Freddy, Jason, Michael Meyers; everyone needs a hero, and for Leslie Vernon that unholy trinity of slasher legends are the pinnacles of his psychotic pantheon. The rise of Leslie Vernon to the unfettered ranks of his idols is chronicled in first time director Scott Glosserman’s brilliant deconstructionist satire, Behind the Mask. I shudder to anoint Glosserman’s film with the designation of Mocumentary, as it calls to mind the kind of high/low brow comedy of Christopher Guest and Rob Reiner. Behind the Mask is something much more rounded, more Brechtian and less Barkeresque than your standard horror fare. The film never insults its audience, which is a rare and welcome change from the antiseptic exploits of Studio horror and the slash and burn extremism of the fringe scene.
Leslie Vernon’s tale is not so different from that of the other great cinematic slaughterers. Set in a place where Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees and their illustrious counterparts lived, breathed, stalked and killed countless teenage victims, on innumerable Friday nights and on dozens of Halloweens, this is the world of Leslie Vernon and his dream is to follow in the measured footsteps of these giants. To document the intense physical and mental pressures that are required in making the leap from mild mannered citizen to unstoppable evil, Leslie has hired a film crew to cover his debut massacre. But soon the crew of the film will find out that shooting footage of a deranged homicidal maniac as he meticulously prepares for his coming out, is a dangerous task that is as physically precarious as it is morally reprehensible.
Director Scott Glosserman’s magnum opus is tailor made for genre geeks. The opening frames of the film take the viewer to the streets of Haddonfield and the shores of Camp Crystal Lake, even offering a brief cameo from Kane Hodder as the owner of the Elm Street house who refuses to comment on its homicidal historical significance. Glosserman, who co-wrote the script with David Stieve, takes care in not allowing the film to fall onto the slippery slope of parody. In fact, Behind the Mask often walks a perilously thin line as Vernon deconstructs the modern horror film through his in depth accounts of how to stage the perfect night of terror. Vernon even tosses out industry terms like “survivor girl” to describe the virginal teen beauty who may hold the power to defeat the evil and survive the night. This wink to the genre, affords the film repeated moments of witty humor, but still keeps the audience in check, reminding them that despite the inherent charms of Leslie Vernon, this is not a comedy and Leslie Vernon is not your friend. With the lighter moments of the film constantly working to disarm the viewer, it comes as something of a shock when all hell starts to break loose in the third act. The sudden change in gears could have been wildly misplayed had not Glosserman and Stieve had the foresight to change the film from a documentary perspective to that of a narrative horror film. That shift allows the audience to stop identifying with Vernon as the great horror film anti-hero and begin to feel genuine concern for the safety of the innocent victims in the story. This moment alone, qualifies Glosserman’s film as a form of revisionist horror, insomuch that throughout the endless barrage of Halloween’s, Nightmare’s and Chucky movies, the audience has become accustomed to cheering for the killer, turning the victims from human beings into walking lumps of severed flesh. Behind the Mask, almost forces you to anticipate the survival of the cast, which nearly goes against the focused mindset of the slasher genre. But, the true beauty of the film comes in the closing credits where a final twist restores that original balance between the audience’s motives and that of the killer.
The performances from the cast are exceptionally bright and interesting, specifically Nathan Baesel who in bringing the character of Leslie Vernon to life, must elicit both the audiences empathy as well as their fear. Indeed, Vernon is a tragic figure much like Jason Voorhees or Jack Torrance, but at the same time, when he turns it on, the audience must recognize that this man is a soulless killer hellbent on the destruction of life.
In 1992, European filmmakers Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde shocked the international film community with their film Man Bites Dog. This fictional study of a documentary film crew following a serial killer serves as the perfect counterpoint to Behind the Mask. While Behind the Mask may have borrowed from the concept that Man Bites Dog represents, to call the film derivative would be to overlook the true originality that makes it one of the best revisionist horror films of the last decade.
I had high hopes for Glosserman’s debut film. Those unintentional expectations that a filmmaker who truly loves the genre can translate that love into 90 minutes of epic celluloid carnage usually leave me cold and disheartened when the final credits roll. But in the end Leslie Vernon makes an extraordinary and unpredictable addition to the sanctuary of cinema psychos, and Director Scott Glosserman carves his name beside that of Lucky McKee and Eli Roth as one of the most exciting new filmmakers to tackle the bloody world of horror.