Three names that are well known, not just to horror fan, not just to film fans; but names that have long crossed over into the cultural zeitgeist. However, they are, to us, nothing more than film characters – but what would happen if they were real, if their killing sprees had actually happened? And what would happen if someone looked upon these acts and thought, “I think I can top that?” And it is this idea that is the core of the film Behind The Mask – The Rise Of Leslie Vernon.
The film opens with a documentary crew being invited to a small town in Midwest USA, where they meet with the titular Leslie Vernon, a friendly, loving, intelligent young fella with an interest in magic, anatomy, history – no different to anyone really. Except of course, he wants revenge on a town that (perhaps erroneously) tried to put him to death as a child. Since the town, and world at large, thinks that he is still dead, he has to plot his revenge in the shadows, working with the legends that have sprung up around his death. Instead of being some inhuman, supernatural embodiment of evil, though, Leslie is just a man, so what we get is the documentary crew following him through his preparations – mentally and physically. Watching him plot out every step until showtime.
Leslie has meticulously devised a plan to strike fear into the hearts of the town, and soon pulls the documentary team into the roles of (un)witting accomplices in his plan, first introducing him to his “father figure” – an old time killer named Eugene who stepped down when “Fred, Jay and Mike” elevated killing to an artform, then bringing the crew along as he stalks his teenage victims through all the standard slasher set pieces. However, they soon learn that everything isn’t as it seems as Leslie soon finds himself an “Ahab” who soon unravels his whole story, leading to some rather interesting reveals and showdowns.
Working as equal part comedic mockumentary and deconstruction of the mores and rules of 80’s slasher horror, Behind The Mask isn’t perfect, but what it does, it does well. You definitely get the sense that the makers have a real love of slasher films. While the narrative itself treads no new ground, especially for someone who was raised on the same films the makers obviously were, the love and respect afforded those films through this definitely comes through, particularly in the narrative parts of the film. The mockumentary parts of the film too tread no real new ground (having been used before in films like Man Bites Dog and The Last Broadcast), but the aforementioned love of the genre, coupled with the charm of the main actors, pretty much had me cheering with every unfolding of the story – both narrative and mockumentary sides.
As I mentioned in my Last Exorcism review, what makes a mockumentary work so well is having a cast of relative unknowns. And, outside of Freddy Krueger himself, Mr Robert England (who shows such a creepy joy showing up in things that deconstruct the genre that put him on the map, especially here, where he is playing Donald Pleasance ramped up to 11), the only real name in the cast is Zelda Rubenstein, and she herself isn’t really that well known to anyone bar more dedicated movie fans. Like I said, though, this really works in the film’s favour, as there is no real connection to the actors, rather the characters that they play, and it is only the filmmaker’s decision to switch from mockumentary to narrative styles during the “scare” parts that stopped me from fully buying into the illusion – yes, I did like both sides of the storytelling coin being used, as I stated above, but the switching did pull me out of things.
If you have any love at all for slasher films, and haven’t seen Behind The Mask, you can do a whole heck of a lot worse than to see this film.