Imagine a world where Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers are real. Pretty darn scary huh?
This inspired idea is the central premise of the brilliant horror mockumentry Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, in which a small documentary team follow the titular villain as he sets about establishing himself among the ranks of the legendary mass murdering psycho killers.
Shot as a documentary, we watch as journalist Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) interviews the charismatic, yet maniacal Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) who guides her and us through every step on the road to becoming a slasher movie monster; from selecting your victim, to creating your back story.
As Taylor and her camera crew learn more about Vernon and become more involved in his twisted aspirations, their consciences constantly conflict with his plans.
The movie and the film crew’s moral dilemma both climax on the night of the murders, which for Vernon are the fulfilment of all his crazy dreams and desires – the bloody rampage which he believes will secure him a place with his horror heroes.
The brilliance of Behind the Mask is the way it effortlessly works on so many levels.
Primarily it appears to be a pure homage to slasher films with its myriad of references, in-jokes and subtle nods, including the casting of horror legends Robert Englund and Zelda Rubinstein. Englund is especially wonderful as Doc Halloran, who he plays whilst channelling Donald Pleasence and who serves as Vernon’s nemesis or ‘Ahab’ as Vernon would say.
This alone makes the film essential viewing for any horror fan who will be in ‘fan heaven’ spotting all the references.
The movie also serves as a post-modern essay on horror lore and slasher movie conventions, Vernon giving the viewer a Dummies Guide to becoming an iconic slasher villain.
The superb script by director Scott Glosserman (who also directed it) and David J. Stieve is intelligent and academic without being pretentious. It also contains some hilarious comedy that is pitched perfectly, never slipping into the tired, unfunny parody territory of Scary Movie.
Finally, and most importantly, Behind the Mask is an outstanding horror film with scares and gore aplenty. Its success as a pure horror film is down to a sublime and ingenious visual narrative twist (that’s all I’ll say on that) and the actors who are all excellent and engaging.
Special praise must go to Nathan Baesel who is amazing as Vernon, spinning into the character a complex mix of zany charm and charisma, coupled with a truly unnerving and disturbing dark side – which he finds it harder and harder to suppress.
This film is not only one of the best horror films of the decade, it is up there in my personal top ten of all time. Its highly original, wonderfully directed and purely entertaining – plus its scary.
There is no stopping the rise of Leslie Vernon and nothing should stop you watching Behind the Mask.
Additional film information: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)