Thursday, July 31, 2008

Movie Review: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Starring: Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Kate Lang Johnson, and Robert Englund

Director: Scott Glosserman

Writers: Scott Glosserman and David J. Stieve

Production Companies: Glen Echo Entertainment and Code Entertainment

Release Date: July 6, 2006 (Canada); October 13, 2006 (USA)

Michael Myers started in 1978, Jason Voorhees in 1981, Freddy Krueger in 1984, and Chucky in 1988. Since then, slashers have disappeared. We still see these guys from time to time, but new spectral serial killers are few and far between. Candyman made a stab at it in 1992, but he never quite had the following. Jigsaw started in 2004, sure, but his convoluted traps hardly compare to the visceral, hands-on methods of the original slashers.

But Leslie Vernon is here to continue their legacy. But unlike the others, he's willing to spill some of the trade secrets to journalist Taylor Gentry. Vernon shows Gentry how slashers pick their "survivor girls", how "red herrings" are used, and the value of "the Ahab". He shows how the planning is accomplished and in so doing, explains why so many slasher films have so many similarities...they're all working from the same bag of tricks...It's just how the elements are out together that creates the individual slasher's style.

This is a movie for the horror movie lover. It affects how you watch other slasher films. After watching Leslie Vernon, I watched another film, Storm Warning, with a family of crazed killers and I spent the whole time trying to figure out how they could have set it up, making sure their chosen victims made their way to their doom.

Nathan Baesel plays Leslie Vernon with skill and panache. The flamboyant, charming, and creepy newbie slasher couldn't have been an easy role to balance, but Baesel gets us to care for the open, straightforward killer. Well, not too straightforward, he does keep his secrets. His enthusiasm for the role he has chosen and knowledge of the symbolism of horror films makes us want to see him succeed. I mean, he's worked so hard.

Kate Lang Johnson plays Leslie's "survivor girl" Kelly Curtis. Unlike most "survivor girls", she is a fairly shallow character because the movie is not about's about Leslie, which relegates the character who would normally be on screen most of the time to a position next to most other victims. Johnson does a good job in the role, as limited as it was.

Robert Englund plays Doc Holloran, Leslie's "Ahab". Again, since the point-of-view is flipped in this film, his role as Leslie's hunter doesn't get much screen time, but it's always great seeing Englund again, even if he's not wearing the claws.

Angela Goethals takes on the morally grey role of journalist Taylor Gentry. Goethals was able to portray Gentry's wavering between her journalistic inquisitiveness and her moral unease with Leslie's activities believably.

Throw in some cameo appearances by Zelda Rubinstein (Tangina from Poltergeist and the prolific horror actor and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder who took on 4 tours-of-duty as Jason Voorshees from the Friday the 13th series, plus plenty of references to other horror films, and Behind the Mask becomes a horror aficionado's delight.

One of the things they did with Behind the Mask is switch from the handheld shots when Taylor and her camaramen are talking with Leslie and getting trade secrets to typical movie camera work when Leslie goes killing.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a horror mockumentary with humor and intrigue. I will admit that the scares aren't there, but then since we saw most everything behind the scenes, the end is more to see if and how Leslie's plans play out, plus some hidden surprises Leslie didn't let us in on.

Nathan Baesel hasn't made it back into horror, but he appears in the Sci-Fi drama Like Moles, Like Rats, also known as 20 Years Later with Azura Skye. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong: War, Terrorism, Natural Disasters. Evacuees were ushered from the cities to refugee camps in the surrounding counties. In-fighting, famine and disease took their toll on the survivors. Now, twenty years after the bombs fell and the plagues ran their course the few that remain live in fear and without hope. Azura Skye stars as Sarah in this Post-Apocalyptic Fairy Tale about a young woman's journey to deliver the first child born in 15 Years. Sarah's refusal to give up is inspired by a lone voice on her radio. Michael broadcasts dim and distant messages of hope mixed with the music he scavenges from the dead. Forced from her basement home by drought and relentlessly pursued by those who want her baby, Sarah crosses paths with Michael in a cavernous, underground refuge of disparate survivors. It is from Three Caves that Michael and Sarah will embark on a journey beyond the boundaries of the Southern Corridor and into the unknown future. The film is currently touring the film festival circuit set next to appear on Auguest 31 at Dragon Con.

Angela Goethals has only appeared in a 2007 episode of "Boston Legal" since her role as Taylor Gentry.

Robert Englund is all over the horror movie circuit appearing in several since his role as Doc Holloran. His most recent role was in Zombie Strippers! starring Jenna Jameson. It had a limited release on April 18, 2008. In the not too distant future a secret government re-animation chemo-virus gets released into conservative Sartre, Nebraska and lands in an underground strip club. As the virus begins to spread, turning the strippers into "Super Zombie Strippers" the girls struggle with whether or not to conform to the new "fad" even if it means there's no turning back. Englund's next horror movies will be Land of Canaan, A psychological thriller/horror flick based on a true story of murder and hauntings in the Nevada town of Goldfield, scheduled to come out in October, 2008, and 2001 Maniacs: Beverly Hellbillies, scheduled to come out October 30. After the sheriff refuses to cover up any further for the maniacs causing all the missing persons in the area, they're forced to hit the road in what's dubbed the "Pleasant Valley Traveling Road Show," where the maniacs head across country in hopes of gathering more victims. We'll follow a young TV crew called the "Road Rascals" as they find themselves mixed up with another one of the maniacs' deadly festivals.

Kate Lang Johnson hasn't returned to horror. Her next movie will be Fired Up, a comedy in which two guys sign up for a cheerleaders' camp in a desperate attempt to pick up girls, set for release on March 20, 2009.

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