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Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon
Whereas the most self-aware features out there deconstruct horror for comedic effect, this movie instead asks: What if all the legends - about Freddy, Jason, and Michael - were true?
Journalist Taylor Gentry has been looking for the story that will make her a household name, and she finds it in Leslie Vernon. This man is hoping his name will soon be mentioned alongside the slasher legends we all love to fear, and to help cement his place in this dark corner of history, allows Taylor to document his preparations leading up to the night he emerges as a masked killer. Blinded by the excitement of what this will do for her career, she's detached from the reality of things when Vernon's doing relatively harmless stuff; stalking his prey, exercising, and learning other nefarious arts. But when it's time for Vernon to don his mask and wreak havoc, her conscience begins to peck away at her. She wants to stop the event that she's been documenting towards, but does she have enough inside knowledge to help? More importantly, what if Vernon had formed a contingency plan to deal with the mutineer?
There's a lot to appreciate here, although devout horror fans will undoubtedly draw the most from it. This movie attempts to provide rational explanations for how origin stories are crafted, how slashers are able to catch sprinting prey with little more than a brisk walk, how they're able to appear dead in those ‘come back for one more scare' moments, and more. The documentary portion of the film also shows how Vernon - and by extension, greats like Voorhees and Myers - would choose a final girl and obtain an Ahab (think of Halloween's Dr. Loomis). It's all serious and disturbing stuff, but Vernon's dialogue often adds a bit of levity. Even that comes at a price, though. Vernon can be quite normal and even likeable at times, which makes his darker moments all the more uneasy to watch. If there's a modern horror villain which embodies that whole ‘you never really know someone' thing, this is the guy. The actress playing Taylor does a fantastic job, too, and even though she deserves a nasty end for being so complacent, you still can't help but root for her. Cameos from elite genre stars are a nice bonus, too.
I'm not the first person to mention this, but the film's creativity doesn't merely stem from the way it was written or acted, but the way it was shot, too. All the documentary footage has that grainy, over-the-shoulder aesthetic, but any time a typical horror moment happens - a girl feels as if she's being watched, the killer's first encounter with their Ahab, etc. - it switches to the professional production you'd expect. That includes a stable camera, better lighting, better cinematography, the whole nine. This back-and-forth aesthetic change does a great job of conveying when we're watching the stuff that we, as filmgoers, never get to see, versus the payoff, which are the moments we see in virtually every horror flick. It sounds like such a small detail on paper, but this artistic choice really enhances the product overall.
These are just some of the reasons why Behind the Mask has gained its cult following over the years. Fans have been dying for a sequel to happen, and the filmmaker, even recently, continues to express hope for Vernon's return. I'd love to see what would come next, but honestly, I think this is the kind of film that works best as a stand-alone. Everything came together just right, and lightning rarely strikes twice. Couple those low odds with a decade of fans expectations growing, and the outcome could be disastrous, ironically ruining the very legacy Vernon sought to achieve. I'd certainly watch it if ever it comes to fruition, though. If you're a horror fan but haven't seen this movie yet, you owe it to yourself to do so.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon - encoded at 1080p via the AVC codec at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 - looks as good as it can. The documentary portions are a bit uglier than the cinematic ones, and that's by design. The former bits are grainier, the color's drab (minus the sit-and-talk interviews), and fine detail can lack somewhat as a result. Once we're treated to the mainstream approach, we get a sense for more deliberate lighting and color grades, details stick out more while grain becomes less prominent. Skin tones appear natural more often than not, although they can be a bit on the warm side from time to time. Black levels range from fantastic to ‘could be better', but again, that's to be expected.
In short, this movie doesn't look good most of the time and never will, but if you're looking for an accurate representation of what the filmmaker had intended, you're not going to get much better than this. I think this movie would have benefitted from even stronger encode, though. Shout (Scream) Factory did a great job, for sure, as their release easily bests the previous Blu-ray, but grain has a tendency to wander on the digital side at times. Some people will have to look hard to see it, but home video aficionados will be able to tell there's something slightly unnatural about the grain field. Even so, at least it's not as blocky and chunky as it was before.
All in all, this is a definite upgrade over the previous release. Temper your expectations because of the source, but fans of this film should definitely pick this up.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is as faithful to the source as can be, which is a win for Shout (Scream) Factory's release, but it's important to note that people should temper their expectations. A fair chunk of the film has that documentary vibe, and in those sequences, the track is extremely front heavy. Dialogue remains clear and concise, but as intended by design, the sound overall isn't impressive… that is, until you get to the cinematic bits. These scenes do offer a bit more in the way of directional audio, from ambience to discreet positional cues. The LFE is present during the appropriate moments, although it won't be shaking any walls. If you're thoroughly unimpressed with much of the film's sound design, just bear in mind that it's due to artistic intent. In reality, this is the best the film has ever sounded on home video, and is likely to ever sound.
-Behind the Mask: Joys and Curses
-Before the Mask: The Comic Book
-Making of Behind the Mask
-Casting Behind the Mask
-Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a rare gem which manages to not only entertain, but cleverly, and respectfully deconstructs the genre it hails from. It wasn't the first film to do this, nor has it been the last, but it's one of the most effective examples I've ever seen. Simply put, if you're a fan of horror and have yet to sit down and watch this, that's a mistake. The good news is that you have time to rectify it, and there hasn't been a better time to do so than now. Shout (Scream) Factory have put a stellar release together, which while not quite as pristine looking or sounding as you're used to, is entirely faithful to the source. As usual, they've provided a decent round of supplemental material, too. Highly Recommended.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!