Post Millennial Trauma: Behind the Mask- The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Now I’ve escaped from the more fallow years of the 21st Century, it’s time to look at some of the better horror films of the last decade. To start of this nice easy run in to the present day, I’ve got an absolutely cracking little film, and one that very nearly counts as an undiscovered gem. I give you Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

I’m a bit wary of this review, because this is a film that I genuinely love. However, I’ve shown it to several peopleand there has been a near universal “fail” given to it(Droid excepted). I actually don’t agree with the reason that’s always given- in fact I think they’re completely wrong, but the level of unfair slating that this film, and by extension me, has taken is quite completely unprecedented and grossly unfair.

Behind the Mask is a clever, low-budget indie film. The film opens with a faux-newsreader voiceover, narrated by Taylor (Angela Goethals), detailing the many crimes of Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Chuckie, and Freddie Krueger as if they were real serial killer atrocities. This is the main conceit of the film- it’s a mockumentary, and will chart the efforts of a three students in their attempt to capture on film the inner workings of the supernatural serial killer. They believe that they have unearthed a new one: Leslie Vernon, supremely performed by Nathan Baesel.

When we meet Leslie, actually, he’s immensely likable. He gladly agrees to the interviews, introduces them to his friends (legend of “The Business” Eugene, played by Scott Wilson and his attractive wife Jamie, played by Bridgett Newton), and walks our nosy film crew through the ins and outs of the key set pieces that you see in every slasher film. He shows them how he stages it in advance, the path that the heroes must take, how he effectively cheats, explains the sexual imagery that is so essential to the whole mythology, the necessary character traits of his victim, and brilliantly, why an “Ahab is a wonderful thing”.

Eventually, the film plays out in arguably the only way it can play out with our intrepid wannabe Pulitzer winners being forced into the game and hunted by the clearly psychotic serial killer that they’ve been chumming up to.

This is an absolutely storming little film. Firstly, it’s exquisitely written. The dialogue is sharp, particularly the exchanges between Leslie and Taylor such as when they’re discussing such essential matters as Leslie’s exercise regime:

Leslie: You have no idea how much cardio I have to do. It’s ridiculous.
Taylor: Why so much?
Leslie: Well, I have to be able to run like a frickin’ gazelle without getting winded.  Plus, there’s that whole thing about making it look like you’re walking while everybody else is running their asses off.  And I gotta stay with ‘em!  It’s tough, man!

The whole film is full of touches like this. It has been argued to me that it veers a little too far into the realms of postmodernism, but I disagree with this assessment- it’s entirely necessary for a mockumentary to go to these lengths, in Best in Show, for example, we’re exposed to the minutiae of the owner’s pathetic lives, and part of the reason for the success of that film is that it does show the viewer everything. I’d argue that it’s even more essential here- Leslie has promised to reveal all the secrets of his trade- we have to know things like he’s already nailed up all the windows on the ground floor, and that stoners are good to “pad your numbers” with.

Secondly, it’s extremely well acted. Baesel as already mentioned is hugely likable in the lead and the success of this film is, in many ways down , down to how charming and charismatic he is. It’s deeply wrong, and we’re aware of this, but we sort of sneakily want his murderous quest to be successful. That isn’t to say he can’t be frightening on occasion, because he can, but essentially the film relies far more on his charm than his ability to menace. Goethals is good as Taylor, and her crew (Doug and Todd) are both spot-on performances from Ben Pace and Brittain Spellings. Kate Lang Johnson is good as the survivor girl playing to type, and the cannon fodder teenagers are all played adequately. However, this is a film where the cameos deserve mention- Horror legends Zelda Rubinstein and Robert Englund both play  minor roles in the film and both seem to be really enjoying themselves.

Now for the big complaint that I keep hearing: the last act. Let me state in advance that I completely disagree with this, and I’ll explain why. The final act comes, and it is by now obvious that Taylor and crew cannot let Leslie go through with this. It’s at this point that Taylor makes the call, and Behind the Mask finds another gear. The camera is put down and we watch the rest of the film as a conventional horror movie, complete with lighting, score, jump scares etc, albeit one that plays out exactly as we were told it was going to. The complaint that I’ve now heard 4 times is that this is too jarring, that the film becomes “crap” because it transforms into a run-of-the-mill slasher. I personally, think this is hogwash for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, the first two acts of this film were set up for this sequence. The decision by director Scott Glosserman to abandon the hand-held camera and film a conventional horror movie is, I believe the correct one. We are aware of what is going to happen as we’ve already been told and if the film didn’t finish in this way then it would, frankly, be a colossal gip. Secondly, it’s actually great fun watching it play out- we know and the characters know how it has to go, and it’s genuinely tense seeing if they can get out of it. Thirdly, and most importantly, when horror movies that use the camera device come to the sequences involving physical exertion, I actually find it aggravating. In Diary of the Dead (awful film) I was literally screaming “Put that fucking camera down dickhead” at the scream, not to mention that when characters run the camera jerks around all over the place and is both disconcerting and jarring. I think this approach is far superior. Finally, I simply don’t understand the complaint- this is something that happens several times during the documentary scenes- we have to see what he’s doing, and how it plays out as a film (noticeably the library scene) so to piss and moan when it comes to fruition finally strikes me as wrong-headed and intentionally so.

