Film #78: S&MAN
3 out of 5 stars
An interesting blend of documentary and fictional narrative. Director JT Petty (the highly underrated THE BURROWERS) investigates the world of “extreme horror” by way of the simulated murder films of people like AUGUST UNDERGROUND’s Fred Vogel and JESUS SERIAL RAPIST’s Bill Zebub. Most of the film is played as a straight up documentary, but inserted sporadically are interviews with an obviously planted (and fake) filmmaker known as S&Man. As the film progresses, we soon figure out that this sad sack filmmaker is not a filmmaker at all but rather a serial killer who films his stalkings and murders under the guise of the footage being is latest “film.” Throughout S&MAN, we are asked “what is horror?” and “what is exploitation?” by fan and academic alike. And while the film sort of works as a fictional narrative, the documentary part seems heavily skewed toward legitimizing the illegitimate… especially considering people like Vogel and Zebub hardly speak for the general horror creator population. In my opinion, these filmmakers are hacks of the highest order and are, in many ways, exactly like S&MAN’s falsified creation. They can talk all the rhetoric they want, but nothing excuses the AUGUST UNDERGROUND films from being what they are - exploitive and highly anti-social (and borderline dangerous) crap. Mistaking the bludgeon that are these films for the highly-honed precision instruments that real horror films are is a mistake made by neophytes and outsiders… something I would’ve assumed director Petty was not. Films like the AUGUST UNDERGROUND films are literally gasoline thrown haphazardly onto the already smoldering fire of certain folk’s psychoses. But setting that quibble aside… S&MAN is an effective (and, in some odd ways, subtle) examination of this aberrant little sub-genre and it does make for an interesting viewing experience. Where the film fails is that it tries to put a bow on everything and its conclusion may irk some. Warning though… there are scenes in this film that will be - for most audiences - a little tough to watch. Worth a rental, but longtime horror fans may come away a little insulted.