Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Assembled from interviews, personal reminiscences and assorted film clips, JT Petty's S&Man takes a look at the horror genre from the inside out, exploring accusations of exploitation and the suggestion that horror films inspire real life crimes. All fair enough, but haven't we seen this before? Audiences who flocked to see it at Frightfest seemed to hope so, looking forward to a bold defence of their favourite films with plenty of gore as ornamentation. As it happens, they were disappointed; meanwhile, those looking for something a little different got a treat.

S&Man is different in that it refuses to follow the safe route of defending comparatively mainstream horror film. Few people these days are so impressed by the likes of Halloween and Friday The 13th that they seriously expect those movies to warp people's minds. About the closest S&Man gets to discussing the mainstream is with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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Its primary interest is in small underground horror movies made on a very low budget, often for private clients. Home-made special effects and dreadful acting provide plenty of hilarity in the snippets of these that we see, but they also provide an insight into a fascinating world with which few viewers will be familiar. They don't shy away from the torture and murder of women (sometimes even children, though none of this is shown directly) and some have been designed (though usually not very convincingly) to look like snuff movies.

Acknowledging this allows Petty to get to grips with the roots of the censorship issue. He is not an apologist, but employs the advice of a selection of experts and industry pioneers to explore the question of why people find these films so appealing. Director Erik Rost notes that he continually receives mail from people who want to be victims in his films but never anything from people wanting to be killers. The masochistic relationship of the viewer to the camera comes under examination, as does cinema's historic fascination with the moment of death itself - curiously, audiences were more upset by 1903s Electrocuting An Elephant, a popular curiosity in its time, than by any other featured clip.

The other thing which marks S&Man out is that it gives a fair hearing to genre critics, acknowledging that there are fuzzy areas and never coming across as propaganda, though ultimately it has more to say about human nature than about the responsibilities of film makers. Petty explores his own fascination with a peeping Tom case in the neighbourhood where he grew up, and, in a delightful ongoing gag, turns the tables on director Fred Vogel, whose speciality is producing low-budget films of young women being followed.

This is a film which gives its audience room to feel uncomfortable as well as providing plenty of humour and riding on the charisma of contributors like Bill Zebub and self-styled scream queen Debbie D. It explores the cheap and trashy yet it's fresh and engaging, with plenty of appeal for genre fans and outsiders alike.

Reviewed on: 17 Feb 2007
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An exploration of the appeal of the horror genre.

Director: JT Petty

Writer: JT Petty

Starring: Carol J Clover, Debbie D, Bill Zebub, Fred Vogel, Erik Rost, Kerri Taylor

Year: 2006

Runtime: 84 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Glasgow 2007

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