Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

behind-the-maskHe’s a skilled serial killer, a slasher along the lines of Jason, and, oh yeah, he’s a self-promoting sensationalist who wants to become a famous slasher of all things teen. Leslie Vernon lives in a world filled with monsters. He lives in a world where Jason, Freddy, and even Michael Myers wreak havoc on innocent victims and young teenagers. And what does Leslie Vernon want? He wants to be like them. And he’ll go through any lengths to live up to their legacies. And wouldn’t you know it? Director Scott Glosserman is about eighty percent of the way there.

Why do we keep getting recycled bullshit when someone like Glosserman stalks around in the dark making what I can safely consider a true horror masterpiece? It boggles the mind, does it not? Leslie Vernon is a nice enough guy. He’s funny, he’s charming, and he’s a bit demented. But as the audience soon realizes, these reporters are playing with fire, and he’s a lion that’s bound to turn on them eventually. Nathan Baesel is just fan-fucking-tastic as Leslie, and the exploration into his everyday life is just a mixture of creepy and hilarious. That works in favor of Baesel who manages to brilliantly convey a strong sense of good natured humor, and the presence of a time bomb that can go off at any moment if you rub him the wrong way.

The reporters fear him even when he socializes with them, and the audience will definitely feel uneasy too. He loves to taunt the reporters, and gets a real kick out of tormenting reporter Taylor, who hopes to jump start her career with this profile. Vernon, who was a victim of attempted murder years earlier, is gearing up to re-appear and wreak pure vengeance on the group of teens that left him for dead, and of course, he’s also practicing on a young group of high schoolers and a “supporting cast.” Glosserman doesn’t just provide with an excellent horror film, but boldly breaks down and examines conventions of slasher films without feeling as if he’s dragging us over the same old ground. Not to mention he manages to provide a sharp commentary on sensationalism in America, where even gimmicky serial killers are able to garner reporters, a following, a support team, and their own reach for fame.

When you consider the type of content reporters are akin to featuring on television, including the Virginia Tech debacle, “Behind the Mask” seems more like a foretelling more than horror fiction. “Behind the Mask” is a movie within a movie. It’s the story of a group of reporters following a slasher behind the scenes, while also telling the story of a young man planning an elaborate revenge plan. He’s trained in kickboxing, magic, slight of hand, the whole kit and caboodle, and he’s not fucking around; hell he even has a fully supportive mentor who happens to be a retired slasher who teaches him strategies in torture, the order of victims to be slayed, and even consults on his feelings of his killing spree. And that’s why Leslie Vernon is such a morbid figure. And, wouldn’t you know it? Michael had Loomis, Jason had Tommy, Freddy had Nancy, and Leslie Vernon has Dr. Halloran, played by the immortal Robert Englund.

Englund gives probably one of the best performances in years as this worthy homage to Sam Loomis. Englund is able to mimic Loomis while also setting himself apart as a unique and awfully fantastic foil to Vernon. Beyond him, the entire cast is solid. Britain Spellings is hilarious as Todd the camera man who just wants to get out with his ass in tact, while Angela Goethals is very fascinating as the reporter who builds a slight infatuation with Leslie and his tricks. And I can’t forget Kate Lang Johnson who is hysterical as Leslie’s “virginal” target Kelly who he expects to be his Laurie Strode; or is she? “Behind the Mask” is a slasher film pure and simple, and Glosserman gladly builds his film around the premise of the film within a film, and then dives into the slasher formula with sheer relentless brutality.

Once Vernon gets into character and stalks his prey, he’s a force to be reckoned with, and no one will stand in his way. The last act plays out how we suspect, but we’re left wondering if it will play as Leslie hopes or in a completely different manner. You can pretend to know what’s coming, but you don’t know shit. Either way, we’re left with one final satisfaction; Glosserman has given us a surefire horror classic, and I couldn’t be happier. And for the love of god, stick around after the credits. As a hardcore fan of the slasher genre, “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” is a wet dream of a slasher re-construction that sets itself apart from every other slasher film ever made. Compared to this, “Scream” is pure child’s play, a wannabe that states the obvious. “Behind the Mask” is a pure horror film masterpiece, and slasher fans would be best to acknowledge it.