The affable anti-hero of the clever horror comedy Behind The Mask seems like a fun guy to grab a beer with, if not for his unfortunate aspiration to become a legendary mass murderer. To him, being a cinema-style serial killer is like being an Olympian, with a grueling training regimen that pays off in an adrenaline-pumping burst of glory. Like a heist movie, Mask spends much of its running time diligently laying the groundwork for the climactic crime, but there's nothing arbitrary about the smart, funny, light-footed way the filmmakers handle the buildup. Here, getting there is much more than half the fun.
Nathan Baesel channels Michael Ian Black's smart-ass charm as the title character, a slasher-in-training who views his strange passion as a cross between a noble craft with its own traditions and codes, and an elaborate performance-art piece. A naïve documentary crew trails Baesel throughout the first two acts before evolving from passive observers to overmatched heroes in the climax. Baesel similarly morphs from weirdly sympathetic anti-hero to genuinely scary villain in the same span. Mask unnervingly conveys how appealing even something as repellent as ritualized mass murder can be in the abstract, while suggesting that horror filmmakers/fans have more in common with the slashers than they'd like to believe.
Part of what sets Mask apart from lesser horror-comedies is its academic understanding of the genre: Baesel is clearly well-versed in the theories of horror historian David J. Skal, and his geeky mastery of archetypes and tropes gives the film a subversive intellectual edge. Like Scream, Behind The Mask excels as both a clever deconstruction of the slasher genre and a well-crafted example of what it's affectionately satirizing. It's also the rare slasher movie that actually merits a sequel.
Key features: A CD-ROM screenplay and funny deleted/extended scenes join a nuts-and-bolts behind-the-scenes doc and an alternately goofy and technical commentary from director Scott Glosserman and several actors.