October 30, 2011

Horror-A-Day: Behind the Mask - The Rise of Leslie Vernon

My Halloween horror marathon is marching on. It has been full of new viewings and revisits and has covered multiple sub-genres and decades. No matter how many I get to, there are always that many more that I want to watch. It seems like horror, and to a lesser extent science fiction, has the most longevity in terms of awesome films that I can watch over and over again. This stop on the road to Halloween brings me to the slasher genre. It is a genre that was kicked off in the 1970's and reached its fever pitch in the 1980's. However, even when it is not the go to style of horror, there are always new ones being made.

This particular slasher was released back in 2006 and while it did not hit theaters, it certainly made a splash on home video. It is the debut feature of director/co-writer Scott Glosserman and it definitely makes an impression. It is a slasher film, that is not a slasher. It is a mockumentary that shouldn't be called a mockumentary, since it brings up thoughts of more comedic fare. This movie is not without comical lines and moments, but it is not a comedy. It is a tale that has serious implications. It is a story that pulls back the curtain on the slasher, keeps it scary but gives us a new perspective.

Behind the Mask borrows for Man Bites Dog. The first half of the film follows a, more or less, documentary style as a crew meet up with Leslie Vernon and follow him as he outlines his plan to become the next iconic serial killer. Oh yes, in this cinematic world the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees are very much real. In fact, the opening takes us to Crystal Lake, Haddonfield, and Elm Street (where we see a cameo by Kane Hodder as a person living on Elm who doesn't want to talk), on our way to Glen Echo, where Leslie is planning on making his name.

We are given an insider look at what it takes to be a killer. We see the selection of the survivor girl, the introduction of the Ahab, as well as the research needed, including Grey's Anatomy (not the show, silly), and escape tactics. There is even a humorous bit on the importance of cardio, you know it is not easy doing that whole moving quick while walking low thing.

The killer of the piece, Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesal), is a likable, funny guy. His affability is rather disarming and it is easy to forget that this guy wants to be a killer. Fortunately, the movie toes that fine line well, pulling back from becoming a full on satire. There are enough moments to remind you of the heartless nature of Leslie.

The second half of the film turns into a more traditional slasher, and while it may be familiar, it is far from boring or dull. This is a cleverly made piece of horror cinema, a love letter of sorts to the slasher fan base. It peels back the layers of the killer, gives us that inside sports look.

On top of the cleverly spun and executed concept, it is helped along with a great performance from Nathan Baesel. There is something about his approach that works perfectly. Equal parts comedian, charmer, salesman, and cold hearted killer. It is a well balanced performance that draws you in, almost makes you care for him, then pulls the rug out when his true nature is revealed.

I recently met Nathan and he is a very nice guy, eager to talk about the film and clearly loves the character. He was raising money to help get the production of a sequel going.

Most slasher fans have probably already seen this, but if not, do yourself a favor and take a look. It is one of the more clever and memorable slasher films of recent vintage. Oh yes, it also has roles for genre vets Robert Englund and Zelda Rubinstein.

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