The Brilliant Terror


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Brilliant Terror
"This is an impressively thorough piece of work which manages to fit in a great deal whilst remaining fun to watch." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

For every horror film that makes it to a festival, screens in cinemas or enjoys a professional online release on one of the established channels, there are at least a dozen which don’t make the cut. They’re shared on YouTube or Vimeo among groups of friends or within niche fan communities, screened in local pubs or community halls or simply viewed in private by those who made them. Sometimes they’re close to unwatchable. Occasionally they’re brilliant – they just lack the marketing machine to get the to attention they deserve. In this documentary, Paul Hunt and Julie Kauffman set out to explore the low budget to no budget filmmaking sector and meet the people who make it all happen.

It’s a huge subject and the film could easily lose its way among the cobwebs and the entrails, but it’s sensibly centred on just a handful of filmmakers who typify different strands of horror. Direct to camera interviews are livened up by the fact that some participants are on set at the time, applying make-up or setting up gore effects, exhibiting the craft that they discuss. We also meet psychologists who discuss what research tells us about the appeal of horror and the effects of watching it for a long time (which vary depending on whether or not one actually finds it scary).

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Where genre documentaries like this often consciously appeal to the fans and focus entirely on the good things, this one is refreshingly at ease with taking on the negatives as well. Heidi Honeycutt provides a fantastically fierce and honest critique of some genre work she’s seen, and opens a discussion about the treatment of women, which can be just as problematic at this end of the industry as it is at the top. There’s a recognition of the ease with which production itself can become exploitative simply because of the amount of pressure needed to get things done, and also of how much directors and producers often put themselves through, risking their health and sanity for the sake of their films, working such long hours that they go past the point of being able to maintain perspective.

Whilst there is additional comment here on the poor quality of narrative in many low budget films, there’s also a appreciation for the imaginative genius sometimes on display – for the genuinely original and outré ideas that simply cannot be found in such profusion in professional filmmaking circles. That inventiveness is also needed to work around the challenges of working with little or no cash, when props have to be hunted down or manufactured from ordinary household items, and special effects stem from a combination of tricks shared on the web and jealously guarded secrets.

Some of those involved have big fan followings despite the small scale of their operations. Others produce work which inspires scary reactions, even extending to death threats. “The crazies on the internet should be taken a lot more seriously than they used to be,” cautions one participant – and yet he won’t let anything deter him from pursuing his craft.

What do they do it for? Most of these people aren’t making any money. Some dream of hitting the big time and occasionally one actually does it – among the interviewees here is Jeremiah Kipp, whose film Slapface is screening alongside this at Frightfest. For the majority, however, t’s a labour of love. Some approach it as art. Some find it cathartic. Some clearly just enjoy the problem solving aspects of filmmaking (seen up close in the making of Mike Lombardo’s The Stall) whilst others simply want the chance to exercise skills which they have refined to an impressive degree.

Though it may seem to meander, this is an impressively thorough piece of work which manages to fit in a great deal whilst remaining fun to watch. Made at a point when amateur film production is getting more and more affordable, and the possibilities are opening up, it’s a reminder that cinema belongs to everyone. It’s likely to inspire some viewers who have previously only dreamed about filmmaking to give it a try.

Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2021
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A documentary about the grassroots horror phenomenon, the filmmakers, the fascination and the brilliant terror.

Director: Paul Hunt, Julie Kauffman

Starring: Heidi Honeycutt, Jeremiah Kipp, Alan Rowe Kelly, Paula Haifley

Year: 2021

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: US


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