If horror flicks were rocks – let’s look at the pile known as “the slasher movie”. In here are stones that range from absolutely worthless like that black piece of coal – Ulli Lommel’s Green River Killer (HoH review) – to priceless gems that sparkle with spectacular beauty and rareness – a work of art that only a minor filmmaking miracle could happen upon – Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street… Well, pull out that fine-looking golden nugget. We first sniffed this one out back in March of 2006 (HoH article). Its called Behind the Mask – The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Its a keeper.
Most of us that visit the House of Horrors is murder aficionados. We know Michael Myers’s upbringing, his family, his doctor. We know Jason and his mother and have followed him from Crystal Lake to outer space. We’ve seen Freddy die and come back and have his one-liners etched into memory aside each of his victims. You know their serial killing similarities – appearing from behind a windblown branch or sheet of laundry and then disappearing into thin air. Leaving clues that get discovered, ultimately leading victims to their killing fields. These are not happenstance, not according to Leslie Vernon. These are carefully plotted tricks of the trade – the art of the work – the phantom phone calls, the car that wont start – all carefully plotted before the “big night” when a serial killer does his masterwork.
Behind the Mask is an insight into what it takes to prepare for such a feat. Leslie Vernon invites a student film crew out to shoot his birth into serial killing lore – showing them all the tricks of the trade – even going so far as to let them in on the house he sets up, previewing his victims, sabotaging tree branches just outside second-story windows… along with this green documentary crew, we are shown the preparations that it takes – such as doing hours of cardio so you can keep up with all these running damsels in distress. Were along for the ride as Leslie gets ready to dispatch a houseful of prey.
Behind the Mask takes place in Glen Echo – a fictional town where the only difference is that Myers and Voorhees and Krueger are real people out there – actual criminals, notorious for their horrific killings. This is what Leslie Vernon wishes to live up to and be – a high body count serial killer. The first half of the movie is tongue-in-cheek and is a feast on inside jokes for all of us that know this side of the genre inside out – paying homage to the movies we know so well with a smirk in the corner of its lips. Only Scream comes to mind when trying to find a celluloid synonym. From Leslie’s close friends (one of whom is a retired killer) to being in on the fun of setting things up – its a hilarious insight that will completely push your serial-killing buttons – relating to everything you know in the encyclopedia of your mind and putting images to our age-old question, “What do legendary killers do between takes?”
Soon its time to kill, and Leslie’s dark side comes out real quick. No more laughs, and this movie is genuinely funny along the way – a sort of nervous comedy as you snicker at his sick but otherwise innocent obsession with the whole situation. But make no mistake. When that featureless, skull-like mask goes on, suddenly you’re blood-puddle deep in a humorless and tense plot. Leslie gets to work and the documentary crew ironically find themselves part of the whole equation – more potential victims for Leslie as they realize they’ve just documented an actual psychopath killer on the rise, and have done nothing to stop it. In fact now theyre in the same pool of potential slaughterers. With the kids, all lined up in the cabin, and Leslie lurking the premises – can the film crew alert them and get out of there before its too late?
Such is the thrill of this unique film directed and written in part by Scott Glosserman. Nathan Baesel, who plays Leslie Vernon, will no-doubt go down in history as one psycho son of a bitch – but is played so sharp and cunningly by Baesel that you’ll be praying for a sequel. Robert Englund plays Doc Halloran – his role is supporting, but Englund gave one of the more screen-present performances Ive seen from him in some time. To see him play an “Ahab” on the other side of the killing coin is classic in itself. Angela Goethals (who you may remember as Linnie from Home Alone) – her role as the documentary filmmaker is realistic, sensitive, and appealing. Her down-to-earth character makes this film easily digestible – and will probably be enjoyed by men and women equally, delivering without any overcattiness or models sickly-sweetness. And last but not least – the casting of (“go into the light…”) Poltergeist’s Zelda Rubinstein as the night shift librarian was a juicy cherry eyeball on this horror sundae of a movie.
Final analysis: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a unique, laugh out loud killing spree that is a gift to the slasher film community. Its comedy edge delivers, there are tons of informative inside looks to the psycho killer behind the scenes, and in the end, exactly what you want – a high body count and plenty of sickle-slashing mayhem. You may not catch Leslie Vernon’s waxen image inside the Serial Killer Hall of Fame – but in the least you’ll bump into him at the ticket booth outside. Jason, Michael, Freddy… make room for Leslie – one seriously funny and psychotic sonofabitch.