Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Horror with a heart - Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

I love horror movies, but it’s a sad fact that most of them suck wet ass. With the glut of “torture porn” movies and PG-13 jump-scare flicks targeted at 15-year old girls, it can be tough to find a halfway decent horror movie these days.

I enjoyed 30 Days of Night, although it shared the same flaws that its comic book source material had. (That aerial shot of the vampires running amok was pretty sweet, though, wasn’t it?) I’ve heard good things about the indy slasher movie Hatchet, which looks fun. But it’s rare to find a good scary flick anymore. You can imagine how pleased I was when I found a horror movie that I not only could tolerate, but genuinely loved.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is like a big blood drenched Valentine to all those slasher flicks that scared the shit out of me as a kid. It works as a horror movie, as a cultural satire, and as a comedy. It’s fantastic and you should stop reading this and put it at the top of your Netflix queue right now. I’ll wait.

Back? Good. You won’t regret it, I promise.

Behind the Mask begins as a mockumentary created by college student Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) and her crew that follows the training and planning of Leslie Vernon, an aspiring mass-murderer. In the universe of the film, slashers like Michael Meyers and Jason Voorhees are not only real, they are the subject of study and admiration for Vernon (Nathan Baesel), a chipper Prius-driving young man who is truly devoted to mastering his craft – his chosen trade just happens to be stalking and massacring teenagers.

Vernon explains in detail the tricks of the slasher trade and the meaning behind his impending slaughter of a virginal teen and her friends. It’s a clever and very funny deconstruction of the tropes of slasher movies, but you can tell that the filmmakers have a real affection for the source material. This is loving satire, not parody.

Nathan Baesel is pitch-perfect as Leslie Vernon, who carefully constructs a fake local mythology surrounding his slasher and meticulously prepares the haunted house and apple orchard which is the center of the fake folklore and hunting ground for the anticipated partying teenagers. He rigs the lights to a remote control so he can plunge the house into darkness, weakens the branches on trees so the kids can’t escape from the second floor, constructs secret passageways, sabotages a tool shed full of potentially defensive weaponry, nails the windows on the bottom floor shut, etc. – all while he talks about the benefits of cardio and the Jungian/Freudian symbolism of the bond between slasher and the virginal “survivor girl” who is the focus of his twisted attention. Leslie Vernon is hilarious and endearing and, much like the documentary crew, we’re drawn into his world and don’t really want him to stop.

Of course, there comes a point when Taylor and the film crew must decide whether to intervene, step away, or keep filming – and that’s when the mockumentary stops and the movie shifts gears and becomes a full-on horror movie. There’s an unexpected twist that makes complete sense and lots of mayhem, including a great kill where a victim’s heart is removed from his chest with a post-digging tool.

My only complaint about the third act of Behind the Mask is that it’s not scary enough. At this point in my life I may be immune to stuff like this, but I felt like director Scott Glosserman could have pumped up The Scary a little more.

Overall I thought it was fantastic and I think you will, too. The script is clever, the performances are spot-on, the concept is fantastic (and not as similar to the Belgian flick Man Bites Dog as it sounds), and most importantly, Behind the Mask’s heart is in the right place – lying on the ground next to a busted open sternum.


Chris said...

I completely agree. If you like horror films, you'll really appreciate the analysis this film provides. If you're looking for something a bit original, this fits the bill, too.

Christian D. Leaf said...

Testify, brother. Testify. I Netlfix'd this little gem on a whim and enjoyed it immensely. Been spreading the good word on it ever since.

Ryan said...

I'm not a huge fan of the slasher style horror flicks, but this sounds pretty sweet, Dave. I'm adding it to the top of my queue right now!

Anonymous said...

To be honest I was kind of bored with the movie but it did have some good stuff in it. I thought Robert Englund's performance as, well, Donald Pleasance was pretty hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Saw it, loved it. You speak truth, O Dave.

Anonymous said...

Was lucky enough to catch this in its brief theatrical run. A highly unknown gem that all horror fans should see.

Arkonbey said...

I prefer the term 'gorenography' to 'torture porn'.

But, that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Dave, you should just do movie reviews, or make a different sight for movie reviews. They're great. Peace!


Anonymous said...

Wow.. Man Bits Dogs. That is the movie where a guy gets a flute put up his backdoor.

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