Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday Talkback: "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon," My greatest discovery

It's always really rewarding when my trips to Blockbuster, or my skimming through Netflix reveal an undiscovered gem of a movie. There's so much crap out there, that finding a good movie within the major releases is tricky - to say nothing of finding an excellent original film that's been left to wallow in obscurity. Finding good movies in this "slush pile" can often be like panning for gold.

There are probably hundreds of great films made each year that for one reason or another never find the audience they deserve. Usually the reason has something to do with a lack of distribution. There are only so many films that the studios and DVD distributors can put their weight behind, and the rest are often consigned to oblivion. Even then, once a film gets DVD distribution, it can still be a struggle to capture audience awareness.

A friend and I used to have a semi-regular weekend ritual. We'd go to Blockbuster and try to pick a winner of a "so bad it's good" movie based only on the box art and the synopsis. If the key art and the title made us laugh - it usually got snagged. And yes, there probably we probably grabbed more than one exploitation flick on the basis of cleavage.

Oh, and the other thing that guaranteed we'd take the movie home was the presence of a B, C or D-list actor slumming it. This sort of thinking led us to rent American Vampire, staring Carmen Electra and Adam West as an aging hippie vampire slayer living in a trailer off of Venice Beach.

Another great find? Santa's Slay - a holiday slasher starring wrestler Goldberg as an evil Santa now free to go on a killing spree after a curse forced him to be nice for 1000 years. Seriously, how can you say no to this box art?

But all of those pale compared to my one truly brilliant discovery - a part-mockumentary/part slasher horror thriller called Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. As it happens, I didn't come across this one at Blockbuster. I had rented another "so bad it's good" film through Netflix. Unfortunately, this film only qualified for the "so bad" descriptor. In fact, it was terrible enough that I don't even recall what movie it was. What I DO remember is that had the following trailer before the movie. (I always watch DVD trailers when renting a bad movie - it's a great way to find other bad movies)

I almost feel like that's all I should tell you about this film. By the time the opening credits had rolled on the movie I rented, I had already added Behind the Mask to my Netflix queue and kicked it to the top. This was the sort of movie that my friend and I couldn't stop quoting for days after we saw it. In fact, that night he immediately went to Amazon.com and bought the DVD so we could make all of our friends watch it.

This is the sort of film that is so clever, you HAVE to share it with everyone you know. It's one of those movies that compels you to pull out the DVD mid-party and say, "You haven't seen this? Well that settles it, we're all gonna watch this right now." This is bar-none, the BEST self-aware horror film since the original Scream. Whether you like horror films or you roll your eyes at how stupid they are, you WILL enjoy this. My girlfriend hates violent movies and she loved this one.

The film is directed by Scott Glosserman, who manages to ablely pull off the two distinct styles the storytelling calls for - from a script by Glosserman and David J. Stieve. Glosserman's IMDB resume is limited, but based on this film, I'd be first in line for whatever he comes out with next,

The cast is rock solid. I don't know why Nathan Baesel isn't a bigger star, but for the sake of this film I'm glad he isn't because the movie works so much better with an unknown star. Trust me, though... this guy is gonna be well-known someday. He's absolutely on my list of actors I want to work with. Angela Goethals also does good work as the student documentarian hunting around slasher Leslie Vernon as he prepares to make his legacy legend. Horror fans will also enjoy cameos from icons Robert Englund aka Freddy Kruger and Poltergeist's Zelda Rubinstein.

It is nothing short of a crime that, according to IMDB.com, the film grossed a mere $38,500. This is a story that deserved to be a wide release, pushed to the limit. With all the horror crap Lions Gate puts out (seriously, their motto should be "We'll release anything") you'd think they'd have snapped this up and pumped it hard. Hell, I'm shocked that no major distributor saw this and didn't see it as an instant win. Instead, it landed at Anchor Bay, which really screwed up if they couldn't make this one a hit.

I'm telling you all about this one now so you can rush out and get the DVD in anticipation of your Halloween scary movie marathons. You'll thank me later.

Now, this at last brings me to my Tuesday Talkback question for you - what movie do you count as your "greatest discovery?"


  1. "Abhay". It's a Bollywood film about a serial killer that is so goddam over-the-top it shames anything done by the Japanese. The upbeat song-and-dance numbers typical of Bollywood still apply so you get to see our killer prance around singing songs about ripping his victims apart like a monster. There's also a drug sequence featuring a seven-foot tall Ronald McDonald.

  2. I had heard good things about Behind the Mask somewhere else but had completely forgotten about it until now. I'll have to check it out, thanks.

    My greatest discovery was "Fat Girl". I think it came up as an automated suggestion when I first got Netflix. It's such a fucked up movie, I love it. I guess it moves pretty slow but the ending was one of the most memorable endings I've ever seen.

    Haha I'll also be renting "Abhay" in the near future...

  3. I'm a huge fan of THE BLOOD OF HEROES, a post-apocolyptic sports movie ... from 1989. Starring Rutger Hauer and Joan Chen (also Delroy Lindo and Vincent D'nofrio) that just kills me ... sure, it's got some 80s bad habits (slo-mo closeups, etc) and the budget was far too low ... but it was written and directed by David Webb Peoples, and it's got some seriously quotable lines and potent moments (I love the end).

  4. My geatest recent discovery has to be "Who can kill a child" by spanish director Narciso Serrador. It is a really disturbing movie as it touches a delicate subject with those children left alone on a small island with the blood of their parents on their hands...
    And for once, a scary movie happens all in bright daylight, making it even more horrific.
    Check it out,it's on DVD.

  5. I checked out this one movie a couple months back, just because I'm a huge fan of the soundtrack composer. But I was lucky to find a great movie as well. It's a japanese movie called Kamikaze Girls. It's about two opposite teenage girls who obscurely become friends. A girl hung up on 18th century culture, and a tough girl in a moped gang.

    I have two younger sisters. Whom I will be giving this movie to over the holidays. If you have any knowledge or interest in Japanese subculture I recommend it. It's more geared toward females, but it was quite entertaining and humorous.

  6. C'est arrivé près de chez vous AKA Man Bites Dog.
    Dont know if this really qualifies, but not many people watch foreign films about serial killers.
    Check out the IMDB overview, this is a must watch if you havent seen it.

  7. For those interested in Behind The Mask, a reader sent me this info via email:

    Regarding your most recent post about Behind The Mask, you may have already been aware of this, but the writer of Behind the Mask was featured in a documentary "Dreams On Spec" about (what else?) people writing screenplays on spec. You can watch the doc for free here: http://www.snagfilms.com/films/watch/dreams_on_spec/

    The pre-production of Behind The Mask is covered pretty well in the segments featuring the writer.