Before there was Cabin in the Woods, there was Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Both films take place in a world where horror is real, albeit not necessarily in the way the horror movies make it out to be. And both are fantastic.
Leslie Vernon starts out as a mockumentary. During a brief intro scene, we learn that in this world, Michael Myers, Freddie Kruger, and Jason Vorhees are all real, legendary killers. And Leslie Vernon wants to be the next in that illustrious line. To make his legend even more spectacular, he invites a documentary crew along with him, showing them the behind the scenes of how these killers do it, the tricks of the trade, and the planning a good killing spree requires. But as the appointed night draws near, it’s possible everything is not as it seems.
I’d heard about Leslie Vernon for years, but it was only this Halloween season that I finally got around to watching it. I’d been missing out, and the horror mockumentaries and self-aware horror movies of the past decade clearly owe a debt to what was, at the time, a pretty unique idea. Leslie Vernon starts off a little awkward, and it takes a while for it to find its footing. But when it does, the movie simply launches into orbit. There’s a point, definitive and obvious, where the movie transitions from the documentary style to traditional horror. It’s brilliant and perfect and I loved ever minute of it.
These kind of movies aren’t for everyone. But if you are one of those people who loved Scream and What We Do in the Shadows and Cabin in the Woods, The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a no brainer. And what better time to check it out than this Halloween?
Viewed on Shudder streaming.
I’ve seen a lot of horror movies over the years, and the lesson I’ve learned is that if your kids or your spouse tell you there’s an evil spirit haunting the house, believe it. Under the Shadow is yet another example of that principle in action.
Shideh is a mother in the war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. Not only are the Iraqis threatening to destroy the city with Scud missiles, the Revolutionary Guard is everywhere, enforcing the strictest version of Islam imaginable. That fact has cost Shideh her chance at becoming a doctor, and when her husband is drafted to the front lines of the ongoing war, she is left broken-hearted and alone to protect their daughter. Every night, the threat of death by missile strike hangs in the air. When supernatural beings begin to threaten her sanity and her daughter’s safety, Shideh reaches her breaking point.
The best horror tells a story beyond the surface scares, and there’s no other genre more readily suited to addressing society’s problems and injustices. Iran, a modern state ruled by unpopular religious zealots, presents a deep well from which to draw. One of the best horror movies in recent memory, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, takes place in the same setting.
But while Iran adds color to that unique vampire flick, it is a very real character in Under the Shadow. The tension is palpable from the first moment, and you can feel the stress and strain as Shideh sees her dreams vanish because of her political opposition to the revolution, as her husband is forced to leave her to go to the front, as her daughter begins to see things in the night. The scariest scenes in this movie are not supernatural; they are scenes of war engulfing a city already under the thumb of tyrants.
Under the Shadow is, in some ways, a fairly standard haunting flick. It’s the setting that elevates it and makes the film well worth watching for anyone who likes their horror with depth.
Watched a neat little horror movie on Netflix recently called Pontypool. The movie tells the story of the eponymous town of Pontypool and a bizarre virus that is spreading through the community, causing widespread chaos and rioting. But this is not your typical zombie (infected) flick. The vast majority of the story is told from a small, isolated radio station where the station’s manager, production assistant, and star D.J. are hold up, describing to the listeners what they are hearing from reporters in the field. Adding to the interesting take (spoilers ahead), the virus is transmitted by words rather than microbes, a nice twist on the notion that words can induce action in the people who hear them. Good movie. I recommend it.
Bonus: The first lines may be the best part of the movie. I reproduce them here.
Grant Mazzy: Mrs. French’s cat is missing. The signs are posted all over town. “Have you seen Honey?” We’ve all seen the posters, but nobody has seen Honey the cat. Nobody. Until last Thursday morning, when Miss Colette Piscine swerved her car to miss Honey the cat as she drove across a bridge. Well this bridge, now slightly damaged, is a bit of a local treasure and even has its own fancy name; Pont de Flaque. Now Collette, that sounds like Culotte. That’s Panty in French. And Piscine means Pool. Panty pool. Flaque also means pool in French, so Colete Piscine, in French Panty Pool, drives over the Pont de Flaque, the Pont de Pool if you will, to avoid hitting Mrs. French’s cat that has been missing in Pontypool. Pontypool. Pontypool. Panty pool. Pont de Flaque. What does it mean? Well, Norman Mailer, he had an interesting theory that he used to explain the strange coincidences in the aftermath of the JFK assasination. In the wake of huge events, after them and before them, physical details they spasm for a moment; they sort of unlock and when they come back into focus they suddenly coincide in a weird way. Street names and birthdates and middle names, all kind of superfluous things appear related to each other. It’s a ripple effect. So, what does it mean? Well… it means something’s going to happen. Something big. But then, something’s always about to happen.