J.T. Petty. Readers of anythinghorror.com will, no doubt, know who this is. Petty came on the scene in 2001 with the amazing SOFT FOR DIGGING. Now I hate using this description, but SOFT FOR DIGGING is an experimental horror film. The basic story is that an older man, living a hermit’s life in the woods, goes searching for his missing cat when he witnesses the murder of a young girl. What makes this so amazing is that there’s barely a line of dialogue in the entire 74 minutes film. SOFT plays out more like a narrative poem, and Petty pulls it off beautifully.
He then made the horribly slow and boring MIMIC: SENTINEL (2003) and I was more than a little depressed. I was hoping Petty wasn’t a “one hit wonder,” but his entry in the MIMIC franchise sucked out loud. But Petty came back with guns blazing, with THE BURROWERS (2008) and my faith was restored. This one takes place in the Old West and is essentially a serious version of TREMORS. Petty does a great job building suspense and proves, once again, that he’s a talent to be reckoned with. But between MIMIC: SENTINEL and THE BURROWERS, Petty very quietly made a film called S&MAN (read as “sandman”). I finally caught this one streaming on Netflix the other night. My initial response was anger. I was pissed it took me so long to catch this one. S&MAN is an incredible film that blurs the lines between fiction/non-fiction and keeps the viewer continuously on their toes.
S&MAN is a documentary (kind of) in which Petty sets out to examine the lines between voyeurism and the horror genre. Petty tells us, the viewer, that the idea for this documentary began with a story from his childhood about a neighbor who was peeping into people’s windows at night, videotaping what he saw. He originally set out to do a documentary on this man, but he refused to be interviewed on camera, and since he already “spent a lot of HDNet Films’ money,” he decided to explore the topic of voyeurism and how it, if it does at all, relates to the horror industry.
Petty decides to narrow the scope of his documentary to the more underground horror filmmakers and their films. We get real interviews with hardcore horror filmmakers Bill Zebub and (my favorite) Fred Vogel (from ToeTag Pictures, maker of the AUGUST UNDERGROUND trilogy). We get some excellent insight from these filmmakers, especially Vogel, as Petty explores and examines what it is that people find “attractive” in their films. We also get interviews with real life “underground” actress Debbie D, and a scholar’s insight into the appeal of and the role these kinds of extreme genre films play in society from Carol J. Clover (a professor of film and rhetoric at the University of California). As a straight up documentary Petty gives is a ton of fascinating interviews and insight into the minds of the people behind and in front of the camera.
But then Petty does something unique and original. He blurs the lines between reality and fiction; between documentary and narrative filmmaking.
And it totally works!!
Among all the interviews with real people (Vogel, Bezub, Debbie D …) he inserts interviews with an indie underground filmmaker he met at Chiller Theater (a convention for underground genre films). At the convention, Petty comes across a series of films called S&MAN (“sandman”) in which the filmmaker, Eric Rost (Erik Marcisak) follows around girls, without them knowing, and then eventually kills them. Its all very realistic and catches Petty’s eye because it fits perfectly into this documentary about “voyeurism and horror films.” Little by little he gets to know Rost more and more, and the more he delves into Rost’s films, the more he starts to question “what’s real and what’s fantasy”.
I don’t wanna overstate things here people, but S&MAN is a brilliant fucking film from a truly talented filmmaker. He never loses the focus of his film and it stays as more of a ‘documentary’ and never completely slides into a fictional narrative. This was no easy task and really points to the absolute focus of Petty and how strong a filmmaker he truly is. I don’t wanna give away anymore of this film (trust me, you’re in for a helluva ride), but at the next chance you get, stream this from Netflix. I’ve had some pretty harsh things to say about Netflix lately (via my Twitter account), but the fact they’re streaming S&MAN helps Netflix atone for (some of) their recent sins.
S&MAN, for me, cements J.T. Petty as a brilliant, daring, and extremely talented filmmaker. You may also find it interesting that Petty’s written a ton of video games as well … ones you’ve probably played: BATMAN: VENGEANCE (2001), SPLINTER CELL (2002), SPLINTER CELL: PANDORA TOMORROW (2004), SPLINTER CELL: CHAOS THEORY (2005), and BATMAN BEGINS (2005) are among his credits!! This is a hugely talented man and S&MAN is one you do not wanna miss. Can ya tell I loved this one?
Director: J.T. Petty (& writer)
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7 out of 10 skulls (mainly from clips of other films)
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer