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Mike’s Review: The Brilliant Terror (2021) (Another Hole in the Head Film Festival)


★★★★ out of ★★★★★

Directed by Julie Kauffman and Paul Hunt

To be clear, horror is the human condition. Sure there’s ghosts, robots, cannibals, witches, and Jason Voorhees, but all these finely finessed sub-genres are really just an extension of the human condition. Much ink has been poured over this subject, but rarely does a horror documentary get at this hyper-simple truism. 

Horror documentaries poke around at the edges of horror fans and creators’ obsession, but rarely does it get past the first layer and result in anything but a surface wound. Director’s Julie Kauffman and Paul Hunt take what should be an obvious understanding and ply real world experiences to our collective interest in the (under)world of horror. 

The Brilliant Terror doesn’t waste time with oft discussed documentary screen hogs like Jason Blum, James Wan, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth, but instead talks with real fans and real horror creators. What becomes clear, but isn’t as obvious as it would seem, is the fact the the fan and the creator are really interchangeable pieces and parts. 

Kauffman and Hunt follow people like Mike Lombardo (The Stall and I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday) as he painfully works to complete a shoe-string Lovecraft production involving a blood covered individual stuck in a bathroom stall. Mike works at a local pizza parlor and appears to be perfectly content in his directorial role with little to no expectation that Hollywood will ever come calling. Or more to the point, Steven Spielberg isn’t going to be waiting with a suitcase full of cash upon Mike’s arrival in California.

In one of the more insightful moments in the film, Mike explains that horror is a very forgiving genre and notes that a bad drama is just bad, but a bad horror movie instantaneously has a transformative second life as a horror comedy. 

Fangoria! Woo!
Make sure there’s extra slime on that tentacle!

Throughout The Brilliant Terror there are discussions of sexuality, the very real role of the outsider in society, peoples need to comprehend bad thoughts, and ultimately, the need to tell stories to get closer to the real truth behind the human condition. The insights come from directors, failed directors, fans, psychologists, writers, and those looking to gain a better understand horror’s sway over generations of degenerates. 

Too often horror documentarians assume everyone is down with all things horror. Little attention is paid to the way in which we processes these grisly doom-filled scenarios. What makes The Brilliant Terror so wonderfully engaging is the care taken in getting to the hardened heart of fans/creators. The world doesn’t need another interview with Rob Zombie proclaiming his love for Dracula Director Todd Browning, or Eli Roth waxing poetically about Lucio Fulci, but what we do need is exactly what Kauffman and Hunt deliver. 

All elements of the human condition are a complex minefield of regret, terror, and uncertainty. Whether it’s our mortality, our aspirations, or our individual growth, the human condition is cram-packed with real and not-so-real metaphorical connections to horror. Debate it all you want, but before you do, go watch The Brilliant Terror. At the very least you’ll have a better understanding of what makes horror fans tick.

The Brilliant Terror is likely Rated R and available at the Another Hole in the Head Film Festival.  

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