Scott Glosserman's crazy, cool and undeniably clever Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is many things at once: a winning mockumentary, a legitimate horror film and a very sly deconstruction of the slasher genre. It's precisely the sort of geek-friendly genre pic that 14-year-olds plan to make as they sit through a triple feature of Halloween 2, Elm Street 3 and Friday 4 -- but only a few of 'em actually grow up to do it, let alone as amusingly as Glosserman has. The gimmick is a fun one indeed: A documentary crew has been invited to spend some time with Leslie Vernon, an upstart serial slasher who aims to become as famous as Freddy, Michael and Jason. But what begins as a simple lesson in how to effectively slash, bash and dispatch a gang of hard-partying teens becomes, you guessed it, a true-blue nightmare. The documentarians forgot the golden rule of their craft -- don't get involved with your interview subjects -- and now they're going to pay for it dearly.
The cast is exactly what you'd hope for from a winking-yet-reverent mockumentary like Behind the Mask. Leading man Nathan Baesel switches from Jim Carrey-goofy to Jack Nicholson-creepy with the drop of one eyebrow, and it's his performance that perfectly nails what Glosserman is going for: sly, scary ... and maybe just a little silly. (We all love these old slasher flicks, of course, but nobody's about to label 'em as "high art," right?) Fans of the genre will ooze geek-juice all over the supporting cast. No less than Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund, Scott Wilson (The Host) and the awesome Zelda Rubenstein (Poltergeist) stop by for a few choice scenes. As the documentarian who opts to follow Leslie V. around (and lives to regret it), Angela Goethals is quite solid throughout. Sometimes funny, sometimes annoying, her character serves as an excellent foil for Mr. Vernon as well a bemused stand-in for the more seasoned audience members.
Technical assets are precisely what you'd expect from a relatively low-budget outing, but Glosserman defuses the lack of money by fronting his flick as a ... low-budget documentary! How novel is that? Clever ideas being more important than flashy effects and expensive talent?!?! (And some people wonder why the horror geeks tend to gravitate towards the indies moreso than the studio fright-fare.) Great little touches pop up throughout the flick: Leslie's lithe adventures through a library, the one slip of the killer's pleasant demeanor (one of the film's best moments) and numerous off-hand comments from the wise-ass documentary crew. Truth be told, I dug the movie a whole lot more the second time around -- and that's always a good sign.
Anyway, the gimmick works. Instead of aping the Scream method of (mild-yet jackhammer-obvious) satire, Glosserman astutely skewers the horror conventions by throwing in tons of nods to the classic slashers and their stock pieces of trickery. (It's hard to keep pace with a fleeing victim when you're required to stalk 'em slowly!) Behind the Mask spends half its time laying down the well-established "slasher rules," and then during the second half of the flick, we get a course on how to put those rules into play.
To say much more would spoil a lot of the fun, but suffice to say that if you've grown up on the unending exploits of the 80s cinematic stalkers, you'll find a lot to enjoy here. It's half a satire, half a horror movie, and completely impressive on the whole. Hats off to Anchor Bay for taking a big chance with this great little movie. Long known as a temple of DVD geekery for the old-school gorehounds, AB is finally taking the leap into theatrical releases. With BTM on their slate and Adam Green's also-damn-cool Hatchet on the way, they look to be starting off on the right (albeit dismembered) foot.