Care Bears make Judge Gordon Sullivan flinch.
Our review of S&Man, published November 12th, 2010, is also available.
"The most unsettling horror experience in years."
Film reviewing is always a delicate art, balancing the need to give viewers enough info to make an informed decision while also not giving away too much. Because S&Man is a film about horror, voyeurism, and viewership, it's in a more precarious situation than most. If you have any interest in underground or independent horror, you should view S&Man without any preconceptions. If you're not sure the film is for you, read on. I'll try not to give away anything important.
Most horror fans could benefit from having a copy of Carol Clover's 1992 book Men, Women & Chainsaws on their shelf. Because she's an outsider to the genre (as a scholar of Scandinavian literature), Clover brought a critical eye to horror films and provided some interesting insights about what horror films were doing culturally. Her conception of "the final girl" has been recognized, refuted, and parodied for years now. Which brings us to S8Man, because Carol Clover is the pin that holds it all together for me. S&Man (or "Sandman") started out as a film where J.T. Petty hoped to look at a peeping Tom that terrorized his childhood street. He got the money to shoot that film, but the peeper wouldn't agree to make the film. So, Petty turned to the underground horror market (as exemplified by the Chiller Convention) to get some insight into voyeurism and horror films. He intersperses interpretations by Clover and some psychological experts on one side with interviews featuring underground horror filmmakers like Bill Zebub, Fred Vogel, and Debbie D. One filmmaker in particular, Eric Rost, catches Petty's eye, and as the narrative unfolds Petty learns more than he might like about how far Rost is willing to go to make his underground films.
J.T. Petty is tracking a couple of things with S&Man. First, he's looking at the relationship between horror and voyeurism. Here his expert witnesses are most helpful. We learn that yes, the gaze in horror films is both sadistic (we want to see others hurt) and masochistic (we identify with characters we see hurt). We also learn about "paraphilias," and how most voyeurs are not particularly dangerous even if they seem creepy. The second thing Petty tracks is the movement towards extreme content in underground horror. As one director puts it, these films aren't going to make it into Best Buy, so they are both forced and free to be as extreme as they can be to capture horror fans' attention. I'll spare you the details, but if you can think of something sick, chances are Vogel or Bill Zebub have beaten you to it, and then one-upped it by involving a corpse or something.
Eric Rost, though, becomes the film's center. He's responsible for the S&Man films. Each one features footage of Rost following a young woman, getting her alone and then murdering her for the camera. Petty tries to probe the reluctant Rost about how he recruits his actors, how real the stalking is, and where he finds his inspiration. Rost becomes increasingly distant, and, without giving too much away, Petty may have stumbled on to more than he bargained for.
S&Man is shot to look like a cheap video documentary, and there's nothing the added resolution of Blu-ray can do about it. Consequently, there's a cheap, slightly washed-out look to the whole movie, although its generally free of compression or authoring problems. Similarly, this is a dialogue-heavy movie that completely wastes the DTS-HD 5.1 mix. Surrounds are oddly used for narration, but otherwise pretty silent, and the film's music provides the only low frequency involvement.
For a low-budget documentary, S&Man gets a decent slate of extras. There are two commentaries. The first features Petty and Rost, and most of the time Rost rips on Petty and his appropriation of the S&Man moniker. The second features Petty and Eric Marcisak, and here we get more production info as well as a discussion of the film's vision. There are also some deleted/extended scenes, and the entire "S&Man Episode 11" is included for torture fans. We also get assorted trailers, clips, and previews for other Rost films.
S&Man has a very definite point, and it's one I respect. However, I'm not convinced the film works as well as it wants to. First, to be able to get to the point you have to be willing to sit through clips of some pretty nasty underground horror. Second, only in the last few moments does the film's real project become obvious, and 80 minutes is an awful long time to make the audience wait to see what's really going on.
S&Man is an ambitious documentary project that presents some interesting insights into the modern consumption of horror. Although many of the scenes require a cast-iron stomach, those that sit through them will glimpse a clever mind at play in the horror genre. This Blu-ray disc does the film justice in the audiovisual department, and the extras offer a wealth of contextual material for the film's fans.
Because it never flinches from the horror it uncovers, S&Man is not
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