Thursday, December 23, 2010

S&Man (2006)

Though the DVD cover of S&Man is extremely misleading (it makes it look like a crappy slasher), rest assured that the actual film is pretty damn brilliant, challenging and powerful. I was surprised to find that director J.T. Petty (The Burrowers, Soft for Digging) made this film and that I hadn’t heard of it sooner. Though it had a festival run way back in 2006, the film wasn’t released on DVD stateside until October 2010.

S&Man (aka Sandman, not S & M Man, like I originally thought!) is a film that explores the seedier side of horror that encompasses the “hardcore” mock-snuff films like the August Underground or Guinea Pig series that are infamous for their shock value and hyper-realism.

Set up like a documentary, S&Man was originally supposed to be a vehicle for Petty to do a film on a local peeping tom from a suburb he grew up in, but this plan fell through when the man refused to do the film. However, Petty still wanted to pursue doing a film on voyeurism, so he turned to the underground horror world and found three purveyors of low-brow horror films to feature.

First and probably the most well known is Fred Vogel of Toe Tag Pictures, creator of the August Underground series. Vogel is certainly not the originator of fake snuff films, but over the years his extreme films have probably become the most well-known. Featuring brutal violence on grainy film, stunts including real bodily fluids (vomit, feces, you name it), graphic nudity and so on, Vogel’s films, most of which he stars in, really do look like home movies of serial killers.

The next filmmaker is the seemingly perpetually drunk, middle-aged metalhead Bill Zebub, whose films usually feature  busty women in distress, some blood, and not much else. Zebub’s films aren’t really fake snuff or as extreme like Vogel’s and come off as little more than exploitation. He states he makes films for perverts and not much else, which is pretty much echoed in all the scenes shown from his films. In one sad scene he putters around a set in a bar for hours while one of his actresses is forced to lie ass up in a spread-eagle position wearing a thong, bikini top and not much else. The exasperated and bored look on her face pretty much says it all!

The last filmmaker interviewed, Eric Rost (Erik Marcisak), is the only fictional one, as Vogel and Zebub do exist in real life and you can purchase their films. At first, Eric appears like any other horror fan-boy with dreams of making it big with his own “vision” for horror films. He shows up at a horror convention Petty is attending and gives Petty his own horror films, called the S&Man series. The series is very voyeuristic, and features women being filmed seemingly without their knowledge before they are kidnapped and killed. The films look entirely realistic and Petty spends the documentary trying to get more information from Eric, like if he can contact the actresses that appeared in S&Man, but Eric isn’t very forthcoming. In fact, Eric won’t give Petty a straight answer on whether he obtained consent from the women before stalking and filming them. Petty soon becomes suspicious and thinks Eric may be a real snuff filmmaker who is killing his victims.

In between talking with these three filmmakers, Petty interweaves interviews with psychologists, a self-professed “scream queen” (can just any woman that bares her boobs in a few crappy horror movies be considered a “scream queen” nowadays?), and feminist author of Men, Women and Chainsaws Carol Clover (yay, one of my favorites! I adore this woman!). These interviews add to the overall weight of the faux documentary, but the most interesting scenes occur when Petty turns his camera on the three filmmakers.

I found S&Man to be a challenging film to sit through at times, but the issues it addresses like voyeurism, gender, exploitation of actresses and how this exploitation eerily mirrors the exploitation of real-life victims, how far is too far, etc., etc. are what ultimately makes it rewarding. If you are anything like me, you’ll be equally parts repulsed and intrigued by Petty’s film, though in the end it will hopefully make you think and question your own personal limits.

Buy it on Amazon!

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