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Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Grabbing most of the slasher spotlight in 2006 was Adam Green’s Hatchet, that just embraced and celebrated all the was stalk n’ stab horror.  But there was another film that should have been a huge landmark but flew under the radar. That film was a super grassroots low budget film Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Not only was it ahead of the game in its fake documentary/found footage style for most of the film, but its deconstruction and comedic aspects were the best of the genre and even more hard nosed inside baseball than genre legend Scream. But, the folks at Scream Factory are aware and know how special this film is as they are releasing it under their collector’s edition banner on March 27th. Get in for that pre-order now!

Film 

Leslie Vernon is a good-natured killing machine who invites a documentary film crew to follow him as he reminisces with his murder mentor, evades his psychiatrist/nemesis, deconstructs Freudian symbolism, and meticulously plots his upcoming slaughter spree. But when the actual carnage begins, where do you draw the line between voyeuristic thrills, mythic evil, and good old-fashioned slasher movie mayhem?

Back in 2006, word was getting around about this new slasher making the sort of independent rounds. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and wasn’t able to catch it until it came to home video. As a hardcore slasher nut, it was a super hyped movie and there was a likelihood it wouldn’t live up to its expectations. Fortunately, it surpassed them beyond what I could have imagine. If Scream had been the deconstruction of the genre for general audiences, Leslie Vernon was the one for the hardcore stat geeks like myself.

The film definitely deconstructs the genre by serving as a sort of manual or how to for all things supernatural slasher villain.  Its a darkly funny look at things, but also at the same time has our protagonist group wondering where the line is for themselves. You as an audience member are also thinking the same thing. These fun and games and watching Leslie at work prove charming and at time hilariously but its also something that is deceiving us and will eventually throw us off into quite the turn in the third act that really cranks this up to a horror film

Most of this film is shot in the documentary style, but certain moments are shown as if they are an actual horror film you’re watching. What’s important is that if this film is to work, they have to actually make these moments and Leslie himself, effective in the moment. And they get them very very correct. Even stuff that could be construed as overdone and heavy handed, but when it comes down to the knitty gritty, these filmmakers have hit this extremely effective beat.

This film has a pretty solid cast too, full of character actor somebodies, nobodies and I think I’ve seen them somewhere befores.  Nathan Baesel totally owns this movie as it breathes and lives through his performance. Its ab bit wild at first, but we just haven’t gotten to his wavelength yet. Walking Dead fans will instantly recognize Scott Wilson, who puts in a pretty legit turn as a retired killer. Poltergeist vet Zelda Rubinstein shows up as a librarian. For me, this movie stands out as one of my all-time favorite Robert Englund performances. He plays Leslie’s “Captain Ahab” and he OWNS every moment. Its a full on straight performance that works both comedically, hauntingly and dramatically.

Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon is a true slasher classic that deconstructs while also playing with and building upon its own mythology. While I’m one that’s always kinda pined for a sequel, maybe its better that this one was left as just this film and never diluted by further (possibly) deteriorating entries. As it is, its this really strong anomaly that is always fun and insightful.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: This new scan of the film is a little improvement over the previous. However, this film is really never going to look pretty. Much of it was shot on an SD camera and I see that it was finish in 16mm, then blown up to 35mm. Its the best it can be, with the cinematic moments appearing best and looking pretty nice, crisp and detailed when they pop up.

Depth:  The overall depth here is okay. Nothing too spectacular, not falling really as being flat. Motion is pretty good with little in the way of distortion especially in the cinematic sequences.

Black Levels: Blacks are very dark and do take away some of the details due to the low quality of the SD camera work on display.

Color Reproduction: Colors aren’t really the prettiest here as there is the sense of realism and the aforementioned SD quality to a lot of it. However the mask looks pretty good, blood is nice and the naturals come on with a rustic look and appeal.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and pretty much maintain a consistency throughout. Facial features are pretty solid in closeup and details/texture vary from further out.

Noise/Artifacts: Some expected SD upconverted to HD issues do come abound here, but pretty much everything that could be dinged here is in the source.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Once again, due to the nature of the source, the audio qualities vary. It has the very low rent documentary feel to it. But when the cinematic scenes take fold, the dynamics definitely improve on the impact and detail of the events occurring.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Musical stings, gun shots, garbage bins slamming, impalements and other little things get a solid bump from the subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: This is a more front heavy experience, but the back speakers do provide good ambiance and a moment or two of their own. Sound travel is pretty accurate and on point throughout.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp throughout. Some distortions occur due to artistic intention for the film.

Extras 

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon – Collector’s Edition comes with reversible cover art featuring the original poster.

Audio Commentary

  • Director’s Commentary
  • Cast Commentary

Behind The Mask: Joys And Curses (HD, 28:50) – Features interviews with co-writer Dave Stieve and stars Angela Goethals and Ben Pace. They take us from the start of the idea (Watching Halloween on TV one night and wondering what Michael Myers does in his off time) through to their appreciation for the fans and legacy of the film. Stay after the credits for a couple extra cameos. These interviews were taken during a signing or something at Dark Delicacies and is really just straight interviews with no music or cutting to stills or behind the scenes clips or whatnot. Very basic from a production standpoint.

Before the Mask: The Comic Book (HD, 6:19) – Nathan Thomas Milliner talks his championing of the first film and comic out of comic book retirement to craft the adaptation of the prequel script that was never put before the camera.

Making of Behind The Mask (SD, 32:08) – It appears there was bonus material for the original release that was not used. This features a lot of onset footage and interviews during the shoot and the like.

Casting Behind The Mask (SD, 6:00) – Mainly a casting session for Angela Goethals role with 2 others going for the part, but the others’ auditions are seen too.

Deleted & Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary (SD, 29:44)

Easter Egg (SD, 1:10) – Starts with the scene where he jokes about being scared going into the farmhouse in the middle of the night. Its followed by how Leslie Vernon faked the head crush.

Summary 

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is one of the strongest slasher movies of this millenium and one of the best of all time. Its original release was a bare bones release and Scream Factory has rectified that with a slew of bonus material. They did a new transfer, but this movie is never really going to look pristine on any format straying from DVD. For fans, this is a terrific release and hopefully many new people discover the film because of it. Maybe they’ll find their Ahab.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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