J. T. Petty, S&Man, 2006, color film, 84 minutes. Production stills. Photos: Jeremy Saulnier.

IN THE QUASI DOCUMENTARY S&Man (2006), J. T. Petty—director of independent and straight-to-video horror films such as Soft for Digging (2001) and Mimic: Sentinel (2003)—studies the psychological underpinnings of his chosen genre from within. Rather than charting the trends and evolutions of horror throughout cinematic history, Petty focuses on the most extreme purveyors of contemporary underground fetish horror: crude, bargain-basement productions that aim for ever greater realism while catering directly (sometimes via fan requests) to the bloodlust of their cultish audience.

Petty includes “what makes ’em tick?” interviews with and behind-the-scenes footage from films by Fred Vogel, whose Toe Tag Pictures feature family members and on-command vomiting; frequently nude scream queen Debbie D., whose pursuit of crossover success seems unlikely; and director Bill Zebub, crucifixion-obsessed mastermind behind such titles as Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist (2004). Explaining the appeal of the voyeuristic, sadistic, and masochistic desires aroused by horror are a sexologist and forensic psychiatrist husband-wife team, as well as Men, Women, and Chainsaws (1992) author Carol J. Clover. Anyone with a passing familiarity with issues of death as spectacle, viewer empathy, and desensitized violence will come away from the skim-the-surface S&Man (pronounced “Sandman”) utterly unenlightened; anyone faintly inquisitive about the mechanics of hard-core “torture porn” will become quickly uninterested in them. At one point a lingerie-clad model yawns while Zebub drunkenly applies fake welts to her back. Petty’s tedious attention to every banality stated or enacted by his actually very dull subjects makes her boredom contagious.

The only thing going for S&Man is Petty’s investigation into whether suspiciously mild-mannered filmmaker Eric Rost has, in trying to up the horror ante, crossed the line between realism and snuff. A tip-off, however, is the title of Rost’s stalker cam series: S&Man. Yes, this thread of the film is mockumentary, Rost being played by an actor (as revealed in the end credits), and his increasingly creepy movies implicate us in our own morbid curiosity. But to achieve such an effect the film itself should be disturbingly fascinating, a quality developed to a much greater degree in another recent po-mo stunt, I’m Still Here, despite its absence of throat slittings.

Michael Joshua Rowin

S&Man plays October 1–7 at reRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn. For more details, click here.