Behind The Mask : The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006)

It baffles me that more people don’t mention Behind The Mask : The Rise Of Leslie Vernon in the same breath as movies like Scream and Cabin In The Woods, or even Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. In terms of breaking down genre conventions, it does so with a twinkle in its eye and a skip in its step and deserves much more than the meagre cult status it has.

Released in 2006 to little fanfare, but lots of festival buzz, Behind The Mask takes the form of a mockumentary in which a small crew of documentary filmmakers follow and interview a budding serial killer named Leslie Vernon. Leslie is affable, handsome and smart. He is also planning a big “kill” in his hometown of Glen Echo and allows the crew access to every step of his plans. Along the way, he explains and deconstructs all the familiar aspects of the slasher movie and why they exist.

The decision to set Behind The Mask in a world where the slasher movie antagonists that we all love, are recognised as being real, is a stroke of genius on the part of writer/director Scott Glosserman. Leslie namechecks Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger as though they’re his heroes and it’s brilliantly done. It’s one step shy of breaking the fourth wall and winking at the camera from time to time but it is never overdone and never once does it feel smug. Instead, it becomes increasingly obvious that the film was made by people who know a great deal about the genre and want to share their enthusiasm with a willing audience who can participate in the joke, and who will appreciate it for what it is.

Nathan Baesal as Leslie is nothing short of wonderful. He has the ability to go from personable to eager-to-please to imposing in the blink of an eye and has the sort of expressive face that begs for more lead roles. It’s amazing that he hasn’t worked on more feature films since as he really is that great. Angela Goethals helps complete their uncertain double act as the interviewer, and the only member of the documentary crew that we see on screen until the third act. She’s the perfect innocent but inquisitive female lead. The rest of the cast is perfectly able and there are a handful of cameos from Robert Englund, Kane Hodder and Zelda Rubenstein to keep the fans happy too, as well as a great turn from The Walking Dead‘s Scott Wilson.

Overall Behind The Mask : The Rise Of Leslie Vernon works on several levels. It descontructs the slasher conventions that have become something of a joke whilst acting as a textbook slasher film too, and the fact that it achieves both is incredible when on paper, it’s the sort of thing that could just as easily have ended in disaster, in less capable hands. Slashers have become so commonplace in horror that the experience of predicting exactly what happens can almost be more fun than the films themselves but Behind The Mask succeeds in being a fun mockumentary, a social commentary on horror and its fans, as well as a genuine slasher movie in its own right; no mean feat. If I had to come up with a negative, about the only thing I can think of is that the Leslie Vernon as serial killer mask and outfit could have been done a little better but considering budget constraints, the wardrobe department has still managed to come up with something reasonably fresh and certainly iconic. The mask doesn’t look like anything else I’ve seen, and wouldn’t look out of place next to a hockey mask or a painted William Shatner mask at all.

Sadly, the reason it’s so successful is probably also the reason it will never receive the wider audience it deserves. Those less familiar with the genre will no doubt feel alienated and wonder what the joke is. Without the knowledge of what it is that’s being broken down it’ll float over a lot of heads and therein lies the flaw; it’s for horror fansĀ and horror fans alone. Behind The Mask : The Rise Of Leslie Vernon is fun, clever, well made and should be held in much higher regard than it is, amongst fans of film instead of just fans of horror. It goes a long way to proving what can be done with a little budget and a lot of imagination, and actors that are hired for their talent rather than their star power. I, for one, look forward to seeing if the rumoured prequel comes to fruition.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

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