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

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

Directed by: Scott Glosserman

Premise: Taking place in a movie world where the slashers of Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street are real, a documentary film crew follows Leslie Vernon as he prepares to cut his name into the pages of infamy by committing a slasher film-style murder spree.

What Works: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is an interesting combination of Scream and The Blair Witch Project, a part-spoof, part-satire, part-pseudo-documentary, and part-straight up horror film. Like Scream, the film uses a self-awareness of the genre conventions to have fun and play on expectations, but Behind the Mask plays it differently, taking the approach of a pseudo-documentary like This is Spinal Tap. The film features a grotesque but deadpan sense of humor and the two lead characters, played by Nathan Baesel as would-be serial killer Leslie Vernon and Angela Goethals as documentary filmmaker Taylor Gentry, have some genuine laugh out loud moments that are a credit to the writing and the delivery of the actors. Where Scream was based on fan-boy obsessions and observations about the slasher film, the creators of Behind the Mask have clearly read the academic scholarship on these films and applied it to the story, which helps to sell the documentary style and gives Behind the Mask some film school credibility. In the final act, Behind the Mask takes a risky but worthwhile turn as it transitions very abruptly from an inside joke and a pseudo-documentary into a full blown horror film done in a feature film style. The result pays off because, having established all of the genre conventions and the details of Leslie’s plan, Behind the Mask is able to deliver a smarter and tenser final act. It also makes the audience think about the implications of their entertainment, both in terms of slasher films and reality-based entertainment.

What Doesn’t: The first half hour of the film tests the audience’s patience. The film is intended to look as though it was shot by an amateur documentary film crew and it takes a while before the far out premise of the film actually settles in. Once it does, and the actors slip into their roles and the film solidifies its point of view, the picture picks up and becomes much more enjoyable.

DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, deleted scenes, trailers, DVD-ROM features.

Bottom Line: Although not as successful or cohesive as Scream, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is better than Adaptation, which had a similar attitude toward its subject. It will be a fascinating film for hardcore fans of the horror genre and for those who like spoofs or satires.

Episode: #155 (September 2, 2007)