JT Petty; a respected filmmaker in the underground film community brings forth a documentary that takes a look at voyeurism and sadism, and the connection between that exists between those elements and horror fans and creators. Petty assembles a collection of filmmakers, psychiatrists, philosophers, and fans to exam and possible find answers as to why people can find enjoyment out of making and viewing two such taboo subjects. Fantasy becomes reality for Petty as he becomes involved with a young filmmaker named Eric Rost, whose homemade horror films may not be fake.
I was intrigued by the documentary "S&Man" when I first heard about it being discussed by Fred Vogel with some other people. Especially since it is a documentary about underground horror movies, which surprised me since anytime there is a documentary about horror it only deals with mainstream films and popular titles that we all know too well, with the names and the faces to go with them. Not to mention most of the documentaries aren't even actually documentaries, rather than just show cases for horror movies that we've grown up on; Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc. So I was pleased to hear about one coming out that was going to show the work of people like Fred Vogel and Bill Zebub. Then when it came time to actually watch "S&Man" I was really surprised by the fact that it wasn't just a showcase for horror movies and directors, but an actual documentary.
The biggest problems with documentaries are that they are suppose to approach, whatever the subject is, with a biased view and show both sides. Unfortunately that is not always the case, which Ronny demonstrated in his review of "Executions". Here JT Petty, who's best known for his film "Soft for Digging", takes a look at not only the underground horror scene, but also the psychological aspect of the audience. So this is more or less a look at the various reasons of why we watch horror movies, particularly ones that are not only extremely violent but very sexual as well. The point behind "S&Man" isn't to point fingers or an attempt to pigeonhole movies and viewers into a certain demographic, but rather to look at the variables as to why we choose to watch these movies. With a panel of commentators that consists of filmmakers, actors, psychologists, and theorists/philosophers.
The original idea behind the documentary was to explore voyeurism, because of a story from Petty's home town of where a voyeur was arrested after being caught video taping one of his neighbors. Though the man was never prosecuted due to the fact that his massive collection of tapes of people in town, caught during their most private moments, did not want the tapes to be screened. As Petty put it, "...people didn't want to look that closely." So he turned his attention to people who did, people who seek out films that show us a side of existence that we are not likely to ever see. Which are underground horror fans, and the reason it was chosen, as pointed out by Carol J. Clover (Professor and Ph.D.) they are closer to reality, where Hollywood movies are obviously more fake. Which is where the psychologist and philosophers come in, as they explore the ideas that the movies are going beyond entertainment, and are satisfying a voyeuristic need that we may not be aware of. Though not putting all of the attention on the audience, but also on the people who make the movies and star in them.
Through this, JT Petty becomes acquainted with a man by the name of Eric Rost, the creator of the "S&Man" series of which he dubs them as stalker films. Not really pseudo-snuff style like "August Underground" but one where he (Eric) follows around a single girl for days, then slowly gets closer and closer to her until he finally kills them. As the documentary progresses, so does Eric's involvement with the production with him constantly sending Petty the latest in "S&Man" episodes, with constant phone calls and emails. For those of you who are not aware, this part of the documentary where it becomes more of a horror movie. It is a well played out and executed part of the movie that adds a rather frightening element of reality, and shows what can happen when one person falls into a world of violence and voyeurism too deep. With that the movie seamlessly blends both documentary and horror into one film, similar to what happens in "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon", except that Petty chose to keep the movie element closer to reality instead of turning it into a straight horror film. When the documentary comes to an end, so does the movie and it ends in a rather shocking manner.
Overall, "S&Man" is an interesting watch that blends both styles of documentary and an actual horror movie, all while examining a counter-culture movement that to outside viewer may seem rather frightening. While the subject matter may seem serious, Petty and some of the guests do provide humor through out the documentary. Not so much so that it becomes bogged down with jokes that it can no longer be taken serious, but just enough to allow "S&Man" to be entertaining as well as informative. Do yourself and check this out, especially if you're an underground fan.