Toronto After Dark Diary: Day 5 - SL8N8 and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Andrew Mack, Contributing Writer

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Toronto After Dark drew to a close on Tuesday night on a very high note. The return to the real world wasn’t nearly as horrific as TIFF was and I can only attribute it to one thing. Not enough time to down a couple pops between screenings. Adam, Todd and the rest, if you could space the films out a bit more next year so I can cut across to the nearest pubs and down a couple before each screening I might manage a doozy of a festival hangover. What a great five days though. We all made quick friends and acquaintances throughout the weekend and soon had our little pocket of critics in the corner, quickly dissecting each film while chomping on a slice of pizza or drowning in coffee. We’ll meet again next year everyone? Same place?

Horror is easily the most accessible and familiar of the genres to western audiences today. You ask for a show of hands and I bet you will have a larger response to who has seen one of the recent craps, I mean crops, of horror films than any other genre. So it seems only fitting that the last day feature two radically different, yet familiar, horror/slasher films. The first, one of the first horror films to come from Belgium and Netherlands in twenty years, and the second, a brilliant slash-umentary the likes you have never seen before.

N8-SL8.jpgSL8N8 – The first slasher film to come from the lands of salt licorice and diamond exports is a simple, straight up slasher film. There is nothing else to it. Set up your characters in a unique setting and then start killing them off by means of a demonic soul bent on escaping Hell. The bar started high in the opening few minutes of SL8N8. We go back in history and witness Andries Martiens murdering eight young children and palce their heads on pikes around a pentagram to complete a voodoo ritual that will gain him entrance into Hell so he can find out from his dead parents where they hid the family fortune. I’m not kidding. But you never kill children on screen so I thought this might have been heading somewhere good. Martiens is stopped, captured and according to legend is killed in a mine explosion in accordance with his sentence. More on that in a second.

Jump ahead to present day Holland and Kristel has recovered from a horrific car crash that has claimed the life of her father. She travels to Belgium to gather his belongings. He was studying at the mine where our villain met his explosive fate. The story goes that convicts where used as ‘Firemen’ to walk into the mines and ignite pockets of methane gas. If no gas was ignited they were set free. Martiens died in an explosion in the mine. After getting stuck in the mine after hours Kristel and her friends fiddle with a Ouija board and summon the spirit of Martiens and he consequently starts possessing the bodies of our ill-fated guests and starts the voodoo ceremony all over again so he can exit Hell and claim the family fortune. Eight heads on pikes coming right up!

SL8N8 could have been great. It could have been more than a bit of fun. But it took forever to get the action. Forever. And once that started if you didn’t have epileptic seizures before you entered the theatre, while I can’t imagine it was directors Frank van Geloven and Edwin Visser’s intent to do so but their horrible use of the camera, seemingly strapped to the back of a hyperactive child, shook so much that it became a daunting task just to make out the faces of our victims. John Campea from MovieBlog sitting next to me leaned over during one of the quieter moments and whispered, “You know what this scene needs? Shakier camera work”. Damn, it was horrible. Shaky cameras say a few things to me. First, it’s lazy. Second, it also says to me you don’t trust yourself to deliver a worthy image so you mask it with distortion. Third, you don’t trust the audience to believe what you’re showing them. I simply abhor it.

For all that was at fault with SL8N8 there were two money shots that were simply effing awesome. Shovel meets head and Shotgun meets brain. Both were incredibly violent images and worthy of our squeals of delight. But then we were let down afterwards and SL8N8 did little else to impress. It was good. Not great. Just, good.

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Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon – What a turnaround from what we saw at the beginning of the night. If Behind the Mask does not become a horror classic that is referred to in the ages to come then all is lost and we might as well hide in caves, never to see the light of the sun again. Sweet merciful crap did this movie rule like freaking lords!

In Scott Glosserman’s love-letter to the psycho horror slasher genre, particularly the films of the 70s and 80s, Glosserman introduces us to Leslie Vernon, an up and coming psycho horror slasher. Vernon has given exclusive access to a documentary film crew and we’re given a behind the scenes look at the work involved in becoming the next great psycho horror slasher. In an absurd world where psycho slasher is an accepted art form we are privy to the deconstruction of the genre in this, what was coined by a local newspaper, slash-umentary.

We learn terms like The Fly-by and Ahab. We see the hours of hard work it takes to be in peak physical form. We witness delightful and playful episodes of Vernon planting information in the local library to further his legend and having dinner as his mentor’s home, a retired psycho slasher himself. We are also delighted to see horror film icons, Robert Englund and Zelda Rubenstein, in roles in this film. We witness Taylor Gentry and her film crew become charmed by Vernon and slowly gets drawn into his world.

What is even more freaking brilliant is that Glosserman creates a transition between the documentary and the slasher that happens so seamlessly and with such fluidity that you hardly recognize that you have moved from one into the other. One minute your watching Vernon and the film crew in his van on their digital cameras, the next you’re watching the fly-by as perceived by the slasher world on glorious film. And so when Behind the Mask fully turns over to the slasher film in the third act, when Vernon begins his night of terror, you’re hooked, and so is everyone else. You are now witnessing the young master at work and the plot quickly uncovers its sick twist. Oh how glorious it is.

Behind the Mask is a self-referencing satire of the psycho slasher genre. Written with the 70s/80s vernacular, anyone who grew up watching Freddy, Jason or Michael will be in hog heaven during this film. Memories of your childhood summers with your top-loader VCRs watching Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare night after night come flooding back. Not only does it offer a connection to your past but it also reminds us of the roots of the genre and the forefathers who laid down the groundwork for the present day bastardization of the genre. And in that may lay the only hurdle for Glosserman to overcome. Can Behind the Mask resonate with the ‘download generation’ as it did for viewers like me who grew up with these legends on the screen? In a day and age when horror settles for high can you set the gore bar will Behind the Mask be recognized for its worth and not brushed aside because it was not gory enough, or there wasn’t enough violence, or there wasn’t enough nudity.

I hope it does because Behind the Mask is sharp, witty, bloody and screamingly funny. It deservedly requires a place of honor in the horror genre for the experience of this film goes beyond shock and horror. It educates. It entertains. It delights. And all the while it satisfies your bloodlust. It could be called the perfect horror film. Behind the Mask must become iconic. If not those of you who brush this movie aside may or may not see something in the shadows the next time you walk your dog or take out the trash. Was that someone standing in my peripheral? Maybe. Slash!!!

Glosserman said during the Q&A that Behind the Mask is slated for a January release.

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