Retro-review: New on Bluray from The Shout Factory; help me out and pick it up on DVD/BluRay here on Amazon!
BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (2006)
Directed by Scott Glosserman
Written by Scott Glosserman, David J. Stieve
Starring Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Zelda Rubinstein, Scott Wilson, Robert Englund, Bridgett Newton, Kate Miner, Ben Pace, Britain Spellings, Hart Turner, Krissy Carlson, Travis Zariwny, Teo Gomez, Matt Bolt, Jenafer Brown, Kane Hodder
I remember being rather blown away the first time I saw BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLEY VERNON. Like many, I think I was mainly dazzled by the late in the game twist when the mockumentary shot in the first half ceases to be and the real horror begins. But after seeing this twist and revisiting this film, I feel that it is rather uneven. The film still has a reserved warm place in my cold dead heart, but the more I think about it, the flaws stand out more than the highlights.
Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) has agreed to have a documentary crew follow him about as he plans a mass murder—one fans of slasher films are all too familiar with. Dissecting tropes such as the final girl (referred to as survival girl here), how the killer walks while the rest run yet he still catches them, the acquisition of an arch-nemesis (referred to as an Ahab here), and all of the rest of the clichés, Vernon explains them all away to a film crew eager to hear his story (lead by fresh-faced reporter Taylor played by Angela Goethals). But as Vernon’s big night approaches as a group of kids he has chosen gather at a farmhouse to party, do drugs, and have the sex, the documentary crew begin having second thoughts about the monster they have been so fascinated with filming.
The documentary parts of the film work pretty well. While there are a few scenes that break this format, for the most part, this film plays out like a comedic version of MAN BITES DOG. But while that French farce swung for the fences in the final moments, when the tape stops and the terror gets real and Vernon starts stalking the film crew, the film sort of falls flat. There are a lot of great ideas in the first portion of the film. The way Lesley trains and plans for every possibility. The way he explains the rules of the hunter/prey game. All of this is fresh, fun, and entertaining in a way that the first SCREAM felt fresh in turning the microscope back onto the genre. Unfortunately, the film slips into some kind of comfort zone and just never achieves the impact it had in the first hour.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why the final act peters out like it does. I think some of it has to do with the comedic and downright sympathetic performance by Nathan Baesel as Leslie Vernon. Baesel has a Jim Carrey like quality to him that makes him more easier to laugh with and at. He’s also got these big puppy dog eyes. And maybe him explaining his actions takes the scare out of it (sort of like explaining a joke). Whatever it is, I think it is a mistake to have us get to know Vernon as much as we do in the first hour because when he puts the mask on, it just isn’t scary. While Baesel gives a fun performance, we are just too familiar with him to be scared of him. We’ve seen him laugh, cry, get frustrated, and inspired. We get to know him more than any “origin” story we get for who we are told are his contemporaries (Freddy, Jason, and Michael). Had the doc crew been telling Vernon’s mentor’s story (played by WALKING DEAD’s Scott Wilson) and we seen him training and maybe gotten to know him from a bit of a distance, there might have been more of a mystique to the character and more to fear. In the way it is, the investigative format of the first half undercuts the latter.
Still there is much to be enjoyed with BEHIND THE MASK. The comedy works. The cleverness works. The actors playing both the victims and the documentary crew are all fun and capable. Plus it’s fun to think of all of these slashers living in the same world together and even having some kind of secret society right under our noses. In the end, this is a flawed film, but nevertheless one to pop in and have fun with—as long as you don’t think about it too hard.
This Shout Factory BluRay includes; Joys And Curses – interviews with actors Angela Goethals, Ben Pace, and co-writer/co-producer David Stieve, a Before The Mask: The Comic Book – an interview with comic book artist Nathan Thomas Milliner, audio commentary with co-writer/director Scott Glosserman, moderated by filmmakers Adam Green and Joe Lynch, audio commentary with Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Britain Spelling, and Ben Pace, The Making Of Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon featurette, The Casting Of Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon featurette, deleted & extended scenes, & theatrical trailer.
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