Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals), an ambitious young filmmaker who evokes the leads of Man Bites Dog and The Blair Witch Project, sets out to make a documentary about Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), a charming young man who is intent on becoming as big a name in the 'supernatural killing spree' business as Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees or Freddie Krueger. Taylor and her crew hang around with Leslie as he preps for his big debut: doing a major program of cardio workout so he can manage the trick of catching up to fleeing kids while seeming to be walking slowly, selecting his chosen virginal 'survivor girl' Kelly Curtis (tall blonde Kate Lang Johnson) and her to-be-killed circle of looser friends, half-sawing through axe-handles and tree-branches to set up later falls as victims try to defend themselves, visiting his genial retired killer mentor Eugene (Scott Wilson), planting clues in newspaper archives that key in to his backstory and delighted to attract the attention of an 'Ahab' in fanatical psychiatrist Doc Halloran (Robert Englund, parodying Donald Pleasence).

This is a few degrees more self-aware even than Scream, and seems to set itself up as an edgy, mock-doc-look skit on franchise horror films, until a mid-point reversal when Leslie spots a 'we can't stand here and let this happen' look on Taylor's face as he is about to start killing and calls a halt to filming. The crew side with the prospective victims, who turn out not to be as stereotyped as we thought - Kelly is a stupid slut, who falls out of a window in panic - as Taylor realises Leslie's apparent openness has all been part of the act, and that she is herself the chosen survivor who must battle the now-masked killer.

Writer-director Scott Glosserman shows affection for the more ridiculous side of '80s-style serial horror, and gets laughs from actually doing something the likes of the Halloween and Friday the 13th sequels only seemed to do - giving the killer's point of view, with funny aside-to-camera observations, on such cliché scenes as the preliminary glimpses of her nemesis allowed to a heroine in her normal life or while checking out newspaper clippings in an old dark library. But the film's strongest trick is that it manages to turn the comedy round and deliver a suspenseful finale, with newcomer Baesel and former child actress Goethals (V.I. Warshawski) finding subtleties in their roles as predestined antagonists and an against-the-odds edge of melancholy and horror as we start to understand the skewed values which might make the protagonist - who isn't even the real Leslie Vernon - want to become a film-franchise serial killer. The last-moment sitting-up-on-a-morgue slab gag is delayed until the very end of the credits. With in-joke cameos from Kane Hodder and Zelda Newton.

First published in this form here.

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