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Overall Rating

Awesome: 38.24%
Worth A Look52.94%
Average: 5.88%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 2.94%

4 reviews, 10 user ratings

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Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
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by Jay Seaver

"D-I-Y spree killing."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: So let's say slasher movies were real. Spree killers targeted high-school students and then apparently came back from the dead to do it again. And again. If this was a common theme in American life as opposed to just in American movies, I imagine somebody would try to study the phenomenon, even if it meant going to unsafe lengths to do it.

Meet Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals). This graduate student and aspiring documentary filmmaker has been contacted by Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), who also has a dream - to be to Glen Echo, MD, what Jason Vorhees was to Crystal Lake, what Freddy Krueger was to Elm Street, what Michael Myers was to Haddonfield... You get the idea. It takes lots of preparation - choosing your "survivor girl", preparing the old scary house (nailing windows shut, ridding trees of limbs that can support a person's weight, sabotaging potential weapons), doing a lot of cardio (those kids are ten years younger than you and probably run track, and aren't trying to look slow), etc. As the anniversary of Leslie's supposed death approaches, though, Taylor starts getting cold feet. After all, this is standing back and watching while Leslie kills innocent people.

The big sticking point for this film, I figure, is that there's not exactly a compelling real-world reason for an actual slasher to follow horror-movie conventions, especially if you consider that successful mass-murderers don't leave behind a lot of witnesses to spread the word on what they do. The answers Leslie or his mentor Eugene (Scott Wilson) invariably give are "it's tradition" or "it's convention". It's an explanation that makes sense if you're copying movies à la Scream, but doesn't seem useful for real psycho killers. Sure, homicidal maniacs are, by definition, insane, but there's usual some sort of twisted logic beyond "just because" to the way actual crazy people act.

If you're buying a ticket to this movie, though, that probably won't bother you too much. Director Scott Glosserman and his co-writer David Stieve are on top of their horror-movie trappings and love them as much as the audience does. So they acknowledge the clichés while laughing, but don't belabor the point, and still argue that there's some kind of legitimacy to them. Saying that he can't reach into a closet and pull someone out because it represents the womb and is thus safe makes Vernon a little more self-aware than is perhaps totally believable, but any weight given to the genre is fine. They're at least interesting explanations for these movies from a critical perspective, even if I have my doubts they really mean that in-film.

Additionally, the tonal shift for the film's last act is just beautifully handled. In the Q&A afterward, Glosserman put the shift at Taylor's line of "we're done filming; now we're editing"; you could also say things change when Leslie actually dons his mask. After that, the film becomes less about deconstruction and more about decapitation, although in a pretty unique way - we have already had a walk-through, so we know to a certain extent how Vernon is planning to move bodies around, appear around a corner, or the like, so the shocks come from how things don't seem to go according to plan, and whether that will benefit Vernon or the other characters. It's tense, with a couple of good twists, pretty decent kills, and darkly comic moments. The bits where the characters seem to be too consciously sticking to horror movie conventions are fewer and farther between, but do seem a little more foolish when suddenly you know your own life is on the line.

Part of the reason that the change in tone works so well is that Nathan Baesel changes it. For the first half of the movie, we're seeing him as a sort of gangly, handsome, kind of normal guy. Sure, his ambition is sick, but he's talking like a regular young guy, a magician revealing his tricks, and he and Angela Goethals fall into a comfortable rapport. When teen-slaughtering time comes, he pulls the mask down, stiffens his body language, and stops talking. The removal of the joking around by that one character suddenly makes the whole movie a lot more serious. It happens at the same time Ms. Goethals' character is growing more apprehensive, so she's also doing a fine job, both as the straight man in the early going and in the more action-oriented finale. Credit also goes to Kate Lang Johnson and the other young actors, who become self-aware without being obnoxious about it during the straight horror section. It's also fun stunt casting for Robert Englund to show up in the Donald Pleasance role, as his Doc Halloran treated Leslie as a child and thus recognizes him as unremitting evil.

I'm not really a fan of slasher films, so I personally would kind of like "Behind the Mask" to be a little less faithful to the conventions and more to how smart people might react. But for those who do like that genre, it'll be a special treat, a witty homage created by and for true fans of the genre.

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originally posted: 07/10/06 22:29:16
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/22/19 Damalc Very smart for 2/3 of movie, but then just turns into everything it's made fun of. 3 stars
5/18/08 Mateusz Dziedziech pozdro dla dziedziechów 5 stars
3/01/08 Ivana Mann Smug, self-indulgent gobshite. Shitty "Blair Witch" camerawork=2 hours of nausea. 1 stars
9/01/07 Isabelle Chart great, original , a must for horror fan 5 stars
7/29/07 Charles Tatum Great cast, but the tone is all wrong; better as a short 3 stars
7/03/07 William Goss Brilliant blend of slasher deconstruction and execution, sold mostly by Baesel. A blast. 5 stars
11/14/06 Sally Kurt great movie-combined comedy, horror and documentary all in one. Can't wait for Glosserman' 5 stars
3/26/06 Bobby Dziedziech Don't miss it 5 stars
3/18/06 Kathy Really creative, loved Todd, reminded me of jOHN cANDY 5 stars
3/17/06 Rebecca This movie was excellent- I hope it gets a wider distribution 5 stars
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  16-Mar-2007 (R)
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