The Brilliant Terror Movie Review
Written by Daniel Benson
Released by Lonfall Films
Written and directed by Paul Hunt and Julie Kauffman
2021, 78 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest World Premiere on 26th August 2021
“Dear Fucktards” is the opening phrase of The Brilliant Terror, as grassroots horror filmmaker Mike Lombardo reads out a death threat he’s just received on Facebook. A pre-credits teaser to pique the viewers’ collective interest for this delve into the fake blood-spattered underbelly of the grassroots movement.
So, what is grassroots horror? Well, it turns out it’s just independent horror after independent horror started to encompass anything that wasn’t made by major studios. I guess as non-Hollywood (for want of a better phrase) horror raised its game and started to infiltrate the mainstream, the truly budget-basement guys needed a moniker for their brand of home-cooked, friends as actors, writer/director/special effects artist is the same person, gallons of chocolate syrup fake blood horror movies.
This grassroots documentary about grassroots horror was filmed over seven years and follows writer/director/special effects artist and man of many other hats, Mike Lombardo, as he goes about making The Stall, a Lovecraftian horror short set mostly in a toilet. Lovecraftian in that it features tentacles and a Cthulu amulet anyway. We see him pottering around on the sets of his other films and other people’s too, where he’s busy with his bucket-o-gore.
There are also numerous talking heads from the scene, most of whom you will be unfamiliar with unless you are very well acquainted with the movement. From a couple of floors up in the independent horror realm, we get some input from the likes of producer Jeremiah Kipp and see author Brian Keene on the set of the short film adaptation of his Fast Zombies Suck. There is some good representation from women filmmakers here, too. Film journalist and Etheria Festival founder Heidi Honeycutt; producer, writer and director Paula Haifley; actress, writer and director Julie Ufema all lend their experience to the proceedings.
Alongside the thread of filmmaking runs another discussion on why we, as fans and creatives, enjoy horror. As well as hearing from those involved in the genre, there are interviews with academics giving their take on this eternal question. The answer, which should come as a shock to no one, appears to be… escapism. Who knew?
Undoubtedly a labour of love, The Brilliant Terror falls somewhat flat by not really having an endgame in sight for its leading character in Mike Lombardo. We get plenty of footage of him on set, tooling about with props and blood but it never actually feels like more than just watching someone go about their daily business. It might be testament to his unflappable nature; he rarely shows signs of extreme emotion in any direction, creating a portrait of a man who takes everything in his stride. The opening death threat isn’t revisited until the last fifteen minutes and fizzles out with Lombardo telling the camera, “So I reported it to the police and local FBI field office”. Even the completion of The Stall doesn’t amount to much, Lombardo and his editor sitting in a bedroom agreeing, “Yeah, that looks good”.
I want to come away from a documentary having learned something, and I didn’t feel I did here. I’ve got a vague idea how low budget filmmaking works and the “why are we drawn to horror?” discussion has been played out numerous times. That said, it’s hard to criticise the sheer heart and dedication to filming this stuff and condensing seven years into 78 minutes. Destined to be a niche product, The Brilliant Terror will present little new for experienced horror fans and lacks the universal appeal to attract those from outside the genre.
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