SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
horror director j.t. petty’s documentary explores the line between documentary film and fiction, as well as the psychology of the horror film audience. in a lot of ways the film is two documentaries in one. one focuses on the themes in, and social significance of, horror films. the other is a documentary that follows a horror filmmaker named eric who eventually becomes the demon of the film. in the first part, petty looks at films from peeping tom and texas chainsaw massacre to halloween and henry: portrait of a serial killer. he explores such elements as the audience being implicit in the violent act, while sympathizing with the victim at the same time; the fact that we all know movies are fake and what effect that has; our obsession with violence and death in cinema (as evidenced by early films like “the execution of mary scott” 1895 and “electric elephant” 1903); as well as the masochism of the audience.
the first part of the documentary which explores the role of the audience in horror films is interesting from a philosophical and academic perspective. is the audience implicit in the actions of the film’s bad guy? are we morally reprehensible because we watch this stuff and get pleasure out of it? why do we want to see this done to people? why do we like to be scared? do we feel more alive through the possibility of death? what role does the fact that this is all fake play? what about snuff films? why do some constantly seek out more and more extreme films?
the second half of the film follows eric, who is a horror film director who becomes increasingly unstable as the film progresses. eric’s films are about a man who follows women on the street, picks them up and then murders them in various ways. petty begins to wonder how much the woman are aware of the fact that they are being followed. through editing, petty essentially creates his own cinematic demon, in eric. much of the film’s charm is in picking up on petty’s manipulation of eric’s words. petty follows eric, just as eric follows the women, in order to see just how far eric is actually going with his stalking. in doing this petty implicates us because we want to know the truth behind eric’s actions as well. in this way, petty brilliantly manipulates both the facts and our emotions in an attempt to call attention to the audience’s desire to know. in many ways he is attacking reality tv and films like march of penguins or winged migration which are anthropomorphic to the extreme or create filmable situations and present them as natural when they are anything but.Watched in theater Watched on TV