Horrorfied! BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (and my love letter to I Luv Video)
I discovered Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon while perusing one of Austin’s best attractions for any filmophile, I Luv Video. It is a shrine to films bizarre and forgotten, as well as to old school movie rental stores that were pushed out by the Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos that have now succumbed to the digital age of streaming movies and television. But I Luv still remains. There is something nostalgic and heartwarming about going in to these stores and perusing the shelves which are arranged not only alphabetically and by genre, but in some cases by director. Joy! Knowing when you walk in and ask for a recommendation for anything from silent films to obscure Russian horror, you will find someone who not only knows what you’re talking about, but can make an educated and legitimate recommendation counts for so much. Also not having fifty copies of one movie lining the shelves helps so much in the perusing experience. You don’t go to just pick up a movie here, you spend at least an hour searching the stacks, and no matter what you actually walked in for, you will walk out with so much more. Don’t have the movie you wanted? No problem, you are sure to find something else that will peak your interest, and maybe it will be something that you never would have picked up but in this you discover a new genre, director or actor you love and a new journey to see everything they have done begins. This was the case with this week’s Horrorfied! and the film I have saved for Halloween week, Murder Party. But, as usual, I digress….
I am so happy I discovered this film. Though it’s not a Halloween themed film per se, the events that the movie is centered around occur on Halloween night. It is set in a world where Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger and Michel Myers are all real people or monsters as the case may be. A journalist, Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethais), is contacted by Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), who claims to be part of the club with the aforementioned characters since as a child he was killed by the locals in the town of Glen Echo and assumed dead. He is now back for revenge and wants to give Taylor and her crew a first-hand, exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what really goes into the planning these events.
Leslie tells the story of how the townspeople chased him and threw him in a waterfall, assuming that he died. He has been hiding out ever since, living outside of the community that betrayed him and plotting his revenge. Mr. Vernon takes the crew with him as he teaches them the ins and outs of the plot to get revenge on the town through it’s teenagers. As is standard in these films, there is a place these kids congregate at a certain time of the year. In this case, it is Leslie’s old house. He takes them to his target, whom he calls his survivor girl and shows them how he stalks her, doing fly-bys and setting the stage for her later in the game. Leslie even takes the crew, who grow increasingly uncomfortable with the end-game that they are approaching, to his mentor, Eugene (Scott Wilson)’s house. He is an older, gentleman who has actually retired from the slasher business, and who lives in the woods with his own survivor girl, an interesting twist to the story. Throw in Robert Englund as Doc Halloran, Leslie’s very own Ahab, and you have well-rounded slasher flick. Through all of these moments, we see Leslie as a regular guy, relatable and even funny. He goes about his business nonchalantly and we don’t really see the crazed psycho-killer version of himself until the night he is to exact his revenge.
When it comes down to the night of actual event, Leslie takes Taylor and the camera guys step-by-step through the plan for the night. It is a very detailed, elaborate plan that requires everyone to do exactly what they are supposed to at the exact right times or the whole thing could fall apart. This is what Leslie’s whole life’s work depends on and failure is not an option. Faced with the imminent murder of the teens, the camera crew gets a conscience and decides to hightail it. It seems tolerable in theory, but when faced with real deaths they realize they just can’t sit idly by and film the goings on of the night any longer. Leslie banishes them when they start doubting their ability to continue. That wouldn’t do for the ending of the film though, so of course they attempt to save the kids anyway and that, to coin a phrase, is when all hell breaks loose.
This film is a unique perspective on the slasher genre. It shows the other side of the story and give a human element to the men we have feared and hated all these years. The twist at the end may not be much of a surprise, but it is so much fun, as is the entire film. The performances are insightful, but the cast keeps in mind what their subject matter is an never takes themselves too seriously. The ability of the film makers and cast to make you feel for the killer and think about the other side of things is second to none. The execution of this ingenious plot could have fallen terribly flat or come off as hackneyed very easily, but it was handled with professionalism and finesse. I strongly recommend this dramatized case study to any and all horror fans.