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`Behind the Mask' gleefully cuts up

Horror genre cliches get deliciously skewered in this teen-carnage tale of a wannabe Jason-Freddy.

March 16, 2007|Michael Ordona | Special to The Times

The marriage of horror and comedy has given birth to a few favorite children ("Young Frankenstein," "Scream") and plenty of ugly ones ("Child's Play," "Scream" 2 and 3). But what of the unholy trinity of horror, comedy and mockumentary? Despite some birthing pains, "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon" comes across at its best as the love child of Wes Craven and Christopher Guest.

In this universe, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers all exist -- and are pioneers of the "industry," heroes to affable young Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel, TV's "Invasion"), who is planning his very first murder spree. Leslie enthusiastically demonstrates to amateur documentarian Taylor (Angela Goethals) how a burgeoning boogeyman nurtures a legend, selects that special victim and rigs tricks to strike terror in the hearts of naughty teens before slicing and dicing them.

After an awkward opening, "Behind the Mask" finds its groove as first-time director (and co-writer) Scott Glosserman gleefully hacks up horror cliches to deconstruct the genre with carnivorous, lip-smacking delight. It's a meta-slasher flick: Leslie and Taylor even discuss the symbolism of his actions in offhanded Freudian jargon.

Film students will titter at the idea that the subjects of their analysis could actually think the things professors impose upon them.

The whole thing is savvy and fun, as when the soon-to-be killer sees a group of stoners during a campus scouting trip and tells Taylor, "Those guys don't move quite as fast, so they're good to pad your numbers late in the game."

Along the way, Leslie introduces us to his mentor, a retired and equally congenial slayer, Eugene (Scott Wilson), and Eugene's supportive wife (Bridgett Newton). There's much warm reminiscing about tradition, how "Fred" and "Jay" revolutionized the business, and how today's guys do so much more prep. But amid all these charming interludes rises a nagging gnawing: Can Taylor and her crew really sit back and watch as Leslie carries out his plan?

Most of the performances find the unexalted level of the slasher genre, except for Wilson, Newton and Baesel, whose regular-guy charm is Will Ferrell-like. The movie occasionally stumbles as it switches between mockumentary and standard horror-film modes -- at its heart it's a teen carnage fest, although the violence is mostly only implied -- and its ending is disappointingly predictable. However, "Behind the Mask" is original and weirdly delicious, and executed with gory aplomb.


"Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. In selected theaters.

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