Having only just gotten into collecting Blu-rays within the last couple of years, I’ve become interested in the different ways some of these releases catch our attention as horror fans. Sometimes we get those movies that we’ve always loved and jump on immediately. Other times, we get the obscure films that might wind up being a hidden gem. And then there are those releases that remind us to revisit the movies we haven’t seen in years. Such was the case for me and the 2006 meta-slasher Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. I remember seeing the movie within a year or so of its release, enjoying it, but never really feeling the need for a rewatch until Scream Factory announced their Collector’s Edition.
Blending elements of meta-horror, mockumentary, and straight slasher, Behind the Mask follows journalist Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) and her camera crew Doug (Ben Pace) and Todd (Britain Spellings) as they embed themselves with serial-killer-in-the-making Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel). In a reality where iconic serial killers Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers actually exist, Vernon is out to make his mark, so he invites the crew to document his preparations for the night of slaughter that will make him a legend in his own right. As they follow Vernon, he proves to be charming and willing to share his trade secrets as he lays the groundwork to execute his killing spree while also finding the one Survivor Girl who will ultimately prove to be his match. But how far are they willing to go with him as his plans become reality?
Meta-horror seems to be divisive among fans of the genre, with movies like Scream and Cabin in the Woods often lauded for their knowledge of the rules and tropes in horror, while detractors bemoan filmmakers who get too cute for their own good and come off feeling like they’re smarter than the genre. In rewatching Behind the Mask, what struck me is that it deconstructs slasher films not to poke fun at them, but rather to celebrate them. Screenwriter David J. Stieve and co-writer/director Scott Glosserman revel in horror tropes and give the audience a peek behind the curtain not to underscore their lack of logic, but rather to put them in a context that gives them logic. Take the classic trope of the lumbering killer who still manages to pop out of nowhere regardless of how fast a victim runs. Vernon’s explanation? Cardio. Lots and lots of cardio, along with a flair for performance.
Speaking of performances (I’m awesome at segues), the audience won’t buy into the celebratory nature of the movie if the actors can’t nail the appropriate tone. Fortunately, Glosserman chose his cast well, even down to the prerequisite cameos. Scott Wilson is so charming as Eugene, a retired killer and mentor for Vernon, who somehow comes across as someone you would believe as a kindly grandpa in addition to being someone who has left a trail of dead bodies in his wake. I was also particularly impressed by Robert Englund, who as Vernon’s “Ahab” Doc Halloran played to the relatively level-headed, subdued Sam Loomis of 1978’s Halloween rather than going to the manic, scenery-chewing Loomis of Halloween 5.
Obviously, a couple of well-placed cameos won’t carry a movie, so we are equally fortunate that the core cast also brings their A game. Goethals in particular deftly navigates a tricky tightrope as she manages to convincingly convey trepidation at following Vernon down his murderous rabbit hole while also making us believe in how she could get caught up in the situation. Pace and Spellings make for great comic relief and deserve appreciation for giving what essentially amount to voice performances as they spend the first two acts behind the camera.
Of course, the lynchpin to this whole thing is in our anti-hero, Vernon, and after Baesel’s work in this film, I’m stunned that he didn’t become a bigger name in horror. I never once found myself questioning whether or not Vernon was serious about his plans to stalk and murder a group of people, but that also never stopped me from rooting for him. His passion for his work is the heart of the movie, his enthusiasm for the process infectious even as the voice in the back of our heads tells us that no good will come of it.
There are some who have criticized the movie for its sudden third act format change that switches from mockumentary to traditional narrative, but I think it’s a perfect way to transition the leads from being witnesses of the proceedings to becoming active participants. Plus, the first two acts almost serve as the behind-the-scenes featurette that whets our appetites for the feature presentation in the third act.
Speaking of behind the scenes (nailed another segue), the features for the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray are certainly serviceable. There are two separate audio tracks, one for the cast and one for Stieve and Glosserman (with bonus moderators Adam Green and Joe Lynch!). The deleted/extended scenes give some interesting insights into the film, including a line that seems to confirm the implication that the relationship between a killer and his Survivor Girl evolves into something more intimate. The biggest letdown for me was that among the interviews and behind-the-scenes features, we don’t really get much in the way of recent interviews with Nathan Baesel.
But while I would have liked to have seen a little more out of the special features, I’m glad I got to revisit Behind the Mask via Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. It celebrates a movie that is in itself a celebration of the slasher genre, and getting to watch it again in this context made it feel like more of an event. If you’re like me and haven’t taken the opportunity to watch Behind the Mask in a while, count this as a great chance to do so.
Movie Score: 4/5, Disc Score: 4/5