing, both for its cleverness and its ability to get me to really laugh out loud.

A news crew is following around budding serial killer Leslie Vernon as he carefully prepares for his night of killing off a group of nubile young kids until only that one "survivor girl" is left. Both fascinated and repulsed by his dedication and explanation of his methods, reporter Taylor Gentry follows Leslie to the very end of his story - an end that none of them saw coming.

Behind the Mask is in part shot in the found footage style but it's not really a found footage movie at all - it's mostly described as a mockumentary, which works for me. The use of the camcorder footage from the news crew is more like the method or reason for why the audience is getting a look at the behind-the-scenes of serial killer-making. And actually, that part of the plot helps remind you of the comedic purpose of the whole film, because it is absolutely ridiculous that a news crew would be following around a serial killer in the first place.

This method gives us a very creative approach to the typical killer legend, wherein we get to see the monster create every minute of his night of carnage. Leslie shows Taylor and crew how he prepares his physical self for picks his victim gang, how he chooses the one to be his survivor girl, and how he turns the girl onto his legendary story so she will be knowledgeable about him and help empower her. Then we get some hilarious stuff as Leslie sabotages the abandoned house where the bloodbath will take place - putting dead batteries in the flashlights, pre-cutting the woodshed tools and tree branches, rigging up a device that will allow him to cut the power, etc. He also walks Taylor through exactly how the events will take place that night - all those horror movie tropes of finding dead bodies and changing locations while still having the killer know exactly where you are and where you're going. Because he's planned it all out, geddit?

Nathan Baesel is perfect casting as Leslie Vernon. For much of the first of the movie, Baesel is incredibly charming and likable with a sweet smile and the ability to deliver his lines in a way that made me laugh almost every time he spoke. Some of the best parts are when Leslie gets all giddy and jumps around like a little boy as he gets excited about what he's going to do, or when he finds his "Ahab." At the same time, Baesel is also able to be effectively creepy and menacing when needed to remind you that he is, in fact, a serial killer.

Along the way in the story, we also meet Leslie's friend Eugene, someone in the same business as Leslie but who has since "retired." Eugene is played by Scott Wilson and just like Baesel, he is able to bring just the right amount of hilarity and menace to his character (menace which is also in turn hilarious) while being completely charming and lovable. Angela Goethals is Taylor, the protagonist who doesn't really do a good job of showing Leslie and everyone else just how uncomfortable she is with the whole situation, even though she eventually goes along with it every step of the way. Horror fans will also be happy to see appearances by Zelda Rubinstein as the librarian and Robert Englund as Doc Hallorann, Leslie's Ahab, a character modeled after Dr. Loomis from Halloween.

I see Behind the Mask as sort of the second step in some of these self-referential horror movies that we've seen over the years. The first step was Scream, wherein it was the victims who realized that they were in a horror movie and though they didn't really use their knowledge of horror tropes to survive, they at least acknowledged that the situation they were in was much like horror films past. Behind the Mask would be the second step because this time they took it one step further and had it be the killer who knew he was creating a horror movie, actually preparing the sets and props to his own advantage during the big killing spree. I'd say that The Cabin in the Woods is the third step, where a whole corporation and eventually the victims use and play by genre cliches.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (ha, it even has a documentary-like title) is a delightfully fun and creative look into how a horror movie legend is created. It's on the low budget side but doesn't show it that much - the casting and acting are what really sell the story and draw you in from the very beginning. Can't wait for the sequel or prequel!


  1. I've also heard of this one a million times, but never paid much attention to it. Watching it NOW!

  2. *pats your head* about time you did, little grasshopper! About time you did.
    Now, let's see your thoughts on the film How to Be a Serial Killer!

  3. Really impressive indie horror film that's unappreciated nowadays, glad you enjoyed it.