Wednesday, 20 January 2010

A film review - Behind the Mask: the Rise of Leslie Vernon

I'm very, very glad that I'm too young to have been into horror movies during the 90's self-aware horror wave headed up by Scream and fortunately culled in the form of Freddy vs. Jason. The idea was pretty similar to the recent wave of pseudo-realistic zombie fiction a la The Zombie Survival Guide, where the humour comes from the assumption that we're in on all the in-jokes, without wanting any of the genuine enjoyment that the more sincere genre films inspire. They simply weren't pitching to horror fans, but to people who've read about horror tropes somewhere. They were pitching to those who like the ironic.

And let me get this straight - I FUCKING HATE THE USE OF IRONIC PSEUDO-PARODY. I genuinely like the main riff of Blur's Song #2, and the excessive, overdistorted heaviness, even though it's a pisstake of the grunge scene. Does that make me dumber than the people who listen to it just to feel better than people who actually own a Nirvana CD? Honestly, I couldn't care less, I'm having much more fun with that song than that Pitchfork-reading bastard is, so fuck him.

I mean, I get why a media property would do it's thing in that really self-aware way, because it means that if they fuck up they didn't really fail, it was all just part of the joke, but it also means that it can't really be genuinely enjoyed, because if you do you shouldn't have been watching it to start with. In something where the appeal is as embarassingly juvenile as in horror, this essentially makes your initial market the butt of the joke in hopes of winning over a periphery demographic of hipster fucks. Fortunately, Behind the Mask: the Rise of Leslie Vernon knows its market much better.

Initially billed as a mockumentary of an aspiring slasher villain's preparation for his big first-slaughter night, the film follows a student journalism team documenting the rise of everyday guy, magnificent bastard and wannabe serial killer Leslie Vernon - his home, his psychological mindgames with the lampshadingly generic virginal "survivor girl" and his prepataion for the upcomic killing spree. It's presented in the typical tongue-in-cheek mode we've seen since Spinal Tap, and it has a lot of fun, from certain laugh-out-loud one-liners to the knowing, head-nodding amusement of acknowledging of all the old cliches, like its on a big checklist. The fun a roomful of horror moguls will have with the first and second acts of this film is worth the price alone. There's even a superb line in Leslie explaining the behind-the-scenes action, and the tricks of the trade.

And in the third act, all this is traded in for a total change of pace that both subverts classic slasher features and plays them gleefully straight. This section is for the horror fans - those of us that want to laugh at the over-the-top gore, but still want over-the-top-gore, who want the sex scene to be let to go on a little bit longer than necessary, but also find the lampshade-hanging hilarious. It makes fun of all the slasher stuff, but it also revels in it; it repsects that yes, this stuff is absurd, but it's exploitation, it's enjoyable, it's just damn fun, like when Shaun of the Dead spent its last twenty minutes going totally for broke with absolute sincerity, or how Spinal Tap's songs are actually kind of cool, as well as being spot-on parodies of 70's rock. The movie section of this film rules in the same way that, for a split second, when Jason freezes that woman's head and smashes it on the work top, Jason X was actually worth watching because for a moment it replaced its smirk with a genuine grin of glee. There's even a twist I didn't see coming! (and yes, it's very depressing that that's a big deal when I'm seventeen)

Behind the Mask: the Rise of Leslie Vernon is not serious, but it's totally committed to being both so tongue-in-cheek as to give dental deformation and utterly committed to creating something totally, genuinely, fist-pumpingly awesome. It's not winking at everyone else in the cinema while you eke genuine fun out of what's on screen, it's slasher horror by numbers and, it fucking wallows in it, as opposed to Scream's merely dipping its toes in for the sake of inclusion, like in the end it would have met all its goals was the horror movie riffing replaced with, I dunno, "inspirational" sports movies. If you're a horror fan, and you know a whole bunch of other horror fans, the night in this movie will give you is worth the RRP, let alone the ridicuous mark-down that Amazon is currently asking for. BUY IT.

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