Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

dir: Scott Glosserman
[img_assist|nid=795|title=Behind the Mask, nothing to do with Jim Carrey|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=367]
You might have thought that Scream and its pale shadow sequels were going to be the last word on self-aware horror flicks deconstructing the horror genre even as they celebrate their dearest clichés. But no.

There’s more of that filthy, filthy lucre to mine by taking more trips to the well. In truth, these kinds of self-aware flicks will always be viable, and always be relevant as long as horror flicks keep being made.

The reason is that, as an audience member, you often sit there wondering why the characters in a horror film who are seemingly trapped in a building they can’t get out of and being stalked by an implacable killer don’t realise they are in a horror film. The willing suspension of disbelief necessarily has to extend to allowing for the protagonists, police chiefs, their neighbours and work colleagues to have never seen a horror flick in order to not know what the conventions are governing their survival or death, and therefore what is going to happen to them next.

Since the characters would have to have an amnesia-like slice taken out of their memories for that to be possible, at least if it’s in a contemporary setting, there will always be the perverse temptation to make horror flicks that have characters who realise that that’s what’s going on. It requires a little bit more intelligence than the average horror flick, and, let’s face it, horror flick makers tend to regard their audiences with the same loathing and contempt that the killers in their movies regard their victims.

They want and expect their audiences to have about as much intelligence as a lump of gory viscera, and maybe they’re not wrong. But something like Behind the Mask: the Rise of Leslie Vernon expects a little bit more from its audience.

In some ways it’s too clever for its own good. The killer of the title (Nathan Baesel) joins forces with a journo/documentary team led by sweet Taylor (Angela Goethals) in the lead up to the intended Halloween massacre that will propel him into the ranks of his idols Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers (the one from the Halloween series, not the Canadian Austin Powers ‘Oh Behave’ guy).

For the first hour, he entertains and gently mocks Taylor and her crew whilst deconstructing the elements of the ‘classic’ American horror flicks by way of explaining the set up of his own legend. Leslie is funny and charming (at least that’s the intention, since I found him pretty irritating), and establishes deliberately many of the elements that moviegoers would be familiar with even if they’d never thought about those elements consciously.

It’s smart, and it knows its horror conventions. The problem is, perversely, that the knowingness, and the conceit of using a ‘reality television’ kind of format takes some of the believability out of the equation. They can’t bypass the so-called ‘fourth wall’ by acknowledging that it’s not there because they’re looking directly at the camera (and mugging it repeatedly).

At the one hour mark, a noticeable shift occurs, and the film crew cease to be documenting events, and become instead part of the ‘movie’ rather than its creators.

It helps, as a storytelling device, especially since now the observers have become the hunted. The ethical quandaries Taylor, who gets progressively more uncomfortable the closer they get to the big night, faces are dealt with in an intelligent manner (despite the utter implausibility of the scenario). Her shift in allegiance, so to speak, feels right, and viewed in hindsight, was the only way the movie could go and maintain our sympathies. Even for a horror flick. Even for a piss-take horror flick.

I like the idea, I really do. I like the deconstruction of the staples of the genre. I like the way the symbolism prevalent in those 80s horror flicks is taken out, torn apart, and put back in, and I especially like the way in which the movie delivers what it preaches when it makes the shift in dynamic for the last half hour as it turns ‘real’.

And there is something unbelievable yet engaging about a person (character) who is aspiring to become a horror legend. I guess it would be more endearing if it didn’t involve him killing a whole stack of people as well. But the enthusiasm and the insane intricacy of planning points to a person who could have been a wonderful, I dunno, wedding planner, conference organiser, or an American President. Anything apart from what his dark desires compel him to become in the end.

Ultimately, one’s enjoyment of such a movie is dependant on how one feels about the various horror franchises of the 80s like the Elm Streets, the Friday the 13ths, the Halloweens, and stretching back further even the Texas Chain Saws. If you regard each and every deathless instalment of these franchises as a classic, then something like Behind the Mask probably seems like an insult to your fandom. If you regard a few of them, as in their first instalments, as classics, and their continuations and cash-ins as the crap that they are, then perhaps something like this has legs for you.

There are a few cameos just to temper the proceedings and to pay homage back to the classics. Gunner Hansen, the original Leatherface, Robert Englund (Freddie) and even Zelda Rubinstein put in appearances. The makers clearly have reverence for history and the genre, and their objective clearly is not to satirical eviscerate the movies or their fans. Despite how much the sheer crappiness of 99 per cent of horror flicks is begging for it.

I enjoyed it, in all its low-budget amusing quirkiness, but it’s not going to revolutionise the genre or the film industry. It feels a bit dated, even as a flick that came out in 2006. It’s amusing enough to divert the viewer for 90 minutes, but it’s not so stunning that it’ll make you tear your clothes off and start humping the side of a moving bus.

Which is what every movie should aspire to do.

7 ways in which there’s nothing scary in this horror flick out of 10

“I only keep pets I can eat” – Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon