S&Man (pronounced Sandman) is a psuedo-documentary following the exploits of writer-director J.T. Petty as he delves into the underground horror scene. Petty starts off the film narrating the story of a local urban legend of a video voyuer in his hometown who was unable to be prosecuted due the victims not wanting to press charges because the videos of them would have to be screened in court. Petty describes his admiration for the voyuer being able to get away with this and wanted to make a documentary about him. This admission, while most likely untrue, sets the tone for the film. Not only that, it indicates the viewer as an accessory for watching this. However, Petty put the cart before the horse and got the funding before his intended subject. The peeper turned down Petty’s attempts to film him, so Petty decides to switch gears and focus on another dark territory: fake snuff movies.
Petty’s main subjects are Fred Vogel (creator of the August Underground films), Bill Zebub (creator of Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist, and it’s remake), Debbie D (one of Zebub’s actresses, with an extensive resume in the fetish industry), and a strange young man named Eric Rost who is the creator of the S&Man series.
The rest of the film is interviews with the subjects interspersed with clips from their films. For their part, Fred Vogel and Bill Zebub come across as charming and funny, especially for guys who make their living making shitty movies that are nothing more than misogynistic simulated snuff films. Vogel and his girlfriend are also working partners who both star as the anatagonists in the August Underground series made by their company, Toe Tag Pictures. Their flagship August Underground series is an interesting idea; it’s the home movie of a couple of serial killers. The result is a mixed bag; Toe Tag goes out of their way to make their films as over the top disgusting as possible, which takes the viewer away from any realism that had been established. The juvinille attitude in the films is no different from that of it’s creator; Fred seems really proud of his character filming two minutes of dog shit, and suckering other people into watching it. I’m proud of my girlfriend for graduating from a college university and landing a job at a Fortune 500 company (suck it, occupiers!). Vogel is proud of his girlfriend for being able to vomit a lot on camera on other people. To each their own, but this is why S&Man is disturbring; it illustrates the point that there is a market, however marginal, for films like this…and people who will make them.
Bill Zebub, by his own admission, makes movies for perverts to jack off to, but if you’ve ever seen any of his movies you realize how desperate people must be for spank material to find such stuff appealing. For all the tits and ass on display, his stuff is so badly acted, written, and edited, and his actresses personalities so non-existent that it comes across as boring. Petty validates my views in a scene which shows Zebub shooting a scene of his Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist remake in his friends bar. Zebub spends the majority of the time drinking while his actress lays on the floor in a bra and thong waiting for Zebub to set up the set around her. The edited footage looks like it went on for hours, and the actress looks completely bored as bar patrons get to oogle her ass while waiting for the shoot to complete (aka waiting for Zebub to quit drinking). However, it should be said that Zebub seems to make his movies with his own friends for about $5 a pop. Any losses are easily recouped. And to be fair, Zebub knows his films are horrible and he makes them as jokes. Your mileage may vary as to if it’s actually funny.
As I watched the film I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had read reviews of this film a few years ago on-line and I finally watched this because it was streaming on Netflix. This isn’t a pleasent viewing experience. I don’t like the films of any of it’s subjects. I am not stupid enough to fall for it’s prank that S&Man is a real series of films (and anyone who is can be set straight by the fact that the credits feature “Introducing Erik Marcisak as Eric Rost”). As the film unfolded, I felt compelled to turn it off as it made me sad for the human condition that there is a market for the films it discusses. I have seen the first August Underground and I truly feel that anyone who watches these films becomes a lesser person for having done so. I also feel that the makers of these films would consider my last statement the ultimate compliment for what they have set out to accomplish. After it ended, I felt depressed and wondered I would even watch this.
Look, some of my favorite movies are Last House on the Left, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, all films influential on this snuff sub-genre type of films. Herein lies the difference though: those films are worthy of watching because they get under your skin without having to show you a woman being forced to eat pieces of shit by some guy who can’t act who has his girlfriend vomit on people. The viewership for the former category of films enjoy being scared where as the latter type are enjoying a sexual thrill from watching the atrocities taking place. Debbie D talks about some of the “create your own video” part of her acting resume in which she plays in films a person can pay to have certain actions take place. We are treated to a shot of a woman being shot by some sort of stun gun in the vagina by an assailant. It is very disturbing that someone who had this fantasy paid out of his own pocket to have it filmed. In one of the more humorous (and cleverly edited) scenes in the film, Debbie D tells the camera that she sees her work as a jumping off point to work in actual films along such greats as Barbara Striessand. We then hear a person burst out laughing, only to realize it’s edited into the transistion of a person in the next scene.
With all that said, S&Man does a great job at disturbing the viewer by giving them a glimpse into this type of filmmaking. As a documentary, it’s a great piece of work, giving the viewer a glimpse of a fringe market of filmmaking they’d hopefully never watch for themselves. It’s only in it’s attempt to fool the auidence into thinking that they are interviewing a real snuff filmmaker that it falls short. That said, I have not been able to get “S&Man” out of my head and felt compelled to write this review of it in order to do so. This film is not for everyone, but if you want a glimpse into a real life abyss, give it a go. But remember, the abyss gazes also.