Overall, this is an absolutely storming film. It’s funny, scary and hugely entertaining. The real joy of it, though, and this is the principle reason for the extremely high rating I’m giving it, is the central performance from Baesel. Give this man more work, now, he’s simply magnificent here. If you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, then dig it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a fabulous and hugely enjoyable film. Given the amount of hacks out there shitting all over horror as a genre, it’s really pleasant to see a first time director turn out such an accomplished and frankly awesome little film. I hope Scott Glosserman goes on to make many more great horror films- the man has serious potential and I give Behind the Mask 3 and a half psycho killer masks out of 4.

Oh and hang around over the end credits. It’s worth it- because Psycho Killer is an awesome song, and the very end of the film always makes me laugh.

Until next time,

Jarv

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

60 responses to “Post Millennial Trauma: Behind the Mask- The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)”

  1. Jarv says :

    Storming film this. I’ve completely forgotten what I said I was going to do for 2007, so suggestions please.

  2. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    Excellent choice Jarv. I remember recomending this to you way back in 08 on the AICN Twitch threads. Prior to you and the Moonwolves I heard all the same complaints about it when I suggested it. Too hip, post modern, stupid switch to generic horror in the last third.

    I agree with pretty much everything you wrote here. It’s a good one and it uses the style and structure to strangely humanize the invincible slasher. I wish more horror films were half this inventive. I’d also say that the way it handles itself borders more on ‘wise’ than ‘clever’. It knows when to push the right buttons and when to scale back and trust the genre.

    As far as 2007 goes, there are several choices you have. The Mist tends to be the one standing out most prominent in my mind. I think original Rec was 2007 right?

  3. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    I know it’s not terribly well loved, but I also enjoyed Wind Chill, with Emily Blunt. And depending on where you are, The Host is a 2007 movie. And of course there’s the infamous Prank R’ Prize.

  4. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    The Orphanage is a great movie, but depending on what you think, maybe not a horror. I say it is, but not sure.

    Also, Droid, you should give Orphanage another go. Last time we spoke, you didnt even remember the seance scene and that’s probably the creepiest bit in the whole movie.

    Rogue is a good one Jarv. I wrote it up over here, if you are looking for a big fat monster movie:

    http://cinematropolis.wordpress.com/2009/06/20/the-weekly-creepy-what-a-croc-vartan-and-mitchell-go-rogue/

  5. Droid says :

    HEY HEY! A horror film I like! I was, quite frankly, a little unsure about this one when I borrowed it, but it’s great. Baesel is excellent, and a lot of his likabilty stems from his enthusiasm for what he’s doing. And as you say, the last third is entirely necessary. We chuckle along knowingly throughout the movie at all the references we are familiar with, and there’s nowhere for it to go except to make the leap into a familiar slasher film. Great movie.

  6. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    How bout The Signal, Jarv?

    • koutchboom says :

      Now The Signal there’s a 2/3rd’s good movie as well. Interesting concept that doesn’t fully work. Again another anthology film that doesn’t fully work. I like their ingenuity though.

  7. Droid says :

    Here’s an awesome list for you to choose from…

    28 Weeks Later, 30 Days of Night, Blood and Chocolate, Captivity, Dead Silence, The Hills Have Eyes 2, The Hitcher, Hostel: Part II, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (this is a actually good one!), The Messengers, The Mist, P2, Saw IV, Shrooms, Skinwalkers, Teeth, Vacancy, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End

    • koutchboom says :

      Ewww Blood and Chocolate would be good to go with your Cronenberg thing since it was directed by his rent boy.

      Also I got one for 2007, Murder Party. I’m thinking Jarv may hate that movie, he may have seen it someone else here has and they hated it. I thought it was pretty funny. Its more “INDY” comedy then horror though.

      • Droid says :

        I’ve hardly seen any of them. Only 28 Weeks Later (crap), 30 Days of Night (crap), Captivity (the pre reshoot version. Crap.), Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (Good), The Mist (great), P2 (crap), and Vacancy (crap). Actually that’s about half. More than I realised.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        I liked Murder Party. It’s douchy artists getting killed by a likable enough bloke fighting for his life. I dont think Jarv would object at all.

