September 24th, 2009

BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (2006) ***

As a die hard slasher movie fan, I like films that give you the “same but different” approach.  I don’t ask that a slasher flick reinvent the wheel, I just want to see teens get naked a lot and get killed in gory ways.  Every now and then you get a fresh and original take on the slasher genre that breathes new life into an old concept.  Behind the Mask:  The Rise of Leslie Vernon is such a film.

 

Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) is a prospective serial killer who invites a documentary film crew to follow him as he sets up his latest murder spree.  He meticulously prepares his family’s rundown farmhouse so that when a group of rowdy teens show up to party, he can:  A)  Cut the power.  B)  Isolate the teens and pick them off one by one.  C)  Stack the bodies in the tool shed.  D) Chase after the virginal “Survivor Girl”.  The documentary crew eventually grows a conscience and decides to warn the potential victims that Vernon is going to kill them.  Vernon is quite a savvy serial killer though and adjusts his elaborate plan to include the trio of crew members.

 

Behind the Mask makes a brilliant conceit early on that Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, and even Chucky are REAL serial killers and that Leslie Vernon is just following in their footsteps in hopes to be the next great slasher.  By doing this, it makes the idea of a documentary crew filming Vernon kinda logical.  In the age of increasingly tasteless reality TV, this would be a ratings bonanza. 

 

As much as I hate shaky-cam on general principals, the “documentary” footage in Behind the Mask was absorbing.  I particularly liked the way Vernon planted newspaper clippings of his family’s history in the library so the Survivor Girl would find them.  By having Leslie show off HOW he prepares to kill everyone, director Scott Glosserman is given license to turn all the usual slasher movie clichés on their ear.  Once Leslie tells us what he’s going to do; the movie drops the shaky-cam stuff, becomes a “real” slasher movie, and we’re given a fitting payoff. 

 

I mean did you ever wonder how Michael Myers was always able to prop up all those dead bodies so that Laurie would find them?  It takes PLANNING.  Behind the Mask also tells us the secret of how slashers are able to catch up to their running victims by merely walking.  The answer:  Lots and lots of cardio.

 

As great as the idea for this movie is, the execution sometimes leaves a little something to be desired.  As I previously stated, the shaky-cam aesthetic is quite irritating.  I mean there are ways to convey that portions of the film are supposed to be a pseudo-documentary without shaking the damn camera so much.  The documentary scenes are the best written but the over-shakiness is grating.  The slasher movie portion is fun, yet Glosserman kinda rushes things too much in the third act and the editing starts getting a bit sloppy.  The gore is also kinda slack.  The sole exception is a juicy death via post hole digger.

 

Nathan Baesel is a name you’re going to be hearing a lot more from; hopefully.  If he doesn’t get famous from this movie then we can always take solace in the fact that he knocked it out of the park as Leslie Vernon.  Baesel (who kinda reminded me of a demented mixture of Ryan Reynolds and Jim Carrey) had impressive screen presence and made Leslie immensely likable.  Even if you don’t like slasher movies, you’ll enjoy his performance.  I also admired the work of Scott Wilson as the older retired slasher who gave Leslie a lot of fatherly advice on how to kill people.

 

Sure, I got some quibbles with this movie, but it’s still recommended wholeheartedly for anyone who wants to see an inventive slasher flick.  I have to admit that I would love a sequel at some point.  (The set-up for the sequel is set to the tune of “Psycho Killer”.)  Unfortunately, I have to knock a ½ * off for all the shaky-cam bullshit.  That still leaves Behind the Mask:  The Rise of Leslie Vernon with an upper-tier *** rating.