FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jul 23, 2007

Film Club: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

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...

Wi' me:
The Horror Blog

Ag'in' me:
Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind
7 Dollar Popcorn
Askewed Views

18 comments:

Theron said...

Wow, microfiche? What's that, grandma?

Queen Anthai said...

Coincidence city - I got to meet Robert Englund at Flashback Weekend yesterday in Chicago, and he told me that since I loved New Nightmare so much, I had to check this movie out.

Recommended by Robert and Stacie; I need to be all over this!

Bob Turnbull said...

"If you want to wow your friends with your horror hipness, though, look no further than Behind the Mask."

Ouch. Seems like a slightly cynical take on the makers of the film Stacie...I don't agree obviously, but I suppose it's all in how you react to it. You also have a vaster knowledge of the genre than I do, so I wonder if that contributes to your leanings...

I don't think it's terribly fair to criticize it for not being more than what it is though. It certainly could have been more thoughtful and meaty, but it never tried to be. It was strictly a "love letter" of sorts to the films and the genre. I've seen a lot of comments about "Man Bites Dog", but apart from the surface description of the plot the two films share little else.

As for the crew not getting torn up about Leslie's plans...There's a couple of scenes where he turns around to the camera guys and shouts "Did you get that? Did you get that?!", so he's bonding with them in the moment. I think that's supposed to go along way towards blinding them from the obvious (I mean realistically none of this would ever happen - uh, right? I mean assuming we don't include Dateline or Fox News).

Stacie Ponder said...

Bob, I absolutely agree that you can't really hold what a film isn't against it, if the goals of the filmmakers are something else entirely. Then again, I don't think it's unfair to point out that the film is very surface and COULD have been a lot more substantive.

Taken for what it is, however- a "love letter", as you called it- the film is little more than an elbow in the ribs, and 90 minutes devoted to little more than a concept felt way too long. The slasher aspects, toward the end, were the most 'exciting' part to me, and as a slasher it was pale...most likely because there wasn't enough time devoted to it- as well as the fact that the audience was "in on the joke". Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are scary when they're the boogeyman, not when they're "Mike" and "Jay" and they're real guys. That's not to say that real killers aren't 'scary', of course, but Leslie Vernon was neither scary legend (despite the legend attached to him) nor scary psycho real guy. I think maybe the whole thing was a little lite for me, and then when it was supposed to be a little darker, it simply didn't measure up.

I think it was a novel concept that wasn't executed very well and should have been no longer than half an hour total. Of course, this is all my opinion, and as I stated, I'm in the minority on this one.

Chadzilla said...

I wanted to review this, but...I fell asleep on it and then I went on vacation and then we went to this long as wrestling event (The Great American Bash - Christopher loved it) and now it's the 23rd and I'm back from the gym and I just know that I'll fall asleep on it again. Damn. I'm not worthy!

chuckwilson said...

Stacie, I gotta say I love your blog-I check it everyday, but for some strange reason we rarely seem to agree. I really liked this movie and was looking forward to your review-but we horror fans sure are a fickle bunch-and picky! I'd have to agree with Bob's comments above. Oh well, glad to see very different movies from month to month. (at least we agree on The Innocents) I'm curious about your thoughts on Wolf Creek, which I've noticed is one of the most polarizing films of the last few years. (people either like or they HATE it with a passion!!)

Stacie Ponder said...

Uh oh...Leslie Vernon is the line in the sand! :D What can I say...I just didn't really like it, and I know that's a dissenting opinion, but I calls 'em like I sees 'em.

It takes diff'rent strokes to move the world, yes it does...it takes diff'rent strokes to move the worrrrrrrld! Mmm...

Anonymous said...

This was a major disappointment for me. Hated it through and through. Way too much 'nudge-nudge' humor (as soon as I saw the Kane Hodder cameo early on, I rolled my eyes) and the premise stretched past the point of credulity, even for a fantasy.

Theron said...

Lots of times, certain ideas and concepts sound really good when you're talking about them. I think this film sounds like a great idea, but when you actually see it, it's like, "Eh... SOUNDED like a good idea."

Meta for meta's sake doesn't make it anymore. It's been done to death (ho, HO).

Stacie Ponder said...

You know, I've been thinking about this movie. I think I would have liked more if they hadn't tried to established that Michael Myers et al were REAL killers.

