Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, was released in 2006 with very minimal fanfare. It’s a shame as it’s probably one of the best horror films of recent times that you probably haven’t even heard of, let alone seen. It takes a cue from Scream, in that it de-constructs the slasher sub-genre and successfully combines scares, laughs and those little winks to an all-too-knowing audience. As it covers a sub-genre that has become somewhat tired and over-mined, as well as being an independent picture, it could very easily have fallen flat on its face, but maybe because of the lack of studio interference, it plays out very cleverly and is a real treat.
Set in a world where boogeymen such as Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are very real, the story surrounds the titular Leslie Vernon (Baesel – in his first starring role), who agrees to allow a student film crew (Goethals and her two camera-men) follow him in the lead up to his planned massacre of the usual collection of teens at an old house. He even has a ‘final girl’ lined up; there are so many clichés deliberately set up here. The crew film him as he plans the atrocity, not thinking that he will actually go through with it. As we move forward, we discover the secrets of the slasher psycho killers – like how do they always manage to calmly walk whilst their prey are running madly way from them? Cleared up. Why do the batteries in flashlights always die just when the victims need them the most? Covered.
We get to meet Eugene (Wilson), a retired slasher and Leslie’s mentor, who is also a family man and has no issues with talking about his past, laughing as he reminisces. We also discover that Leslie has his own nemesis, Doc Halloran (Englund), in a nice nod to Halloween’s Doc Loomis. When the night of the massacre finally arrives, the film crew realise that Leslie wasn’t joking and decide to try and help the victims, only to find that he had planned for their interference all along.
There’s the obligatory set up for the planned sequel during the closing credits and Leslie Vernon makes for a great, and all-too-believable, killer. Unlike Scream, Behind the Mask appears to play it all completely straight, which creates a strange humour that is very clever but doesn’t make the viewer uncomfortable. This film deserves so much more credit and showcasing than it has received. Do yourself a favour and track this little gem down now.