Scary Movies (and Super Creeps) – S&Man

Every week Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a horror movie worth checking out. Today: The truth is just as scary as the fiction.

I’m not going to lie. S&Man (pronounced Sandman) is a film that made me feel just a little dirty. Watching the 2006 quasi-documentary by horror filmmaker/fan J.T. Petty (The Burrowers, Soft for Digging), I couldn’t help but feel a need for a long, thorough shower afterwards.

S&Man explores the real-life world of underground horror films. While Hollywood produces and releases dozens of glossy, CGI-heavy horror films every year staring the latest crop of teen supermodels, if you dig a little deeper beneath the surface you will find a world of indie horror films that is thriving in much the same way a cockroach colony does under a fridge. These films, often low in budget and featuring creative combinations of fake blood and big-chested women, are sought after by fans at festivals and conventions. While most of these underground horror films are harmless (quite a few cater towards some truly bizarre fetishes such as clone-on-clone violence and navel violence and feature more blood-soaked bark than bite), if you dig a bit deeper you might just find something sinister lying below the surface.

Petty began his documentary as an effort to explore the world of voyeurism. As a child, his town discovered a peeping tom in their midst and that revelation forever left a mark on the filmmaker. Petty sought to understand the motivations behind his hometown’s peeping tom but when the man refused to participate in the movie, Petty looked elsewhere.

His gaze turned upon the seemingly linked worlds of voyeurism and underground horror. So many of the most notable (or notorious) underground horror movies, after all, deal heavily with the sick thrill of watching people in pain. The audience feels as if they are watching the home videos of a real-life serial killer — from the stalking of victims to their eventual rape and murder.

Directors such as Bill Zebub (not his real name, of course) and Fred Vogel (of Toe Tag Productions) specialize in meeting the need of a special breed of horror fan that seemingly gets sexual satisfaction from murder and rape. While I hate to apply the label of “pervert” to fans of films such as August Underground, I cannot imagine those who regularly watch such underground horror movies are viewing them for the plot or acting.

The filmmakers Petty explores are in seemingly in a constant race to one-up the other with their extremeness or depravity. Their movies are more of a exorcise in what the directors can get away with than actually filming a quality movie. These are movies that feature everything from a man in a Jesus costume masturbating using the nail hole in his hand to movies in which Vogel enlists his own real-life grandmother to play a victim of a home invasion — torturing the willing elderly actress in all manners of discomfort

And then there’s Eric Rost. Rost is the director of the S&Man series of films. In Rost’s films, he follows a young woman around for a few days — casing her out and discovering her patterns. Occasionally, he’ll break into their houses while they’re away and collect toenail clippings or bloody Kleenexes. The movies always end the same — Rost will corner the woman in a moment of weakness, tie her up and then murder her.

Petty (and the audience) at first assumes Rost is just like the other directors — obsessed with realism and maybe just a little crazy. The other directors all say some pretty wacky things during their interviews — letting a glimpse into some of the neuroticism lying just below the surface.

The more Petty talks to Rost, though, the more it becomes apparent the filmmaker isn’t just a little crazy — he’s the whole enchilada. From sidestepping questions about whether or not his actresses are willing participants to a total inability to produce the women for interviews, Rost slowly starts to reveal that he may in fact be the real deal — a genuine serial killer.

In reality, though, Eric Rost is Eric Marcisak, an actor. Petty’s clever hybrid of real interviews with staged drama gives S&Man an unsettling appeal. There’s a sinister dread that creeps over audiences’ spines whenever Rost is on camera — the knowledge that you are watching a real predator in action.

While Rost may not be a real snuff film director, he might as well have been. People like Rost exist out there in the world — Zebub and Vogel readily admit as much. These are the people who buy their movies and come to the festivals. After all, as Carol J. Clover, a film professor Petty interviews during the movie, says: At some point, horror film addicts must take the rout of porn addicts. For somebody obsessed with blood and gore on camera, watching murders will eventually not be enough. People like Rost will want to give it a try of their own.

Petty’s film is a weird animal. It’s not entirely a documentary but not exactly a mockumentary either. It’s a fascinating blend of fact and fiction that could very well have been all true. As a horror fan, the movie will have you questing what it is you get out of such movies. Do you watch scary movies and identify with the victim or do you identify with the murderer?

Eric Rost does not look like Letherface or Michael Myers. He’s an overweight, shy man who enjoys murdering young women and has not only managed to get away with it but has made money off of his exploits. I can’t think of anything scarier this Halloween.

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