Halloween Review: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon – Must-See for Horror Fans

I take a look at this amazing mockumentary that doesn’t get the love I think it deserves.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Light)

The first part of the film is shot as a documentary. A journalist named Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) and her cameraman Doug (Ben Pace) and back-up cameraman/sound guy Todd (Britain Spellings) are invited by a man named Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) to witness his preparations to become a “slasher.” It turns out that in this world all of the famous slashers (Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, etc.) are real. However, they’re not supernatural, merely people who are experts at planning and psychology that enable them to feign superpowers. Leslie is a boy whose family was killed by a town when he was a child, but he survived and plans to take vengeance upon the local teens. 

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He’s refreshingly honest. Way better than most politicians during interviews. 

 

Throughout the first half of the film, Leslie introduces the camera crew to his work, showing the planning and preparation he undertakes to create one night of mass murder. He also instructs them on the importance of the various tropes to creating the legend that fuels a slasher’s fame: Picking a survivor girl (Kate Lang Johnson), finding a nemesis (Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund), murdering a trusted older person (Zelda Rubinstein), playing up his legend to the teens, and selecting the optimal group of victims for his slaying. He also introduces them to his mentor, Eugene (Scott Wilson). As Scott Wilson was Billy in Black Christmas, he’s arguably the original “slasher,” and his character might actually be Billy himself. The camera crew starts to be drawn into Leslie’s activities due to his passion and charisma.

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His mask is just the right level of detailed. 

The second half of the film is the horror movie that Leslie has been preparing, and it plays out beautifully.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, for Halloween, I wanted to do 13 reviews: 4 requests, 4 classics, 4 indie films I picked at random, and 1 review that is kind of all 3 for Halloween itself. The problem is that my indie films mostly sucked. In The Tall Grass wasn’t blowing my skirt up, Head Count was mediocre, and the third movie was so horrible that I nearly went insane (you’ll find out what that is next week). For the fourth film, I was determined to find a really good movie. So, I watched Eli on Netflix, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer on Amazon Prime, and You Might Be The Killer (which will be a bonus review, since I ended up writing it before changing my mind). Those are in ascending order of quality, but I still felt like I owed you a really good movie. So, I cheated a little and picked an indie film I watched a few years ago, because I really wanted to be able to recommend a movie that everyone should see.

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Partially because of the great cameos.

This is really a masterpiece in dissecting the horror genre, specifically the Slasher subgenre. While it doesn’t have the budget of, say, Cabin in the Woods, it does just as good of a job reminding us of why we love these movies. The first half of the movie is basically taking apart all of the mysticism of the slasher figure by explaining how all of the supposed supernatural abilities that they demonstrate are, in fact, just elaborate ruses and unbelievably dedicated planning and training (he does SO MUCH cardio). It also explains why certain tropes keep emerging, like the relations between the killer and the survivor girl, the early interactions that preclude the finale, and the final girl herself. Moreover, it examines the imagery and the underlying themes behind so many of these tropes, including having Leslie explicitly state the sexual undertones between the confrontation with the final girl. 

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Clearly he’s a theater major. 

Perhaps my favorite part of the movie is when Leslie and his mentor try to explain why someone would want to be a slasher and, through that, why society not only likes slashers, but why we need horror movies. It’s because this is what we have nowadays to face our fears and challenge ourselves. In order for good to triumph over evil, there has to be evil. In order for us to conquer our fears, we first have to be given a reason to be afraid. It’s awesome to actually have a movie go beyond just saying what is and isn’t good about the genre and directly address why it is or isn’t important to our culture. 

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It’s a solid monologue.

A huge strength of the film is the ability to alternate between objective and subjective viewpoints, giving us both intellectual and emotional stimulation. The way it uses humor as a set-up for horror is outstanding. It essentially presents the night in two different scenes, one of Leslie explaining how everything would work through clinical terminology and fun little asides and jokes, then we get to see how it actually plays out and how horrifying the effect becomes. It’s even more interesting as Leslie starts to come into conflict with Taylor over his methodology and philosophy, because she starts to ask all of the questions that usually make horror movies seem ridiculous, only for Leslie to counter that he has already considered them, something he makes fatally obvious later. 

Honestly, this is one of the best black comedies I’ve ever seen. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Amazon Prime Review – Never Too Young to Die (1986): John Stamos, Gene Simmons, and Absolutely No Restraint

If you aren’t listening to the Podcast “How Did This Get Made” with Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas, you are missing out. Not just because these are three of the best comic minds I’ve ever heard take a movie apart (they don’t really “Riff” MST3K style, so I’m not disparaging my childhood hero Crow T. Robot), but because they expose me to levels of terrible movie that I previously might never have known existed. And for that I am eternally grateful. However, when I watched this particular film, I couldn’t resist writing my own take. I’m publishing this today just so that I won’t be tempted to borrow observations from them when the episode is released tomorrow.

NeverTooYoung-1HDTGM
A question for the ages.

Also, the movie’s available on Amazon Prime if you didn’t get that from the title.

