★★★★★ of ★★★★★
When slasher fans create their own movie.
Dir. Scott Glosserman
Behind the Mask is one of those rare treats in the horror genre. It is clever, entertaining, well-acted, and brings a unique perspective to a worn but beloved concept. Chances are if a horror fan has heard of it, they love it, but with a box office pull of under $70,000, most probably haven’t heard of it.
So, let’s get into what Behind the Mask is about. First off, I’m going to give the always-annoying-to-hear advice that this movie is best enjoyed going in blind. Its originality is its greatest strength and having no expectations makes the movie more fun to watch. But, as this would be the shortest movie review ever if all I did was endorse viewing ignorance, I’ll continue.
In the town of Glen Echo, a masked man is about to seek bloody vengeance upon the children of those who ended his life. This story isn’t about the legend, but the man behind the mask, Leslie Vernon, a charismatic and enthusiastic killer devoted to creating an embodiment of evil to serve as foil for all that is good in the world. He imparts this story to journalist Taylor Gentry and her crew. He lets them in on trade secrets, how “supernatural” serial killers choose their victims, create their myths, and plan, down to chronological order, how they will kill.
Acts one and two are shot in a mix of documentary and hand-held formats putting the audience firmly on the side of the reporters. It’s impossible not to be charmed by Leslie even while being repulsed by his goals. It isn’t until things start getting serious, when the blood actually begins to spill, that the crew has true misgivings about their venture. Where does journalism end and actual culpability begin? Along with this philosophical conundrum, Behind the Mask also discusses film theory, especially as it relates to the horror genre. Leslie explains common tropes like The Survivor Girl and the use of yonic/phallic imagery in the Survivor Girl’s transformation.
Nathan Baesel plays Leslie and he embraces the role so fully that it’s one of those cases where I can’t imagine seeing anyone playing the character. Many of the other performances in the movie are solidly given by relative unknowns. There is some star power, though. Robert Englund plays Doc Halloran (an obvious Shining reference) intent on stopping Leslie even at great personal cost. The late great Zelda Rubenstein makes a short appearance as a librarian. Scott Wilson plays Leslie’s personal mentor, an old-school killer who is in awe of the way the new generation has upped the game.
If you are a fan at all of the slasher genre, this is a brilliant tribute that I can highly recommend. As a matter of fact, it made the number 6 spot of my top 25 list. Since it was filmed in Portland, Oregon, I got to really embrace the fangirl by visiting filming locations one very exciting Halloween.
I recently purchased the Collector’s Edition DVD which has been out since spring of 2018. It includes some deleted scenes, interviews with the cast, and a behind-the-scenes compilation. While it seems fairly obvious why some of the deleted scenes were cut, hardcore fans will enjoy a bit more movie. The interviews with the cast were pushing the upcoming prequel/sequel pretty hard and it’s hard to tell if their excitement is authentic – they are actors after all! The Vernon universe has already been continuing on in graphic novel form, but it is the creators’ aim to get him back on the big screen again. The behind-the-scenes featurette was a bit disillusioning as the creators seemed, well, kind of doofy. It not only had an independent vibe but also a “we have no idea what we’re doing” vibe. I’m guessing, after watching it, that we are luckier to have this fine film than one would suspect.