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Legendary maniacs Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger have their place in history. It's time for the next generation. Meet Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), the next great psycho-slasher.  Leslie is a good-natured killing machine who has invited a documentary film crew to follow him as he reminisces with his murder mentor (Scott Wilson), evades his psychiatrist/nemesis (Robert Englund), deconstructs Freudian symbolism, and meticulously plots his upcoming slaughter spree.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
How can Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees move magically from one end of a house to another? Maybe they practice slight of hand tricks or have taken a few magician's classes. Makes sense, right? How do they manage to show up on the anniversary of their deaths every year? Well, they plan it that way, duh. It's not like they don't have calendars. How can they walk so quickly without making it look hard? They do hours of cardio every day. This stuff is all covered in the first ten minutes of Behind the Mask.

Scream was a great dissection of the slasher genre, and it came at the perfect time in film history. Behind the Mask takes the whole postmodern subversion thing a step further, and pretends that the slasher lifestyle isn't just a movie fantasy, it's a real life occupation. The film's scene by scene, molecule by molecule dissection of the genre is very clever. This thing has a philosophy; it plays with the stereotypes of the easily stereotyped genre, but never disrespects the classics. It's perfect. It's equal parts history lesson, postmodern comedy, and genuine horror film (though Scream was more genuinely scary).

Behind the Mask has a lot in common with the rarely seen French dark comedy Man Bites Dog, only it's not quite so jet-black. Both films are mockumentaries, both films present their killers as genuine protagonists, and bring the audience warmly into a very macabre world. Both films play with the idea of presenting murder as amusing, then throwing the deplorable nature of the act back into their audience's smiling faces. It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Some of the best touches are the ones I, a rabid horror fanatic, wouldn't simply assume. For instance, Leslie is excited at the prospect of an 'Ahab' (a Dr. Loomis character that hunts the killer) rather than being annoyed or demoralize. Leslie also seeks out the virginal survivor girl, and actively wants to be thwarted by her. The genuine joy on Leslie's face as he compares the day before the slaughter to the day before Christmas is contagious. These touches are cute, but also good to lull the audience into a bit of a false sense of security. The films last thirty minutes aren't quite as effective as I'd like them to be, but I have to say they're just about as clever as they think they are.

I don't have very much to say about the ins and outs of the picture besides the fact that it is very efficient, very well acted, and genuinely funny. The casting is just about genius (Robert England as the 'Ahab', brilliant little cameos from Zelda Rubinstein and Kane Hodder), and a lot of credit needs to be spooned upon newcomers Nathan Baesel, whose kind of a mix of Jim Carrey and Henry Thomas, and Angela Goethals. Without all these solid performances we'd be left with an average fan film with a neat script. I don't want to say anymore as to not spoil the fun.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Video


Behind the Mask is a two part film visually. Most of the film is a pretend documentary, and looks rather lo-fi. The usual digital video problems are obvious, like noise and edge enhancement, but it's all part of the fun of the cinéma vérité style. When the film becomes a regular movie, which it does shortly at the beginning and middle, but mostly during the third act, it looks pretty close to perfect. Colours are brighter and richer, noise is depleted, and blacks are deeper. The aspect ratio also slightly changes between the two styles, with the documentary footage framed around 1.80:1 and the film footage framed at a slightly wider 1.85:1.

Audio


The film's audio matches its video. When we're in documentary mode there's no film score, and pretty much all the sound is centred. It's not theatrical and it isn't meant to be. Errors are all part of the fun. When we go into movie mode a boisterous score kicks in, sound effects are heightened, and surround channels come alive. It's not the first time such a thing has been done, but it's all very effective. The theatrical mix could do with a little bass boost, but otherwise it's great.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Extras


This DVD isn't quite as packed as I expected it would be. I'm not sure why I expected a big set, probably because it was actually a Starz/Anchor Bay theatrical release. Whatever my reason, I'm a teeny-tiny bit disappointed.

Things start off with a cast commentary track. No director? No writer? Hmmm, maybe a double dip later? Anyway, the track is cute, and mostly informative, but a little too playful. Actor tracks are usually less meaty, and this one is no exception. After about an hour things begin to grate, but they rarely slow down.

There are two featurettes to back up the commentary. The first, the aptly named ‘Making of Behind the Mask’, runs a little over thirty minutes, and is lovingly crafted by the filmmakers themselves. It does not appear to be the usual EPK fluff. If it is, it's well disguised. Not the best making-of doc, but quick moving and informative. The second featurette, running about six minutes, covers the casting stage in the form of roughly cut video footage. It's not really all that interesting.

The deleted scenes feature, strangely enough, an optional director commentary, which makes the absence of a feature director commentary all the more painful, because Scott Glosserman is a quick whip. The scenes, some deleted, some extended, are better than the usual cutting room scraps, but their deletion is necessary. ‘Superfluous’ is the word Glosserman uses. There are four deleted scenes, and six extended scenes total.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
And like every other made for Anchor Bay release, this disc features a DVD-ROM screenplay and a series of trailers.

Overall


Despite the ad campaign, and a few moments of disturbance, Behind the Mask is a rather light-hearted film. The only people I can fathom being disappointed are the ones expecting a Man Bites Dog grit to the story. There are dark moments, and there is some gory violence, but it's nothing even squeamish viewers shouldn't be able to handle. I expected to find myself prescribing the film to genre enthusiasts alone, but I actually recommend it to just about anyone looking for a smart comedy. I think the critics may have gone a little wild promoting the film, but it's at least worth a rental.


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