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Wednesday, December 7, 2011



"It is going to get wet in here tonight. Lace your boots up, kiddies."
-- Leslie Vernon

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a 2007 mockumentary directed by Scott Glosserman that gives a different point-of-view concerning the concept of cinematic serial killers. The film takes an alternate reality in which such iconic horror villains as Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger actually exist and have already made names for themselves as legends in their respective local haunts. Now we're seeing the start of a new masked menace: Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel). Leslie has hired a documentary crew to chronicle the planning and preparation for his masterpiece in which he hopes to make a name for himself and become the next great serial killer. With reporter Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) and her cameramen in tow, Leslie starts to show his crew how he plans on stalking and ultimately empowering a young virgin named Kelly (Kate Lang Johnson).

Seeing this film was a result of a lazy day spent searching NetFlix's slew of Instant Watch options for something that might be moderately appealing and entertaining. When I saw the film listed, I was immediately drawn to the fact that NetFlix believed I would rate it rather favorably. After doing a little bit of research, I came across this plot synopsis on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb):
The next great psycho horror slasher has given a documentary crew exclusive access to his life as he plans his reign of terror over the sleepy town of Glen Echo, all the while deconstructing the conventions and archetypes of the horror genre for them.
That was enough to put me over the edge, and I immediately started watching the film.

Let's start with the screenplay. The film is a mockumentary, which means it's filmed like a documentary, but it's still telling a fictitious story (other recent examples of mockumentaries are 1984's This Is Spinal Tap, 2006's Borat and 2007's Surf's Up). We head straight into the thick of it all, meeting our camera crew from the opening scene as they approach Leslie's house to start the interviewing process. Who we meet isn't exactly the terrifying figure we might have been expecting; rather, we're greeted by a fun-loving guy who seems a little bit dorky and a little bit socially awkward. As he starts to talk about his plans for Glen Echo, however, we start to see the seemingly warped sense of reality he actually has. However, his "sense of reality" has to be taken in context with the alternate reality we've already created by crafting a world where cinematic serial killers actually exist. In that sense, perhaps Leslie isn't all that insane. He takes the crew through all of his preparations, explaining each horror convention - from the need for a virgin to the attention to detail he will need - and its place in the overall scheme of his plan. What's so great about the screenplay is that it leaves absolutely no stone unturned. While I was watching the film, I kept telling myself, "Oh, he's missing that little bit. How can he explain that?" And almost immediately, I would find myself listening to Leslie explain just what I was wondering. Everything you think you know about the horror genre is about to be turned on its ear, and it does so with hilarious consequences. At the same time, however, we're still getting a fantastic dose of horror, and the last thirty minutes of the film still play out to be moderately scary considering the film's overall mood. My only issue with the screenplay was that the ending was a tad bit predictable, but considering it was the only logical conclusion, I suppose I can forgive it's predictability.

Part of the reason the film feels so believable is that, when Leslie goes into his explanation of the acts he will commit, the camera cuts away from the documentary and starts to show the audience a very cinematic portrayal of what's going to happen. The cuts between these shots are flawless, and it hearkens back to the slasher films of the late 1970s and 1980s. As soon as Leslie starts to off his victims, we go into this cinematic portrayal, leaving the clunky news camera behind, and I think it keeps things fresh and crisp throughout the film.

The acting is also relatively top-notch, considering the type of film we're receiving. Nathan Baesel is fantastic as our central lead, bringing a manic energy and a witty charm to the character that we should probably start to fear. He's so convincing in his role that you want to fall in love with him but push him away at the same time. Angela Goethals is good for her role, but she may be the weak link throughout the story. I just couldn't really get into her character, and although she makes up for it in the last fifteen minutes or so, they might have been able to find someone a little bit better for the part. The rest of the cast fills out nicely, fitting their stereotypes to perfection. Be on the lookout for some bigger names like Zelda Rubinstein (of Poltergeist fame) and Robert Englund (of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame) to make small, but important, appearances.

Overall, this is a film that I think any fan of the horror genre can ultimately appreciate. It mixes comedy with the horror well, and the attack on horror conventions is bitingly satiric, to say the least. Whoever thought of this idea should be applauded, and the fact that it works out as well as its premise suggests is cinematic beauty at its finest. I only wish this gem of a film had received more publicity upon its release because it truly is a fine film of the first order and should be seen by more people than will ultimately ever have the chance to watch it. I've fallen in love with this film, and you just might as well.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up

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