Entertaining if shallow, postmodern horror flick rescued by game perfs

Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leselie Vernon

on January 05, 2007 by Jay Antani
If Wes Craven's Scream started the trend of the postmodern slasher flick, Scott Glosserman's debut feature Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon may take it to its logical conclusion. Glosserman and his co-writer David J. Stieve cobble together all the major tropes — from the faux-documentary technique of The Blair Witch Project to the familiar set pieces and archetypes found in every post- Texas Chainsaw serial killer franchise — to make a kind of meta-slasher movie.

Behind the Mask follows Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), an aspiring serial killer ready to claim his place alongside Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger. Vernon's stomping grounds is Glen Echo — an idyllic community, albeit haunted by a past event in which a farm boy murdered his own parents before he himself was killed by an angry mob. Vernon claims to be that boy long-thought dead, back now to claim his revenge.

Enter Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals), a gung-ho student filmmaker, who, with Vernon's enthusiastic consent, starts to document the hatching of Vernon's elaborate plans for terrorizing his town. Much of what follows is laid out as a mock-doc profile of Vernon as he points out his prospective victims, crime scenes and, summoning slasher-movie cliches, certain individuals who, if his plans unfold correctly, are fated to play stock roles in his rise to fame. These include his "Survivor Girl," the virginal heroine who outlasts the ordeal but whose future will be forever entwined with the killer's, and his "Ahab," the force of good, in this case a psychiatrist who's privy to Vernon's true identity and played amusingly by Nightmare on Elm Street -killer Robert Englund.

With his pet turtles, pleasant demeanor and good looks that border on the menacing, Vernon makes for a scarily compelling persona. The movie succeeds, however modestly, thanks largely to Baesel's engaging, on-target performance. The same goes for Scott Wilson's turn as an aging, now-retired killer who delights in being Vernon's mentor. Indulging Taylor with stories of the "old days," Wilson exudes a deadpan charm that's as unsettling as Baesel's schoolboy-like giddiness.

Whenever Vernon goes into action, the movie switches from documentary to classical thriller style. On the whole, Glosserman ably pulls this off, and, for all the script's self-conscious trappings, maintains a genuine interest level as Taylor and her crew, caught between moral duty and morbid curiosity, get tangled into Vernon's bloody high jinks. But Behind the Mask 's insistent cleverness also limits its ability to engage us on deeper, more visceral levels; the movie's so well studied in this genre that, when the script leaps from deconstructionism to actual storytelling, all that's left for Taylor (and us) to do is follow the dots Grossman's marked out for us. As a pop-culture parlor game for fans of the genre, Behind the Mask scores. Otherwise, it's a shaggy dog story, enlivened by Baesel and Wilson's terrific performances. Distributor: Anchor Bay
Cast: Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Robert Englund, Scott Wilson, Zelda Rubinstein, Bridgett Newton, Kate Lang Johnson, Britain Spellings and Hart Turner
Director/Producer: Scott Glosserman
Screenwriters: Scott Glosserman and David J. Stieve
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R for horror violence, language, some sexual content and brief drug use
Running time: 92 min.
Release date: Marcy 16, 2007 ltd

Tags: satire, mockumentary, parody, spoof, serial killer, slasher movie, teen, murder, filmmaking, Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Robert Englund, Scott Wilson, Zelda Rubenstein, Bridgett Newton, Kate Lang Johnson, Britain Spellings, Hart Turner, Scott Glosserman

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