In the world of Behind the Mask, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger are all very real psycho killers, and Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) is a man who aspires to be just like them. Leslie invites aspiring young documentarian Taylor (Angela Goethals) and her crew into his world as he plans his night of terror. As Taylor shoots her film, we learn how these cuckoo nutsos get the job done, from choosing the victims to booby-trapping houses. Ah, the days of reality TV.
Any horror fan worth his or her salt will most likely get a kick out of Leslie Vernon, as the first hour, in which we follow Leslie around in his daily activities, is full of homages and in-jokes from the genre. Hey! There's Kane Hodder walking into the Elm Street house! Chuckle! There's Taylor standing in front of the Rabbit in Red Lounge! That's Robert Englund channeling Dr. Loomis! Aw, lookit l'il Zelda Rubinstein! She's so damn cute I want to put her on a keychain.
Leslie breaks down all the slasher tropes for us as he maps out his plan of attack: he chooses a virgin to be the "survivor girl" (why the fuck they kept calling her the "survivor girl" and not the "final girl" is kind of beyond me), he knows when the horny teens will head to the bedroom, he nails windows shut, he rigs the weapons the fin--err, survivor girl might use against him so they'll break...he even goes so far as to commit a wacky microfiche-swapping scheme that draws the final--dammit! survivor girl into his mythology. She reacts as he thought she would, getting all spooked and panicked. Had she looked closely at the article, though, mayhaps she would have sniffed out the ruse.
Once Leslie's big night arrives, Behind the Mask switches from a documentary style to a more linear style; the film becomes a stereotypical slasher flick and we get to watch as Leslie's plans come to fruition. People react exactly as he anticipated they would, and all of his booby-traps trap the boobys.
Well, kids, I just don't know. I can't really say I was all that taken with this film...though I know I'm definitely in the minority on that call, so take my opinion as just that. As an homage/tribute to the slasher film, I think Leslie Vernon absolutely works- but having the audience wink wink and nudge nudge along with you doesn't make your film any more substantial than an in-joke. There's absolutely the potential in this material to make a real statement about our modern reality TV/consumer culture beyond the nods to horror; we're living in an age where people really do want to be just like Freddy Krueger, where there's no mystique to celebrity anymore, where the line between reality and fiction has blurred, and where folks collect serial killer trading cards.
Behind the Mask doesn't dig that deep, however. Leslie Vernon is just an average doofus- and I don't mean in that "Omigod Jeffrey Dahmer lived right down the hall from me and how could I not know but now that I think about it he was always kinda weird" way...I mean in a "this character is really irritating and the actor is sort of overacting and channeling Jim Carrey Lite and he's getting on my nerves" way. While Leslie is very much making plans to slaughter innocent teens, the film crew never seems to be particularly torn up about it (and don't even get me started on Taylor and Leslie's tearful goodbye). Even when the blood begins to flow, Taylor and her crew only seem to be a little torn up about it. Again- the idea of the role and culpability of the journalist and the media in the information age might make for a meaty cinematic stew, but Behind the Mask is little more than a broth.
And you know, that's fine. Movies can be there purely for entertainment's sake...even in that regard, however, I wasn't overly thrilled with Behind the Mask. The documentary portion went on far too long, in my opinion, and the last 20 minutes was a nice pick-up in pace, but it certainly wasn't scary. If you want a film that manages to be simultaneously of and about the horror/slasher genre, watch Scream. If you want a film that's a disturbing black comedy about journalists trailing a serial killer, a film that does have a little more substance, watch Man Bites Dog. If you want to wow your friends with your horror hipness, though, look no further than Behind the Mask.
Thanks to the Film Club Coolies for participating, no matter on which side of the fence their opinions may lie...
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