I sat here for so long trying to come up with some kind of clever byline for this article and just couldn’t do it. So there you go, the title of the movie. There has been a shitload of hype about this movie for some time now. I don’t care for hype because it has a nature to snowball as every site, everybody spreading the word of mouth, starts to parrot what other people are saying without being at all objective about the movie. Rarely does the subject ever live up to the hype and I always wind up feeling let down. Not so in the case of Behind The Mask. This is the genuine article, an indie feature that came out of nowhere and proved itself in the fickle horror arena.
It’s a raw deal being a slasher movie these days. That genre has been through every possible scenario by this point. It’s even tougher being a mockumentary about a slasher. My first impression of that synopsis was pretty negative. I saw Man Bites Dog back when it was the only game in town, before every network on television had no less than two reality tv shows on prime time and veyeuristic media was a common subject in genre entertainment. This kind of story has already been played out in much less capable movies. The idea seems very cliche to me and I was afraid that it was going to be observation on violence as entertainment, but it surprised me. As a matter of fact, it kept on surprising me throughout.
Leslie Vernon lives in a world where masked slasher killers are real. His dream is to be one of these guys and he has meticulously crafted a plan to hijack a local legend about an abused boy who murders his parents and is then lynched by the town. On the such and such anniversary of the boys death, he will return to murder the kids who are spending the night at his house in an annual ritual. Tagging along is a crew of journalists with cameras to document the whole show. Leslie clearly illustrates the steps slashers take to ensure that everything goes according to plan. He plants the seeds with a crew of typical slasher movie high schoolers and during the early steps of his planning he attracts the attention of what he calls an Ahab, who is essentially Dr. Loomis for this movie, played by the always awesome Robert Englund. We meet Leslie’s close friends, a retired slasher and his wife, the only survivor of his reign of terror. However, when the time to act comes, the news crew loses their cool and decides to leave whereupon you’re hit with the twist that kicks off the third act as Leslie gets down to business in his mask and starts wasting people.
The first thing that I absolutely have to mention is that the entire movie is floated on the charisma of of Nathan Baesel who plays Leslie. It definitely suffers from a couple of shaky motivations, but this is a great, original movie that never seems to rip anyone off, or as they call it in the industry today, “paying homage”. The movie knows where its roots are but it never seems to dig in and emulate those movies directly. Instead, it deconstructs the conventions of slasher movies much like the party scene in Scream when Jamie Kennedy points out the rules of a horror movie, except this one takes it a bit further. If you’ve ever wondered why bodies turn up in strategically terrifying places in slashers, or how the victims can run and run and run but the killers is always casually walking only a short distance behind them, or how the killer is always in right place at the right time, or why the god damn cars never seem to start, Leslie takes the time to explain it all. It’s as absurd as the movies they’re spoofing, but this is where the movie finds its niche.
Leslie loves what he does. It’s unclear if this is his first time out or if he has done this in the past. He seems to have a HUGE knowledge about how to go about it and has a very careful plan about how he’s going to guide his victims to their deaths. He’s also someone you might want to hang out with. As soon as he bounces into frame, he’s not what you are expecting. He takes the work very seriously, but has this childlike enthusiasm about the entire affair. He bounces around a lot, he’s chirpy and also very funny. If the movie does one thing right, it paints a very good picture of a genuine sociopath. I liked Leslie. So much, in fact, that when the killing began, I was a little bummed. As the twist hits and third act begins with the farmhouse carnage, he experiences a complete turn of character and the real Leslie comes out. His motivation for killing people in such extraordinary fashion is shaky at best, though. He explains this metaphysical reasoning for being a counter balance to all the purity and good in the world. Masked slashers are a necessary evil, apparently. There’s already tons of evil in the world, man. A masked guy carrying out a massacre has nothing on genocide in Africa, I’m afraid. I would have just settled on Leslie explaining that he wants to put on a mask and carry out an elaborately staged killing spree simply because he’s a sick individual. Maybe the writers didn’t realize it as they scripted his happy-go-lucky mass murderer persona, but they were crafting a text-book example of a psychopath. He’s extremely charismatic, manipulative, compartmentalizes the violence and when the time comes to kill, he does it with glee. Leslie doesn’t need to heed some call of destiny. He’s fucked up as it is and that was more than enough for me. But this is really a minor gripe.
Leslie is supported by a few characters that help carry the movie along. The news crew is a detrimental part of the story but most of them are filming it and are only occasionally heard. The female lead, our journalist following Leslie plays a crucial role but not until the last third of the movie when the cameras stop rolling and the movie abandons the mockumentary style in favor of an actual narrative. There’s a twist in the plot, you see. It’s a great one, but you’ll see it coming a mile away. I’m pretty slow on the uptake when it comes to this sort of thing and even I saw it coming. My willingness to sink into a story and let it take me where it wants to usually leaves me completely ignorant when they roll out the big plot twist that changes everything. Ask me about those Shyamalan movies sometime. Like I said, though, it’s a pretty cool twist when you realize what’s happening. I won’t spoil it.
We’re also treated to a healthy dose of cameos. Robert Englund’s character appears several times throughout and as fleeting as they are, he’s always welcome in any movie. Here he plays Dr. Halloran, Leslie’s ‘Ahab’, the only man on earth who understands Leslie and has the power to stop them. They’re destined for an epic confrontation, but when the time comes, well, it’s pretty funny. Zelda Rubinstein shows up as a librarian and Leslie’s first victim, the ‘red herring’. Also, Kane Hodder appears EXTREMELY briefly as a resident of the Elm St. neighborhood. I actually had to sit through the credits to make sure that it was actually him before I reported this bit.
I hate to jump on the hype train, but I can’t miss this opportunity. It’s been a while since a new horror movie has moved me like this. Most of the indie stuff coming out these days is garbage and the mainstream’s present love affair with what is being called “torture porn” leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Behind The Mask looks familiar without being familiar. Quite frankly, I’m surprised no one had thought to do a movie like this sooner. It has something for everyone is thouroughly entertaining. Don’t pass it up. Check it out now.
Seriously. Right now.