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By Steve Anderson | June 26, 2007

Every so often, something comes along that makes me wonder how it managed to only go to video. Something that, while I’m glad to see it on shelves, really makes me shake my head in bafflement as I wonder how something so good got passed up for theatrical release.

“Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” is one such film.

And what’s behind this mask is a documentary profiling the next great icon of evil in the making, Leslie Vernon. This part alone makes it a unique, shining gem on the video store shelves–the documentary portion of “Behind the Mask” does no less than a brilliant job of deconstructing all those legendary slasher movie staples. Ever wonder why a door always seems to close behind slasher movie protagonists? “Behind the Mask” will explain it. How the killers always seem to manage to escape fates that should be their deaths? Even how they always seem to catch up to their prey so readily even though they never move faster than a brisk walk? All of these questions are answered, in a fashion that’s actually believable.

But! That’s only half the picture. “Behind the Mask” will actually manage to subtly, almost unnoticeably, convert into a full-on slasher flick. The transition is almost so seamless you have to pound your rewind buttons to determine at what point it stopped being a mock documentary with surprising depth and clarity to a slasher flick so deftly prepared that it cannot help but satisfy.

Let me be clear. This is utterly, utterly original. There is not, that I can recall, anything to compare this to. The best I can do is a flimsy hypothetical–picture Michael Moore doing “Ted and Me”, a documentary where he follows Ted Bundy around.

Perhaps even better than all this is the appearance of Robert Englund, whose post-Freddy years (well, almost post) have been surprisingly good to us, and possibly him. He’s clearly channelling Donald Pleasance as Doc Loomis here, folks…the parallels are just beyond description, and when you see him act this part out, you should be as convinced as I am. If he wanted to, he could be the Doc Loomis in any new Halloween he wanted. There’s just no two ways about it.

Plus, from the great distant past of the eighties, we also get a bit part from still-great Zelda Rubinstein, who still has the chops for solid horror roles, and whose unique voice is a charge to any exposition narrative.

The ending is a marvelous destabilization, with a twist you only might see coming. It’s pure slasher flick ending with plenty of innovation thrown in to keep it spicy. And the ending doesn’t stop when the credits roll, folks–stick around through the end for one last big surprise that I will NOT give away here no matter how much you beg. Forget it.

The special features include commentary tracks, a making of featurette, a casting of featurette, deleted and extended scenes, a screenplay, audio options, English closed captions, and trailers for “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon”, “Hatchet”, “Night of the Living Dorks”, “Hellboy: Blood and Iron”, and “Masters of Horror: Right to Die”.

All in all, “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” is going to be, without question, one of the best horror movies you see all year. If for no other reason than it’s the start of a whole new horror subgenre, the mock horror documentary–the shockumentary–it’s also great enough on its own merits. If you’re even vaguely into horror, you must see this.

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