I'm so happy... I'm so happy...
PopGap #29: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
I've already written on the blog, briefly, about meta-horror and horror comedies in my reviews of 2015's genial success Freaks of Nature and woeful misfire The Final Girls. I've been a fan of tongue-in-cheek and straight-up spoofs of horror movies since discovering goofy oddities like Student Bodies, Pandemonium, Hysterical, and National Lampoon's Class Reunion on cable when I was a kid (in retrospect, not all of those early favorites were of notable quality), and approach the genre with a conflicting mix of nostalgic affection and near-inevitable disappointment. After Wes Craven's Scream in 1996 elevated meta-horror from a cheap, nutty sideshow to a less quirky main event, it seemed only natural that the increasingly omnipresent mockumentary form would soon be put to good use in a similar fashion.
Scott Glosserman's Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is both clever and fun as a college reporter (Angela Goethals) is invited to document the inaugural bloodbath of an aspiring new serial killer, who hopes to emulate the legendary (and real, in this universe) exploits of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. Nathan Baesel brings an affecting giddy innocence to Vernon, a wiry young man for whom planning the imminent slaughter of teenagers is the proud fulfillment of a lifetime of hard work, physical training, sleight of hand, and careful myth-building. Scott Wilson has a neat supporting role as Vernon's retired mentor, and horror icons Zelda Rubinstein and Robert Englund both show up for welcome, if insubstantial, cameos.
With Baesel lending his Jim Carrey-like charm to the first hour of Behind the Mask, it's inevitable, if ironic, that once he finally slips on his mask and begins executing his night of terror as a mute and expressionless fiend, the movie misses his big personality and slips into an identity crisis. The less commanding Goethals is left to shoulder the human interest angle on her own, and struggles to make what becomes a rather tame slasher finale rewarding on its own terms. It's not entirely her fault, though: Glosserman and co-writer David J. Stieve, whose object of affection here is clearly Vernon, never really figure out her character in way that their movie can successfully shift its focus onto her as a credible heroine.
Ultimately, Behind the Mask suffers from the tricky issue that has cursed so many other horror hybrids, like Tucker and Dale vs Evil, as they all tend to become, half-heartedly, the same obligatory tropes that they set out to lampoon. In the case of one of the recent real rousing successes of the genre, 2012's Cabin In The Woods, writer/director Drew Goddard infused both the set-up and the pay-off with a consistent tone of heightened homage and, fearing the common final act complacency, rolled all of his energetic ambition into a crazy escalation of climactic monster mayhem, synthesizing humor and horror until the very end. Behind the Mask is not nearly so holistically conceived or executed, but its first half is good enough that the less-inspired finale rolls off fairly easily, and I'll be interested to see what Glosserman comes up with for the announced sequel, B4TM.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickcharter Ryan Swinimer, who can be found on Flickchart under the username Swinny. He ranks it on his chart at #91 / 5628 (98%), making it his 6th favorite Horror Comedy out of 277. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon ranked on my Flickchart at #1446 (62%), placing it at #35 on my chart of 124 Horror Comedies.
My Top 5 Horror Comedies
Notes on Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
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