      • koutchboom says :

        Hrmmm maybe it was you and you liked it? I could’ve swore someone else saw it and hated it. I think its really funny. Also again very well done for a no budget film. I wonder if they’ve done anything else since.

        I remember I was watching some other movie and in the special features one of the people on the movie (can’t remember if it was cast are crew) was wearing a Murder Party t-shirt. It was a bigish movie though…hmmm on second thought it could’ve been Hatchet 1 don’t remember anymore.

      • Jarv says :

        Not even heard of the signal. Quite like the sound of the murder party.

        Fuck Hatchet. That’s another that Mrs Jarv likes that I think is shit

    • Echo the Bunnyman says :

      I did like Jack Brooks. The rest are crap outside of the ones previously mentioned.

      Haha. Shrooms might be the worst one on there.

    • Toadkillerdog says :

      What about Feast?
      I thought it was quite enjoyable.

    • Jarv says :

      Vacancy isn’t that bad. I have been meaning to do it so I can slag off the “tape collection” that is just extended nastiness in the DVD extras.

  8. Toadkillerdog says :

    I think someone mentioned The Host – is this the Koran flick that could not decide if it was slapstick comedy, drama or horror?

    I actually liked it – it was goofy as hell. I would not classify it as horror though.

  9. Toadkillerdog says :

    Whoops, Korean not Koran, I don’t want this site getting firebombed by muslims

    may the prophet (un) guide you through the camels flatulence

  10. Droid says :

    What year was Joyride? Thats a great little movie. Prob not horror though. Maybe for your underrated?

  11. Jarv says :

    Roadkill? That’s not horror.

    Fucking good film

  12. Jarv says :

    Man there are some good ones for 2009

    • Droid says :

      Friday the 13th? Descent 2? Halloween 2? HEY-O!!!

      I actually recommend you give Drag Me To Hell a go.

      • Spud McSpud says :

        FIRDAY THE 13TH? Saw the remake a few days ago. Fuck, that was some boring-ass shit. Couple of okay kills, but thwey totally wussed out on a kick-ass Jason kill at the very end. Fuckers.

        Very disappointed with MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D too, which I saw yesterday. Some decent kills, but a fucking awful movie. Why can no-one except John Carpenter and pre-1990s Wes Craven do a decent slasher movie?? FUCKERS!!

      • Droid says :

        Apart from a lot of unleashed boobage the F13 remake is nigh on unwatchable. MBV is crap too. But I watched that before I knew who Ackles was. I’m tempted to revisit it.

      • koutchboom says :

        Friday 13 remake is not bad. Its no better are worse then most of the sequels.

      • Jarv says :

        It can be done.

        Mrs Spud to be may like this one. It is legitimately entertaining, and funny in places

  13. Spud McSpud says :

    Nice review Jarv, you’ve gee’d me up to watch this movie again. I’ve had it on DVD for a few years, but never got round to it – not much time to myself and Mrs Spud-To-Be is very much in an anti-horror phase (despite enjoying Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and THE LAST EXORCISM. Yeah, I know.)

    I like the idea of treating the movie slashers as real, too. If they ever fucking get the movie of the comic HACK/SLASH made (hopefully with Megan Fox, as they originally intended to) you’ll see a lot of smart uses of slasher tropes in there too. The comics are just a turn-your-brain-off-and-enjoy blast as well.

    I’ve REALLY got to start getting through my Must Watch DVD list…

  14. koutchboom says :

    As for this film we were in Austin at the time of SXSW, by accident. We walked around the main building but its very hush hush unless you already had tickets so we didn’t see anything. But at one point there was this dude walking around the building with that mask on and handing out shit. It was creepy. We thought he was there for The Hills Have Eyes because that was opening soon or just did. So we go to leave and get in the car and are driving and this dude walks in front of our car and just turns and stares at us for a minute as he crosses a crosswalk. It was creepy and in the middle of the day, also the dude in the mask was short we thought it was a kid. When we got home I looked up the movie to see it was this and we had to hunt it down. Ended up loving it.

  15. LBronco says :

    Alright, the movie is screening in London in a week or so:

    Go Watch Adam F’ing Greens “Frozen”

    Quite deliciously nasty.

    It’s on screens very shortly!

    He he.

    • Jarv says :

      I didn’t like Open Water. I’m not a big fan of films where the heroes are fighting nature and we’re just waiting for them to croak. I know Jonah raved about Frozen, but it’s just not for me.

  16. ThereWolf says :

    See, that sounds really good – but the moment I read the word “postmodern” I go into a defensive posture, fangs bared, claws extended… coz I think another ‘Scream’ is on the way.

    But one or two seem to concur so I’ll give it a go.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: