Behind The Mask The Rise of Leslie Vernon: Slasher Homage Finds the Fun in the Sub-Genre

By the mid-2000’s, audiences were wise to horror rules and conventions. Wes Craven’s Scream pulled the curtain on tired tropes and re-invigorated the genre. But Hollywood was slow to change and the slasher-lite renaissance that followed recycled the same narratives without Craven’s self-awareness. And remakes and ‘Torture Porn’ characterized horror for most of the aughts. Over the last decade, horror movies like Cabin in the Woods, The Final Girls, and Tucker and Dale vs Evil, embraced a more self-aware approach to the genre. Somewhere in between Scream and this generation of horror, Behind the Mask The Rise of Leslie Vernon saw just a brief theatrical release. But the movie that built on Scream – paving the wave for the next generation of meta-horror – has since earned a loyal fan following.

Synopsis

Journalist Taylor Gentry and her camera are filming what could be a cutting-edge documentary. Their subject – Leslie Vernon – a serial killer who claims to be the long-believed dead subject of local legend. As part of the documentary, Leslie walks Taylor and his crew through the steps he takes in selecting and planning the murders of his victims. Hoping to join the ranks of other slasher villains, Leslie highlights the “tricks of the trade” along with his hopes that his latest proposed victim is his “Survivor Girl”. Yet as the night grows closer, Taylor gets cold feet when she sees that Leslie truly intends to carry out his plans. But will Leslie let her back out?

Behind the Mask Has Fun Riffing on Slashers

Though Behind the Mask’s meta-approach to the sub-genre wasn’t new, writer and director Scott Glosserman – along with co-writer David J Stieve – have a lot of fun with the concept. Their approach to de-constructing the slasher is also quite different from Wes Craven. Specifically, Behind the Mask’s documentary approach flips sub-genre tropes into something of a DIY narrative. The result often feels more like a twisted episode of a TLC or HGTV series than a horror re-tread. In the absence of any real scares and minimal gore, the movie’s ‘how to’ narrative invests tired tropes with new energy.

Behind the Mask’s documentary approach flips sub-genre tropes into something of a DIY narrative.

Yes, horror movies have used the POV-shot to put audiences in the killer’s shoes for years. But the documentary mise-en-scène taps into what many fans have always enjoyed about these movies. It’s not unlike public fascination with true crime material. And it’s also hard not to find the references to other slasher villains as “real killers” amusing. Just the earnestness of Nathan Baesel’s “Leslie Vernon” alone adds a certain charm to the proceedings. Horror fans will probably get just as excited as the “documentary crew’” at discovering the meaning of an “Ahab” or “Survivor Girl”.

Behind the Mask Can’t Help But Feel Less Substantial Than Similar Horror Movies

If Behind the Mask falls short of other self-aware horror movies, it’s more breezy approach may be to blame. Undoubtedly, it’s a fun ride and one that stands up to multiple viewings. Still you can’t help but feel something was left on the table. While Scream ripped on slasher tropes, Craven also re-invested many of them with scares. Unlike Man Bites Dog or Funny Games, Behind the Mask never challenges the audience’s identification with the killer. Both Cabin in the Woods and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare explored the cultural role of slashers and movie monsters to varying degrees. Comparatively, Glosserman and Stieve don’t make much effort to shed light on why these movies exist. For the most part, Behind the Mask seems content to just be a fun horror movie. This isn’t necessarily a drawback unless one considers some of the missed potential in the movie’s premise.

Nathan Baesel and Angela Goethals Make For Fun Slasher Pair

Much of Behind the Mask works in large part due to the efforts put in by the cast. Baesel isn’t a recognizable name, but as “Leslie Vernon”, he’s every bit believable as the “up-and-coming” slasher villain. He brings an almost boyish enthusiasm to the role that’s funny in and of itself given the obvious contrast to what his character aspires. Without Baesel’s performance, Behind the Mask loses much of its zip. However, Angela Goethals anchors everything about the movie. It’s through her character that you vicariously identify with and enjoy Leslie’s early slasher planning. And it’s Goethals’ ability to shift gears in the final act that gives the movie some weight and urgency.

Without Baesel’s performance, Behind the Mask loses much of its zip.

Horror fans can also expect a few fun casting “Easter Eggs”. The most obvious is Robert Englund’s role as Leslie Vernon’s “Ahab”, clearly patterned after Halloween’s “Dr Loomis”. While it’s only a small part, Englund’s dry, deadpan delivery plays extremely well with the movie’s tone. As Leslie’s mentor, The Walking Dead alum Scott Wilson is a treat when he’s on screen. Like everyone else in the movie, he’s clearly having fun in the role, which is infectious in all his scenes. In addition to Poltergeist’s Zelda Rubinstein, keep an eye open for a clever ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ Kane Hodder cameo.

Behind the Mask The Rise of Leslie Vernon Still a Fun Slasher Homage

Even after a decade and a half and a lot of meta-horror in between, Behind the Mask The Rise of Leslie Vernon remains a fun watch. Though it’s not as insightful as some of the movies that followed, Glosserman’s deconstruction of slasher tropes remains clever. Sadly, the sequel tease never materialized. Now with a new Scream on the way, Leslie Vernon may not have much new to offer on another go-around. Nonetheless, horror fans shouldn’t be dissuaded from re-visiting this slasher homage.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B+

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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