The horror of voyeurism.
A documentary on the way that movies in general and horror in particular is an outlet for our voyeuristic tendencies. There are interviews with author Carol J. Clover, well-known low-budget gore filmmakers Fred Vogel and Bill Zebub as well as some lesser-known folks in the industry or experts on psychology. The interviews are quite interesting, though I do find Carol J. Clover to be annoying, and we get a lot of time with several interesting directors and one actress, Debbie D, but one of the most interesting and creepy is an underground director who makes naturalistic films about a man who stalks and kills young women….
Most of this film is a documentary on ‘underground’ horror / splatter / gore filmmakers, such that we never see as these folks aren’t considered especially interesting. J.T. Petty is a horror filmmaker in his own right – I think he’s pretty good too – so, unlike many people who might look into this little sub-genre, he has made low-budget horror films of his own, therefor being perhaps less judgmental and more friendly to the people involved as he’s a part of the club. The directors are very open about their work – to a point – and there’s something to endearing about Fred Vogel telling us that his grandmother is his biggest fan and was actually in one of his films. Bill Zebub comes across as a kind, shy man who does his job well, but has problems accepting that his work is actually interesting to people. Both of them are willing to push the envelope to the point that some of their films include real blood, not something that you’re likely to see in the latest claptrap from M. Night Shyamalan.
The guy who stands out in a group of slightly nervous men is Eric Rost, a director of ‘custom videos’ that are sold directly via the internet or at conventions. For those of you who’ve not heard of them, custom videos are shortish films made to order to appeal to various sexual fantasies and, in that way, are quasi-pornographic at the least. Rost specializes in making films in the S&Man series – pronounced ‘sandman’ – in which he stalks and kills women. Like the other filmmakers in this film, Rost has a unique approach to casting, but his method is much more questionable as he actually stalks the women he’s going to ask to star in one of his films as a sort of observational screen test. Rost doesn’t like discussing his actresses and refuses to actively get them to participate in the documentary. He also reacts very, very badly when the filming doesn’t go his way, like when the documentary crew turns the tables on him and stalks Rost through the streets. Even his discussion of his mother – who, amusingly, lives upstairs – is unsettling as his denials about her make him seem desperate to get the filmmaker to believe him.
The film is littered with clips of the various films discussed. For those who are not particularly acquainted with this genre, this can be something of an introduction, for those of us who are more accustomed to horrific stuff, this is a pretty fair summary, and for those who go out of their way to be offended or outraged at anything, this will be a useful primer on the evils of cinema. There are underground films that exist because no one will pay for the artist’s vision, and, as few would want to watch anyway, that’s not a problem. There are other underground films that are underground because, despite a demand existing, no distributor wants to touch them.
Oh yes, an important note. Eric Rost is simply a character played by the excellent Erik Marcisak. Marcisak is so real and so natural in his role that, when combined with the clever subterfuge of sticking him in a documentary of real filmmakers, the average viewer will not question that he’s real. This twist is the best part of the film as it allows three different possible ‘takes’ depending on the nature of the viewer. Some viewers will never be aware of the deception and will go away thinking that something evil is going on with underground films. Other viewers will be aware of the deception and get a giggle out of it. Some others though, some few, will recognize that this fake filmmaker serves as a beautiful example of the difference between the audience for horror and the audience for snuff.
Horror fans are used to being labeled as sick, perverted, misogynistic sadists – I certainly have heard that more than once, but I’m past denying the foulness of my id – but one thing that most of us agree on is that we don’t like real violence. Many horror fans are drawn to violent and nasty films because violence is something we abhor in real life, the opposite attracts us. Torture, murder, mutilation, rape, and hypodermic needles slammed into eyes are all fine and dandy when they’re faked, but quite honestly, how many of us would want to see anything like that if it were real?