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

Starz Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/26/2007

All Ratings of out
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/2/2007

As a lifelong horror film fan, I've visited many horror movie websites, and before that, read many horror fanzines, and there's one thing that I've learned: Horror movies fan typically don't have a sense of humor. Oh, now they appreciate a horrific films with comedic overtones, such as Peter Jackson's early movies, or An American Werewolf in London, and they appreciate a good spoof, such as the Scary Movie franchise. But, when it comes to questioning the sanctity of horror movies, or deconstructing them, horror fans can get pretty touchy. But even the most die-hard, fanatical horror movie devotee will appreciate the tongue-in-cheek approach of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a slasher mockumentary which almost does everything right.

Behind the Mask is a fictitious documentary which tells the story of Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel). "University News" reporter Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) visits the small town of Glen Echo to visit Leslie. According to local legend, 20 years ago, while as a small child, Leslie killed his father and his mother then killed herself. The enraged townspeople took the boy and threw him into the nearby waterfall, where his body was never recovered. Now, on the anniversary of that event, Leslie is prepared to seek his revenge -- horror movie slasher style. He has patterned his life after the likes of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger, and he hopes to achieve the legendary status of those killers. So, through the documentary, Taylor (and the audience) learn how Leslie prepares for this big event by doing physical training, choosing his victims, and prepping the location. Taylor learns that Leslie's obsession goes far beyond revenge on the town, and that psycho-killers are everywhere. Thus, the question emerges, can Taylor simply stand by while Leslie kills a group of people?

Based on my previous experience with anything involving horror and comedy, I was understandably wary going into Behind the Mask. Much to my surprise, this is a solid, well-made movie which does a fantastic job of straddling the line between paying homage to horror films which totally skewering all of the conventions of slasher films. From the outset, director/co-writer Scott Glosserman shows that he can play with the best of the fanboys as he inserts several visuals references to famous films, such as the A Nightmare on Elm Street house and a sign for The Rabbit in Red Lounge, which is an obscure reference to Halloween. But, from there, Glosserman also shows that he's not afraid to butcher the genre, as he pokes holes in the stereotypes of the slasher genre, such as the fact that the killer always walks and still keeps pace with his victims, or the idea that the killer plays dead in every movie. A working knowledge of 80s slasher movies isn't a prerequisite for enjoying Behind the Mask, but the jokes will be much funnier if you're familiar with the movies.

Not only does Glosserman juggle the reverence of horror films, he also has fun with the tone of the film. Again, this is a mockumentary, so the characters in the film, most notably Taylor are taking the proceedings very seriously. The "movie" deals with the controversial subject of a man who wants to be a murderer. In theory, Leslie should be a very dark, brooding, and serious character. Instead, Nathan Baesel plays Leslie as a total goofball and at times, his performance reminded me of a toned-down Jim Carrey. Leslie is a happy-go-lucky guy who peppers his plans of revenge with jokes and strangely sensitive insights. This is a bit of a challenge to the viewer at first, but it soon becomes clear that anything goes in this movie. Not to be outdone, Angela Goethals matches Baesel's silliness by increasing her serious tone, and thusly, the two play off of each other very well. I always hope for, but rarely get, good acting in low-budget horror films, so these performances were a breath of fresh air.

While making fun of horror movies, Behind the Mask does create its own linear plot throughout the movie, as Leslie sets his plan in motion and Taylor debates whether or not she should get some amazing footage or attempt to save the victims. During the first 3/4 of the film, Behind the Mask proves itself to be a smart, witty movie. However, everything changes during the last reel. Glosserman attempts to totally pull the rug out from under the viewer, but the gesture only causes the audience, and apparently the filmmakers, to be disoriented. I don't want to give away too much, but the movie totally shifts gears and becomes quite boring and pedestrian. I get the feeling that Glosserman wanted to prove that he could step outside of the mockumenatry aspects of the film, but the results cause Behind the Mask to have a very disappointing final act.

Despite that flawed finale, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is still a fun ride. An easy way to describe the film would be that it's like Scream, but from the killer's point of view. However, the movie is more than that. Yes, it did remind me of Belgian film Man Bites Dog at times, but it's much more tongue-in-cheek than that. The Scary Movie films do a good job of poking fun at specific movies, but it's rare that we get a spoof which tackles the horror genre like this one. Don't let the dark DVD packaging scare you off: Behind the Mask does have some gory, horrific moments, but the bulk of the film is a smart comedy which does the genre proud. Now, if only we could get Unmasked Part 25 on DVD.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon stalks DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment/Starz Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The movie is a combination of high def digital video and 35mm film. The film scenes look fantastic, as the image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain or distortion. The DV scenes (which make up the bulk of the film) are meant to resemble a documentary, so they exhibit the flaws inherit to that style. The image is sometimes too dark and at other time too bright, and there is some video noise on the picture at times. However, these issues can be ignored, as they actually add to the reality of the story. Overall, the transfer is quite solid. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are notably good. The surround and subwoofer action doesn't kick in until the final act and they are the highlight of this portion of the film.

The DVD contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring actors Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Britain Spellings, and Ben Pace (who play Taylor's cameramen). This is a fun chat, as the quartet reminisce about the making of the film. Their talk gets a bit silly at times, but they do a good job of talking about the production conditions and what it was like to work with some famous guest stars. "The Making of Behind the Mask" (32 minutes) is essentially a video diary from director Scott Glosserman which is intercut with behind-the-scenes footage. Glosserman talks about a particular aspect of shooting, and then we see on-set action. "The Casting of Behind the Mask" (6 minutes) is simply audition footage. The DVD contains 4 DELETED SCENES which run about 7 minutes and have optional director commentary. These scenes are worth watching but don't add much. There are also 6 EXTENDED SCENES which log in at 22 minutes and again have optional commentary. The last two extras are the TRAILER and TEASER for the movie. It should be noted that the trailer and the making-of hint at a courtroom scene, but that footage isn't found in the extras.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long