BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON
(3 out of 4 stars)
Directed by Scott Glosserman
Starring: Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals,
Robert Englund, Scott Wilson, Zelda Rubinstein,
Bridgett Newton, Kate Lang Johnson, Ben Pace,
Britian Spellings, Hart Turner
92 minutes, Rated R
The mockumentary has become passé. The pseudo-genre has been “reality-programmed” out of effectiveness. But can it morph into something more? Few would argue that the best place for this evolution is the subgenre of B-grade horror.
At least, this is the goal of filmmaker Scott Glosserman with Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Mask smartly utilizes the mockumentary format to build credibility into another played out category: the slasher film. No doubt that without the infusion of mock into chop, the slash here would have been lacking.
Mask starts with documentary filmmaker Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) preparing to interview who is reportedly the world’s next big real life horror star: Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel). Vernon has agreed to permit the documentarian and her crew to interview him at length and even ride along as he plies his trade. Of course, Taylor and her crew are pretty skeptical at first; however, in their universe, horror icons such as Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Vorhees actually exist. Therefore, as the Leslie Vernon myth is promulgated, their interest in the details becomes more and more journalistic. There is some serious reporting to be done.
Mask has a lot of fun convincing us that Vernon is really an aspiring member of the slasher club. We are introduced to his mentor Eugene (a very funny Scott Wilson), who tells us that he’s retired from the business. Exactly the nature of the “business” is a mystery. We get the impression that Eugene’s wife may have once been the subject of his slasher anger, but now she’s domesticated him, and the two live peacefully in the woods in a rather nice home.
It is through Eugene that Vernon has been trained in the slasher arts, and the education is hard work. Vernon takes Taylor and her video crew into his world, showing them and us how he gets in shape for all that slashing. There’s a fair amount of working out, study in martial arts, and even time for book-learning: Gray’s Anatomy is a centerpiece of his extensive library.
But all that training is good for nothing without putting it to use. This is where Behind the Mask takes a dark turn. Vernon has designs on a group of high schoolers and scopes them out around town. His plan is to stalk and kill all of them at Vernon’s ancestral home. Apparently, the well-kept house in the woods acts as a party shack for kids.
Anyway, Vernon intends to take down the whole lot of them in one bloody night, all of them except one kill he calls: The Survivor Girl. Now, the cleverness of Mask is the way it picks apart slasher film conventions and articulates the various components of the genre. The Survivor Girl is a virginal gal who transforms into a vicious avenger during the horrific events surrounding the murder of her friends. Yes, we know this girl all too well.
Other slasher terminology includes something perfectly named: The Ahab, which is the hunter who goes after the killer. In Mask, the Ahab is Doc Halloran (Robert Englund) who has a past with Vernon and is Hell-bent on preventing his murderous rampage. I need not tell you who Englund once played. I would remind readers that horror icon Wes Craven effectively spoofed (in a serious way) his own Elm Street films in 1994 with New Nightmare that is arguably one of the series’ best.
So much fun is had early in Behind the Mask. This is akin to the self-aware approach employed in New Nightmare, enabling Wes Craven to reinvigorate the genre with a hip script from Kevin Williamson in 1996 with Scream. And Mask has the right idea by using in-jokes to entertain core viewers. But the unconventional take on the genre that begins Mask merely sets up a typical bloody conclusion. Of course, this is perfect for fans of slasher films. And, after all, where else can the genre go?