Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Epitaph of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Glosserman, 2006)

There was a time when I was so eager to show this movie to anyone and everyone. It was one of my first introductions to independent filmmaking (besides The Evil Dead series) and it was just mandatory that I let everyone know about this film's existence and how well it was made... which is why I had it in my collection. It was easier for me to just shove the disc in my companions' face than just wait for them to watch it on netflix. Now, it departs as I have long let go of my passion for it...

So is the way with many of my movie collection, a collection I have decided to split and sell as it is enough to help fund my filmmaking ambitions enough for one picture... As such, I have begun writing a last supper... an epitaph of sorts to many of the movies I have begun selling...
First is an early favorite... the 2006 indie horror slasher homage Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

It's premise is a unique one, if not original (one could easily claim it had been ripped from the superior and shocking French film C'est Arrivé Près de Chez Vous [Man Bites Dog in America]). A trio of American journalism students have been invited to document the preparation and execution of an old school Americana slasher killing, the perpetrator locally known as Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel). Rather than coming off as brooding or sadistic or off-kilter, he is charming, charismatic and a down-to-earth guy. He just happens to have a really big interest in slaughtering teens.

It was a fun enough concept to go off of - Man Bites Dog had a more realistic and violent but humorous tone, a focus on real-life serial killers among us, than this joyous and bouncy film which takes many of the tropes of the original slasher classics like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th and deconstructs them right before our eyes almost as a How to Be Jason Voorhees manual in a very tongue-in-cheek tone. We get another serial killer being introduced to us (played by good ole' Scott Wilson no less) and an introduction to the idea of a serial killer network, implying that Leslie and Wilson's character are in touch with Freddy, Michael and Jason. Leslie Vernon himself comes off as a juggle of intellectual philosopher, acrobatic clown and cool guy. Shot in a manner of a "mockumentary" for a good half of the film, the opening parts of the film don't feel at all like a bad omen to come, but instead like an hour-long Jackass with Leslie and the crew preparing for the shenanigans to come, even when the first murder actually takes place and a vengeful character from Leslie's mystery past enters the frame.
What eventually made this problematic was that when that Doc Hallorann (played by a favorite actor of mine to watch, Robert Englund of Freddy Krueger fame) enters to get Leslie back, there are too many angles to make this film just a joyous breeze now. I have to choose between just taking the movie at popcorn fun value and being lost in that character's presence or paying attention and investing in characters that are hard to invest in the first place when they are mostly faceless.

Continuing on, after that half of preparation ends, the mockumentary style is abandoned for a classic cinematic presentation and we are no longer following Leslie himself so much as his interviewer, Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals), who has a change of heart hinted at throughout the film and intends to interfere with Leslie's murder spree. Once again, this shift in focus is jarring but it's easier to transition through once you see Taylor and her two cameramen less as characters and more as guides to surviving the horror movies. They don't have much characterization to them, like most anybody who is not Eugene (Wilson) or Leslie. They are largely all used to fit into horror movie stereotypes; we have the stoners, the promiscuous girls, the virgin, the sex-crazed jock, the "Ahab" (as worded by the film)... They don't make any efforts to bring us to like the characters or feel any need to save them exempting that they are the victims of a serial killer. Is that necessary? Well, honestly, not in this type of parody. But is it too much to ask? It would have built the film's strengths up significantly to put a barrier between comedy in the prep first half and horror in the execution second half.

inb4 Juggalo
Leslie carries the movie. Period. The other characters don't compel us enough or are not in the spotlight long enough. Leslie defines each scene's mood by how he acts. This is, for all intents and purposes, a spotlight for Nathan Goesel to showcase his command as an actor. He doesn't do it outstandingly, but he does it well enough that the tone is consistent but interesting for the 90 minutes we are watching. He is no slouch in front of the camera and he does at least what he has to do and then sometimes more.
But it's still a fun little movie, with it's many nods to slasher horror and winks to our favorite 80s nightmares. It's entertainment that tried to be a reversal on our old-school horror and only got halfway there. It could've been done better.

So now my crazed love for it has died down. It has pretty much taken up space and I haven't taken the time to watch it in a while. The magic and wonder I had with this movie has died down. It just got me started in the direction I wanted to go with filmmaking, an effort to never let myself take content at face value and to always try to subvert tropes.

Thanks for that and now you are off my shelf...


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