A Little Mock in the Chop


Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) Review 5
Director:Scott Glosserman,
Starring:Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Robert Englund, Scott Wilson, Zelda Rubinstein, Bridgett Newton, Kate Lang Johnson, Ben Pace, Britain Spellings, and Hart Turner.
Length:92 minutes


The mockumentary has become passé. It has been reality programmed out of effectiveness. But can it morph into something more? And few would argue that the best place for this evolution is the genre of B-grade horror.

At least, this is the goal of Filmmaker Scott Glosserman with “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.” “Mask” smartly utilizes the mockumentary format to build credibility into another played out sub-genre: the slasher film. No doubt that without the infusion of mock into chop, the slash would have been lacking.

“Mask” starts with a documentary filmmaker Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) preparing to interview what is reportedly the world’s next big real life horror star: Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel). Vernon has agreed to permit the documentarian and her crew to interview him at length and even ride along as he plies his trade. Of course, Taylor and her crew are pretty skeptical at first, however, in their universe, horror icons like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Vorhees really exist. Therefore, as the Leslie Vernon myth is promulgated, their interest in the details becomes more and more journalistic. There is some serious reporting to be done.

“Mask” has a lot of fun convincing us that Vernon is really an aspiring member of the slasher club. We are introduced to his mentor Eugene (a very funny Scott Wilson) who tells us that he’s retired from the business, exactly the nature of the “business” is a mystery. We get the impression that Eugene’s wife might once have been the subject of his slasher anger, but now she’s domesticated him and the two live peacefully in the woods in a rather nice home. It is through Eugene that Vernon has been trained in the slasher arts, and the education is hard work. Vernon takes Taylor and her video crew into his world showing them and us how he gets in shape for all that slashing. There’s a fair amount of working out, study in martial arts, and even time for book-learning: Gray’s Anatomy is in his extensive library.

But all that training is good for nothing without putting it to use. This is where “Behind the Mask” takes a dark turn. Vernon has designs on a group of high schoolers and scopes them out around town. His plan is to stalk and kill all of them at Vernon’s ancestral home. Apparently, the well-kept house in the woods acts as a party shack for kids. Anyway, Vernon intends to take down the whole lot of them in one bloody night, all of them except one kill he calls: The Survivor Girl. Now, the cleverness of “Mask” is the way it picks apart slasher film conventions and articulates the various components of the genre. The Survivor Girl is a virginal gal who transforms into vicious avenger during the horrific events surrounding the murder of her friends. Yes, we know this girl all too well. Other slasher terminology includes something perfectly named: The Ahab, which is the hunter who goes after the killer. In “Mask,” the Ahab is Doc Halloran (Robert Englund) who has a past with Vernon and is Hell-bent on preventing his murderous rampage. I need not tell you who Englund once played. I would remind readers that horror icon Wes Craven effectively spoofed (in a serious way) his own “Elm Street” films in 1994 with “New Nightmare” that is arguably one of the best series.

So much fun is had early in “Behind the Mask.” This is much like the self-aware approach employed in “New Nightmare” enabling Wes Craven to reinvigorate the genre with a hip script from Kevin Williamson in 1996 with “Scream.” And “Mask” has the right idea by using in-jokes to entertain core viewers. But the unconventional take on the genre that begins “Mask” merely sets up a typical bloody conclusion. Of course, this is perfect for fans of slasher films. And, after all, where else can the genre go?