Making them real and becoming privy to all their "tricks"- Jason Voorhees doing cardio?- sort of takes away all their power, in my opinion. If Leslie Vernon had wanted to be like fictional killers and he had to figure out how they do all the impossible things they do, it would have been a bit more interesting. First of all, it would have made Leslie a little more psychotic- trying to emulate movie maniacs, whether or not he believes them to be real makes for some crazy...and second, it would have been more fun to watch him "train".

Just a thought.

Alan @ The Freakpit said...

I guess I disagree with your opinion, for the most part, but have to admit it's not without its flaws.

I love slasher movies and I loved this movie, it's as simple as that. While you make the comparison to SCREAM, I see this movie as a worthy follow-up (though certainly not quite in the same league) as far as making fun of the rules while sticking to them goes. It's certainly an improvement on the string of "ooh, it's like we're in a horror film" knock-offs that followed in SCREAM's immediate aftermath.

On the down side, I can't see that anyone outside of hardcore enthusiasts are going to find it funny. There are too many jokes that I found funny but would be wasted on the casual viewer. By trying to explain any of them, the film is like someone having to explain a joke they just made. Actually, now I think about it, that's pretty much the same thing. Sorry, rubbish metaphor.

Anyway, I do agree with pointing people in the direction of MAN BITES DOG which to me managed to carry off a similar format but was a better film and doesn't require in depth knowledge of a particular genre to get the jokes.

Sorry, I'm rambling. Disagree with your opinion this time round, but love the blog. Cheers.

Bill Walsh said...

Ooh, some burtal comment wars!

Well, Stacie, if you ever decide to do a brief change of alias in honor of this movie, you know you've got a ready-made theme song:

Risin' up, back on the streets
Did my time, took my chances...


Wocka.

Stacie Ponder said...

I will admit that one major in joke that worked for me was the Rabbit in Red bit. It wasn't obvious, and it's pretty obscure. I could chuckle and feel all-knowing simultaneously! :D

Bill, you get 50 points for the use of "burtal". I must say, though, that I prefer the theme from "Alice" and I use it in self-reference whenever possible!

Bob Turnbull said...

Well look at that...Wildly divergent opinions and yet somehow there's still civil discourse (and funny too). Man, I love blogs...

Yep, it's all about how ya see 'em. I didn't get some of the more in-jokes, so maybe that helped in my not viewing it as all nudging cleverness.

And I found the first part more enjoyable than the last part...Go figure.

Stacie Ponder said...

Waitaminnit..."civil discourse"? That can't be! This is the internet, people!

EVERYONE WHO DISAGREES WITH ME IS A JERK!

melizer said...

I final-ly caught up with the club and watched this, and I'm so with Stacie. BTW this movie has to have the all-time most annoying commentary track.

There were a few smirks here and there, and that's the most enjoyment it afforded me. I agree with the reviewer at "The Horror Blog" that the retired couple was the most interesting thing about it - the idea that a serial killer married his final girl :)

Garth said...

Here I am, complete newbie to the site, rifling through old reviews and posting my worthless comments.

Here is why I didn't like the flick.
a) The use of Myers,Voorhees, et al and the fact that Leslie Vernon has chosen "slasher" as his calling yet treats it as if he's decided to be a house painter, like it's his occupation.

b) the "cinematic" parts throughout the first 2/3s when Leslie does something and it turns from a documentary into a stylized horror movie.

c) when they scrap the documentary at all and try to turn it into a horror movie. Sorry, but it doesn't work for me when you spend the first 2/3 of the movie deconstructing and playfully mocking the tropes of it and then just play right to them for the last third. Maybe I'm being harsh, but if you're making a horror mockumentary, you're going to be judged by me agaisnt ones that work, like Man Bites Dog. And since I *know* how well it can be done in a movie like that, I'm not going to buy it when you completely lose faith in your chosen gimmick and just finish it off as a generic, formulaic slasher movie.

As a fan of documentaries, I would be PISSED if The Fog of War, half way in decided to scrap the documentary/interview form and just have Robert MacNamara take part in fictionalized dramatizations of what actually happened. That pissed me off SO much that I was taken completely out of the movie.

Gah, I get annoyed every time I even THINK about this movie, and part of the reason is the fact that it is so apparently LOVED by horror fans and that I'm expected to love it because I'm a horror fan.

Retrocub said...

I found this movie terribly boring, and frankly quite stupid. Meh.