Tuesday, July 31, 2007

BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON

"It is going to get wet in here tonight. Lace your boots up, kiddies..."

I recently watched the Starz Media DVD of BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (2006). This unique take on the slasher subgenre had been garnering a lot of positive reviews in recent months, and although I haven't really been in a horror movie mood of late, I was curious.

I persuaded my wife – who grew up on 80's slasher franchises like FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – to join me, and we gave the disc a spin.

The premise and plot of the film is that a small group of college journalists are offered the opportunity to accompany and interview an 80's-styled psycho killer as he goes about his preparations for a full-blooded killing spree. From selecting the right female victim to terrorize – a virgin, of course – to planting the seeds of an appropriately spooky "legend," to setting the scene for the final slaughter, the "mockumentary" portion of the film is both amusing and occasionally chilling, with plenty of dark humor and thought-provoking insights into the conventions of the genre.

Now, if that was the entire film, it would probably be fine and fun, but in the final reels, BEHIND THE MASK metamorphoses into a genuine slasher film, complete with last minute twists and – despite the fact that the whole formula has just been deconstructed in front of you – a suspenseful and frightening edge-of-your-seat climax.

Virtually everything about this film works. Lead Nathan Baesel is excellent, sliding startlingly from charming and amusing to terrifying with no apparent effort. Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, is well cast in his small role, as is POLTERGEIST's Zelda Rubinstein, who delivers a long expository speech in one perfect take. Especially good is veteran character actor Scott Wilson, from 1967's IN COLD BLOOD, as Leslie's "mentor" and confidante.

The screenplay by Scott Glosserman and David J. Stieve shows not only a deep understanding for the genre, but a genuine affection for it as well. Glosserman's direction is brisk and breezy during the mockumentary sequences yet taut, atmospheric and chilling once things get bloody. It's great stuff.

Starz Media gives BEHIND THE MASK a sterling, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Stereo audio. There's a fun and informative commentary by the main cast members, two "making of" featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, and some nicely edited trailers. As usual, Starz has included the screenplay as a DVD-ROM downloadable bonus.

For fans of the slasher film subgenre, BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON is strongly and enthusiastically recommended. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's one of the best horror films I've seen in the last two years.

Check it out.

BUY: Behind the Mask - The Rise of Leslie Vernon