Paradise Lost? Found It: Discussing the Importance of ‘Behind the Mask’

Paradise Lost? Found It: Discussing the Importance of ‘Behind the Mask’

Investors and studios are hardly interested in anything related to horror, they see the horror genre as a joke meant for those of low intelligence or for teenagers with raging hormones. Horror is not seen to be intelligent or culturally relevant. That is until people like Friedkin, Carpenter, or Polanski fight to get their hands on some great material that brings the genre into the mainstream. With these director’s success, people turn heads and begin paying attention to what messages are hidden in these culturally important films. The problem is that too many filmmakers think that they have the next best thing, and because of that, we get films like Bloodlust Zombies or The Dead and the Damned. Don’t get me wrong, I love WELL DONE low budget horror, but only the ones that actually have talent behind them. In particular, I support the Soska Sisters and Scott Glosserman, for they are two entities that have potential (more so). That is not to say they are the only great low budget filmmakers out there. There are more, some have been covered this week, but those two really “click” with me. What I am trying to say is that independent filmmakers are not always going to be “awesome,” and believe me, shit-studios pump out garbage every week (Chemical Burn, I’m looking at you).

This is all leading up to my main article, because I think Behind the Mask is one of THE most important horror films since Scream in terms of material. I am tired of poorly made films; I don’t see the point in flooding the genre with garbage week after week. Am I wrong? Who cares about these films? You must know what I am talking about, those films that either have blood, dead, undead, or zombies in the title. There are exceptions though, like The Dead and Zombie Strippers, but those come out maybe once a year.

I don’t really care what PR problems I’m causing right now, what is the point of staying in contact with people like Scarlet Fry, Reality Entertainment, or Chemical Burn Entertainment? Really, educate me! People will probably respond with how this is sometimes the only way for filmmakers to get their material out there. If it’s well done, somebody else would have picked up the rights to their movie. If they are having a hard time getting a studio, they need to fight harder. That’s if they really believe in what they are doing, too many people are taking the easy way out. Look at Adam Green and Eli Roth, they made horror happen. If O’Bannon sold his Alien script to Corman (he almost did), we would not have one of the greatest sci-fi horror films ever made. O’Bannon knew that the script was better than anything Corman was capable of. Even though O’Bannon was taken off the set at some point, he still was responsible for the film’s creation and he got the credit from people who mattered in the end anyways. So don’t start with that argument, I’ve heard it already.

Independent films, when done right, and done with intelligence can become some of the best material you have ever seen. Dead Hooker in a Trunk is so bizarre, that it established a new way of at looking at horror films, as did Behind the Mask. When you change the perspective on anything, you are rewriting the genre and changing the way certain films are looked at. Halloween made the slasher genre respectable and Psycho introduced us to ferocious violence with a Freudian twist. Much like what Scream did back in 1996, Behind the Mask took that deconstructive philosophy and ran with it into a far more analytical realm.

Deconstructing anything can be a recipe for disaster, especially themes such as humor or fear. If you were to tell me a joke, one that made me laugh, and then you were to afterwards explain what makes the joke humorous, it would not be funny anymore. To laugh or to be scared requires a form of abstract thinking, one that is outside the perimeter of logic. Comedians who use logic in their material (George Carlin for example) still require you to look at things in a theoretical way in order for the logic to “click.” Same thing goes for horror. If you sat in a theater and said to yourself that the guy in the mask is just an actor and not really a killer, you’ll just miss out on the fun. So, in order to pull off a deconstruction, you really need to know what you’re doing, and not rely completely on picking things apart.

Scream was the first important, deconstructive horror film. While many may bash it for its mainstream success, it was able to convey the rules of horror films accurately. For example, certain sayings and situations will cause you to get killed or that the killer is the least likely person. All the while, Scream educated the audience on which horror films were important, and more importantly, why they were important. While humor was a big aspect, Scream was able to combine horror along with the jokes. This combination allowed for some effectively “scary” scenes. Though the sequels were less important, Scream made a lasting impression on the way horror films should be produced.

Fast forward to 2006, when a little film by the name of, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is released, shocking an entire genre community. What was this? Who made this? Where did this come from? Genius is a word I commonly throw into conversations about Behind the Mask, and why not, really? I like a dumb movie, I do. Don’t think that “smart” films are all I care about. There is nothing better than drinking beer and watching a film devoid of meaningful subtext. What I do like more than that, IS a smart film, and they’re hard to find these days.

