When the idea of making a documentary on a neighbourhood peeping tom from his childhood fell through, director J.T. Petty re-channeled his energies into a self-examination of his own voyeurism as a filmmaker and lover of horror movies. The result is the startling documentary S&Man, which sets out to identify a recent outgrowth of the slasher film –- the “hardcore” horror film. Petty turns his gaze at three directors who specialize in extremely low-budget, shot-on-digital stalker/sexploitation/survivalist horror: Fred Vogel, Bill Zebub and Eric Rost. Thrown into the mix are film academic Carol J. Clover, sexologist Meg S. Kaplan and her husband/forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard B. Krueger. Although Petty provides some historical context for the extreme horror film, the interviews with the three filmmakers form the central focus of the film. Appropriately, the directors could not be any more different. Vogel, who directed one of the most notorious “hostage” horror films, August Underground, is self-assured and financially savvy. Bill Zebub, who leans toward Franco-esque DIY sexploitation, bears no illusions of being an artist. Eric Rost, who produces installments of mock snuff films as part a series called S&Man, is the outsider, socially awkward and visibly uncomfortable in front of Petty’s camera.
The strength of S&Man is its unflinching desire to probe the outsider’s interest in this perverse, underground form of gore-nography. As both a fan and scholar of the genre, professor Carol J. Clover has the critical distance that enables her to ask the right questions about some of the more troubling aspects of the underground horror film, of why people would want to watch extreme torture and violence without the usual aesthetic distance of more mainstream horror. The film’s central issues –- the relationship between fiction and reality, horror and snuff, documentary and mockumentary -– are crystallized in director Eric Rost, who appears increasingly uncomfortable with Petty’s questioning, yet seems driven to use the camera as a form of self-therapy. Our own voyeuristic fascination with Rost makes us part of the process, making S&Man a heady, complex commentary on the ethics of making and viewing films which, in many cases, offer nothing more than torture and sadism. One thing is certain, the final scene of the film –- an extract from Rost’s S&Man -- will leave you emotionally gutted and have you repeating to yourself, “it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie…”
Director: J.T. Petty
Screenplay: J.T. Petty
Cast: Carol J. Clover
Producers: Jason Kliot, Lawrence Mattis, Joana Vicente