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

In a horror film, what is truth and what is fiction? What is the fictional conventions of the slasher genre were in fact "tools" of the trade. What if Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger, were actual living men bent on the murder of innocent people? How would they do what they do and have come to expect from? These are the questions we get answered in the excellent film "Behind the Mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon.

Via a camera crew, we are introduced to Taylor Gentry, a young journalism major and Univerty reporter. As the film opens, she and her film crew are on their way to meet the self-proclaimed "next big thing" in the serial killer world, Leslie Vernon. Leslie seems nice guy, odd, but nice. He has a couple of pet turtles eat, a fine library, and a friendly demeanor, all the things you might expect from a guy who lives in the sticks. Leslie, though, has aspirations, to be as famous as his idols, Michael, Jason, and Freddy. Taylor plans on documenting his journey, perhaps not taking it very serious, are figuring that he'll chicken out. Whatever the case may be, she jumps on board to see how he does what he does.

Things go smooth at first, as he introduces her to the bacs of being a slasher. As Leslie states, "the amount of cardio I have to do is ridiculous". Staying in shape and sleight-of-hand arches to the tools that Leslie learned to master, and are not even really tools so much as they are a foundation for everything to be built upon.

Next he takes them to a high school where he explains the key to his profesonal existence, the final girl. What he looks for, how he picks them and not only them but their network of friends, all the things have to fit together in just the right way for the scenario to work.

He points out a key factor to selecting a final girl is that she has to be a virgin. And though he seemingly spots one, this is just an example, for he already has a girl picked out and her name is Kate. Kate works at a local café afterschool and seems the shining example of a good girl. At this point he even has Taylor helping him out, putting a little scare into Kate. With Taylor's help one of the long-standing convention of the slasher film, "The someone is watching me" tenon builder, comes to life, and sets things in motion.

Their next step is to vit a friend of Leslie's, Eugene. Eugene is a retired slasher who did his work in the late 60s and 70s. He lives in a modest country home with his wife Jamie, but still practices staying in shape which includes spending time in a deprivation chamber buried in the backyard. They speak of the art of killing as an industry milar to any other buness and how it's changed over the years. We see Taylor grow slightly uncomfortable the more and more time she spends with Leslie, clarifying euphemisms that he uses for murder.

The first-quarter the movie is really about getting to know Leslie and the rules which not only he, but every theatrical slasher must follow, then things get real. It's time for Leslie to make the first kill in Kate's world, not a friend, but a familiar face. His plan is mple, follow her to library, plant some information that will unite Leslie and Kate with a common bond (this is important), and kill the friendly librarian who lets her stay late to study. Up until this point, the film has all been fun and games, philosophy and reflection, but Taylor soon finds out that Leslie means buness and so do others.

This film is brilliant; it's like "Scream" for the thinking man (or woman). People forget not only held groundbreaking but how intelligent “Scream” was because of the sequels and rip offs and its effect on the industry as a whole. In many ways behind the mask is even smarter, taking away the “team” safety net and laying the blood on the hands of just one killer who still must perform as supernatural as his legendary idols. Another smart move is that the film not only states the conventions and plays them out, but it explains them to the audience.

For example; why doesn't a serial slasher like Michael Myers just burst into a closet, kill Lori and be done with it? Because the closet is a sacred place, much like the womb, in the closet the victim is innocent. This is the kind of deep thought is put into this incredibly sharp script by Scott Glosserman, David J. Stieve. If you've never seen this film then it may seem like a straightforward slasher within interesting "found footage" type aesthetic. However, there is a third act reveal that changes everything that's come before leaving a second viewing of this film not only suggested but almost mandatory.

Nathan Baesel is absolutely fantastic as Leslie Vernon. He comes off very likable and endearing at first but when things go deways he explodes with a quiet ferocity and precion that's more terrifying than any act swinging maniac. The same can be said for Angela Goethals, her profesonalism mask a deep personal secret that when revealed, leaves us shaking our heads saying "of course".

Robert Englund is also on hand as Leslie's "Ahab", a man who will stop at nothing including great personal sacrifice, to gain his reign of terror. It's an interesting glimpse into just how Robert may have played the character of Dr. Loomis. And then there's Kate Lang Johnson as Kelly. She satisfies our expectations for the virginal final girl only to turn that on its ear in the final act, negating our expectations and reinforcing the conventions at the same time. I'm not going to explain that, you just have to see the film.

Though this film is very complete with a very cool end credits sequence, there is another story to tell. The crew behind this film, including Writer/Director Scott Glosserman, has more story to tell but they need our help to do it. Below is the official synops for a movie that I know I want on my shelf; Before the Mask: the Return of the Leslie Vernon.

“Taylor Gentry has a score to settle, and she’s not about to let a little thing like Leslie Vernon’s disappearing without a trace slow her down. And so, in the immediate aftermath of the Harvest Moon killings, the hunter becomes the hunted. But even as Taylor doggedly pursues her tormentor, she slowly uncovers the deeper, darker secrets of his past, and what truly drives Leslie Vernon in his quest to be the best of all psycho-slasher killers. Mind-bending revelations of family history, bling rivalry, and even the terrifying prospect that he may not be acting alone… as evidenced by a tattered photo of a young Leslie with a paternal twin… all drive Taylor to the very edge of madness, until she’s caught once again in a frenetic race to stop Leslie’s second coming and save her own soul in the process! With a slasher film first- death by rabid, stampeding rhinoceros, THIS is the horror sequel you WILL. NOT. BE. …seeing. Come on, now. You didn’t think Leslie Vernon would let his story get out before he wanted it to, did you?”

There are thousands of kickstarter film campaigns out there but so very few deserve our attention the way this one does. I know that's a loaded statement, we don't know what those films have to offer, they could be great talents as yet undiscovered. All he can say is, I know that these guys took the conventions of horror, turned them on their ear and gave us a reason to be excited about the slasher film once again. We as a community supported saw seven times, why not show a little of to those that deserve it. Get over to Kickstarter and share the love! ... lie-vernon

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sinful Celluloid Monday 7/30/2012 at 03:39 PM | 95159
Great article.

The more attention brought to this movie the better.

Glad to see the sequel is finally in the works.

Hopefully, it will live up to it predecessor and not fall into the sequel/prequel hole of being sub-par.

Synops sounds good so here's hoping.

Also, they should have used that poster at the top of your article as the DVD artwork.

So deliciously retro yet still feels now and important.

It's a lost art the making of a good quality poster.
Asmodeus Tuesday 7/31/2012 at 01:05 PM | 95196
Thank you for your comment. Poster art is absolutely lost. I actually talk about it here:

I don't think we will ever get that back. :(
sinful Celluloid Tuesday 7/31/2012 at 03:46 PM | 95198