Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Every horrorhound's favorite month is upon us, and to celebrate, I'll be dishing out a personal pick from the genre for every day in October. Some will be obvious and rather unoriginal (sorry that I like movies other people like), while some will be a little more oddball and off-the-wall. Some may even challenge your idea of what constitutes a "horror" movie. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the month with some good movies, even if they aren't ones I recommend!

Today's Pick: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

As the years go by, I find myself disliking Wes Craven's Scream more and more. It's a decent slasher/whodunit picture, but its lasting legacy has been its commentary on the genre it inhabits. It's that commentary that has grown sour for me. While it acknowledges and parodies the conventions of the horror film, it never bothers to delve into the "why" of the conventions. They exist because they are supposed to exist and that's all there is to it. It doesn't help that there's a snobby attitude to the way the film dissects all the trappings of horror movies. Behind the Mask is the film Scream ought to be: a charmingly funny but completely earnest examination of slasher films and why they follow the formulas they do.

The movie is a mockumentary, following around a fledgling slasher named Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) as he divulges the tricks of the trade to an eager documentary crew, led by intrepid reporter Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals). While planning to sow the seeds of his own myth, he introduces the family that raised him (a perfectly matched Scott Wilson and Bridgett Newton) and avoids the hunting eye of his own personal Ahab, Doc Halloran (Robert Englund).

If Scream is a stuffy collegiate essay written by an old professor (it's certainly directed by one), Behind the Mask is the best kind of fan-fiction written by a true devotee of the genre. There's so much love in the film. Leslie loves what he does (to the verge of tears at one point!) and his adoptive parents support him one hundred percent. The film is also incredibly funny, mostly because of Nathan Baesel's truly captivating performance. He's so adorable and chummy that it's nearly impossible not to like him, even when he's describing how he's going to murder people. I can't do justice to how enthralling and hilarious Baesel is every moment he's on screen.

But, this isn't a spoof film. It's a humorous look behind what goes into being a slasher, while still generating real moments of fright. The end of the movie is played completely straight-faced, and it works because the rest of the film creates a believable world that our characters inhabit. It's an amazing balancing act that seems nearly impossible to pull off, but Behind the Mask does it and throws down a heavy gauntlet to its peers.

If you love horror movies and need ammunition for when you need to defend their purpose in both cinema and culture, look no further than Behind the Mask. Scott Wilson's character gives a great speech about the importance of evil and why slashers (and the kinds of stories they exist in) need to continue on so that the world can remain balanced. It's the kind of mythic weight missing in Scream's eviscerating tone, and it's the kind of feeling that makes you proud to love these kinds of stories. It doesn't hurt that the movie is well made and an absolute blast to watch.

Tomorrow, we'll continue our meta examination with the best horror movie about horror movies ever. Trust me, you know what it is.

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