My first experience with Behind the Mask was monumental in understanding horror. It wasn’t that I didn’t know anything about horror films; I just didn’t know that there were any good low budget films out there. I added it to my Netflix queue and received it a few days later. I then waited another few days before popping it in because I was unsure about how the film was going to play out. The film starts out in a documentary style, sucking me into the realism, and then Leslie is introduced, further enchanting me. I was thinking that this was going to be a typical slasher film, but instead, I found myself laughing at the cleverness inherent in the script and the character of Leslie. Scream was concerned about the rules of horror films, and while Behind the Mask covers that as well, it was more invested in the pathos of the characters. Things like, what makes Leslie tick? What makes these slashers kill people? There was a psychology in Behind the Mask that was less of a point in Scream.

I don’t need to harp on the idea of the survivor girl, that is a relatively discussed topic that has been covered extensively. I would like to talk about the character of Doc Halloran, the “Ahab” persona. I thought this was an interesting concept to place in Behind the Mask, because it opened a new world of understanding for me. As you know, Dr. Loomis and Detective Norris were “Ahabs” in their own right because they were able to defeat the ultimate evil, or at least till the sequels came out. “Ahab” represents Captain Ahab from Herman Melville’s seminal novel, Moby Dick. Ahab was obsessed with killing the whale that took his leg, it was Ahab’s only goal in life as far as he was concerned. Moby Dick (the whale) represented evil (depending on your interpretation) and everything that was wrong with the world. In the novel, Ahab does not make an appearance until a little over a quarter into the narrative, much like Doc Halloran in Behind the Mask. The connection between novel and film struck in me in an odd way, I just never made an assumption like that.

Phallic (male) and yonic (female) symbolism play a large role in Behind the Mask. This Freudian take on horror has been danced around by critics for years and there hasn’t been a film that truly exploits it. Weapons (axes and daggers) are phallic, in that they represent the male’s need to penetrate; the female’s body is his vessel for sexual release. The stabbing motion is that of thrusts, or sexual intercourse. The female always looks to escape to something yonic, or womb-like. The shed with all the sabotaged weapons in it (in the film), represents the womb. The survivor girl will emerge from here “reborn” and ready to take down the monster with a phallic weapon of her own. This feminist trope allows for the girl to grab “cock” and take back what’s being pulled from her (dignity, life, friends, etc.). Brilliant.

The last big aspect of Behind the Mask that excited me didn’t deal with deconstructing the genre, but rather a joke played on the audience. The character of Taylor is trying to find out why slashers kill people (ostensibly), which makes sense because the fiction takes place in a world where people like Voorhees and Kruger are real. We, as an audience, fall in love with Leslie and his drive to make the greatest killing spree in horror history. We become so close to Leslie, that even when he is setting up the house to be escape proof, we don’t suspect that he’ll actually go through with it. The joke on the audience is, he does start killing people! At this point, Taylor realizes that Leslie wasn’t joking and is then caught up in the madness only to be duped into being the survivor girl. This horrific, yet funny twist still makes me laugh to this day.

There is so much more to talk about, but I have written enough for the moment. I wanted to talk about some of the more important aspects in Behind the Mask and how they changed my perspective on horror films, but you already know how great it is. If you haven’t seen this film, I hope I convinced you to do so. Paradise is lost in the horror genre, but every now and then, someone finds it. I want the shit-films to disappear, I want studios and directors to put their energy into something grand. Instead of making 5 horrible films, focus on making one grand piece of art. I hope I change some minds around here.

As of right now, the funding for the sequel is in full swing. In the last week, Glosserman and Co. were able to get investors who will help with some funding (but not all of it). You can make your way over to their Facebook page and pre-order the sequel, along with some other goodies. You won’t be charged until the film is made, so save now! I hope you enjoyed my rant and dissection in this post.

 Nathan and myself


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My name is Jesse Lee Alan Bartel and I love being a critic on things you don't care about. I love films, horror, writing, and violent video games. Hope to hear from you and happy stabbings. I am also a regular contributor to The Liberal Dead.

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  1. […] B4TM Store! Posted on January 26, 2012 by Jesse Bartel // As many of you know, I am a fan of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. I also hope you know that they are still trying to raise funds in order to make the next […]

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