Behind the Mask
by Andrew James
Behind the Mask takes place in a world where iconic slasher villains of horror folk lore are true to life, real people. Camp Crystal Lake and the legend of Jason is a true story. Michael Meyers and Freddy Krueger are icons of whom everyone knows. These figures are nearly celebrities within this culture where the business of psychotic serial killers is almost accepted as an art form. Out of this world comes Leslie Vernon, the new breed of killer, but who is still just a "trainee." Leslie, who is a very likable guy with polite manners, a handsome persona and a proper demeanor, invites a student documentary crew to his "hideout," where he leads them step by step through his plans for the unsuspecting teenagers that will eventually end up at his "allegedly ancestral home."
Most of the movie is actually filmed in a documentary style. We see most of the action through the lens of these documentary film makers. We get an uproarious, introspection of a slasher villain and how he might go about setting up his home to be the perfect centerpiece for a slasher film. Windows are nailed shut, weapons are sabotaged and everything is planned out, down to the tiniest, minute detail. Getting certain kids to go down to the basement at just the right time and when to cut the power and so forth. We learn many of the tricks of the trade, so to speak, with even a brief explanation of some "industry jargon," such as "survivor girl" and what an "ahab" is. There is also a code of ethics among these serial killers that must be adhered to and we are treated to a few of these ethical issues and discussions in a sit down interview with Vernon. The whole first hour is like watching a Diane Sawyer special on slasher villains and in this way is very amusing. Every bit of the film you'll find yourself smiling and nodding your head with agreement and understanding. As the documentary goes on, we flash forward occasionally to "re-inactment" like footage of how the evening will go down; with teenagers running and screaming for their lives.
Behind the Mask is a complete deconstruction of every rule we know about slasher films. It is an idea that Scream scratched the surface of, but which Mask takes to a whole new level. It is genius in its idea and is brought to realization extremely well on screen by an obviously passionate group of filmmakers; most notably writer/director Scott Glosserman who wrote his masters thesis on the conventions of the horror genre. A well written and original script is also carried out superbly by the lead actors, but especially Vernon himself: Nathan Baesel, who delivers a great, quirky performance that will most likely gain him some national exposure and future movie deals. He plays a normal, likeable guy but with just a touch of Patrick Bateman (American Psycho). He just happens to want to kill people for a living.
At just past the half-way point of the movie, the film evolves into more of a straight forward, narrative slasher movie as Vernon begins to set his plan in motion. The evolution is quick and obvious. The doc crew sets down their cameras and quite intentionally says, "The documentary is done. Let's pack it up." From then on, the movie turns into a straight-up horror movie, but with the audience' knowledge of what is supposed to happen and who the villain truly is. Not in a superficial way either, but in a very human and personal way. Also, Robert Englund and Zelda Rubinstein (both legends in the genre) make brief but important cameos that will help to immortalize this film.
The director made a very conscious decision to not have too much gore in the film. It will help the film to be more readily available to a wider audience and a promise, possibly of a PG-13 rating. Though the movie does have it's share of blood and also contains the necessary and formulaic, gratuitous boob shot, the language is kept to a minimum and the movie has a legitimate shot for the more tame rating.
Again, this has the potential to be a revolutionary film if it is able to generate enough buzz and get into enough theaters for the world to see. The DVD extras will be a joy to sit and watch, especially the deleted scenes; which are usually deleted for a reason. In this case, I'm sure there are going to be hours of gem footage that is unfortunate that it had to be edited out (e.g. a scene with Leslie meeting Leatherface, Jason, et al for a game of poker and shop talk....er, chop talk). I'm ready to see this movie again right now and can't wait for it to see an expanded audience. Well done. For me to give an even remotely positive review to a horror film is extremely rare and truly says something significant about the film and it's creators. Eat your heart out Wes Craven!
IMDb.com - full cast and crew
Myspace profile for Behind the Mask