SYNOPSIS (IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO SPOIL THIS FILM)

The movie starts with a cultish rally of the minions of psychopathic hermaphroditic (masculine pronouns) nightclub singer and supervillain Velvet von Ragnar (Gene Simmons). If you aren’t sold just from that sentence, you don’t have music in your soul. Ragnar discovers that a key component to his plans to poison the water supply of Los Angeles has been stolen by Secret Agent Drew Stargrove (George “This was a paycheck” Lazenby). Ragnar ends up killing Stargrove, only for him to have already gotten rid of the component. After the funeral, his gymnast son, Lance Stargrove (John Stamos), finds out that part of his father’s will is a farm whose only resident is Danja Deering (Vanity of Vanity 6), another secret agent that he rescues from Ragnar’s leather-clad henchmen. Together, they foil Ragnar’s eeeeeeeeevil scheme, with the help of Lance’s roommate, convenient super-genius inventor, Cliff (Peter Kwong).

NeverTooYoung-2Lazenby
You can see Lazenby think “was it worth the paycheck?”

END SYNOPSIS

This movie is everything. There should be ballads composed to celebrate it. There should be national holidays dedicated to it on which people consume copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine so that they can hit the proper state of Zen that resulted in its creation. I’d say there should be a song just celebrating the main character, but, oh wait, THERE’S ONE ALREADY IN THE FILM. Yes, Lance has his own theme song during the opening credits as he displays his ultra-super-gymnast skills and it is every 80s pop music theme. And, you lucky bastards, I found you a copy of it:

Lance is basically one of those characters who has been training for this job his entire life without knowing it. He is a gymnast, can fight reasonably well, has a collection of gadgets that his roommate randomly invents that all turn out to be useful, shoots nearly perfectly, does motorcycle stunts, has a quick… well not really wit, but what the movie wants you to think is wit, and has the hair of a young John Stamos. He’s basically a prefab action hero, albeit in the vein of Gymkata. All of this despite ostensibly never knowing what his father does for a living.

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THERE IS SO MUCH HAIR IN THIS MOVIE

Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure that Gene Simmons wrote all of Ragnar’s lines, because he is so into the role that all the ridiculous crap he’s saying comes off as sincere… which makes it so hilarious I had to pause the film to finish laughing. Compared with all the other films I’ve watched him in, this is the most in-character I’ve ever seen him. (Good Rule of Thumb: If Simmons’s character has a name in the film you’re watching, it’s not a good film). His outfits would make RuPaul either angry or jealous. There is no in-between. Also, he has whatever random ability the scene requires. He’s a master of disguise, a supergenius, has an evil empire, is ridiculously strong, is a master of infiltration, and also sings like Gene Simmons (okay, that last one makes sense). He should have already enslaved humanity before the movie started. Also, I’m like 90% sure that Gene Simmons wrote the IMDB summary for this film.

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The rest of the band is actually made up of transvestites who gave him tips. No, really.

The supporting characters are all as 80s as it gets. Ragnar’s henchmen are either leather-clad goons leftover from The Warriors or the uptight evil scientist played by… Robert Englund? Yes, despite only being 2 movies into the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Freddy Krueger appears in this film. And, to be fair, he’s far and away the best actor. George Lazenby is only in the movie for a few minutes, but, since he was James Bond, his portrayal of a superspy is pretty on-point. Vanity… well, she’s every 80s female spy. She’s super tough and confident at the beginning, but, of course, her incompetence and tendency to not be fully clothed gets her captured so the guy can save her despite her spending years as a secret agent and him being a gymnast who hasn’t killed anyone before this. And yes, she “thanks” him for saving his life. I’m sure glad women’s roles have improved (*glares at camera*). Actually, they have, but this was a really low bar. And then there’s Cliff.

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“Welcome to my nightmare!” “That song’s by Alice Cooper” “Song?”

Cliff is Q except that he spends his time just supporting Lance rather than becoming rich or saving the world. He makes several devices during the film, including the laser-flamethrower which he uses during the climax, which should have made him wealthy, rather than just helping his buddy cheat at chemistry tests. He also has zero problems following Lance into an armed refinery filled with gun-toting psychos and killing a bunch of them. I think following his story would be so much more interesting than the actual story, because he’s definitely going to take over the world after the credits roll.

NeverTooYoung-6Cliff
Lance, do you think my MacGuffin is cool? Tell me, Lance!

There is also one scene that absolutely needs to be addressed. When Lance turns Danja down the first time, she attempts to seduce him by wearing a bikini, oiling herself up, taking her top off, and hosing herself down, all while Stamos walks into the house 3 times, each time coming out with a different food or drink item. Finally, he gives in and the sex scene that follows is… weird and confusing, since it makes it seem like he throws her on the bed like 3 times. Even for film sex scenes with gratuitous nudity, this is crap. However, it’s crap with boobies, John Stamos, and saxophone music, making it thoroughly enjoyable.

NeverTooYoung-7Water
#Feminism

Overall, obviously, I loved this film. Everyone involved clearly seemed to think they were making a much better film, which is the hallmark of a “so bad, it’s good” movie. Give it a try sometime.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.