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“The Brilliant Terror” is a brilliant, heartfelt documentary celebrating the genre and the art of truly independent, DIY horror filmmaking.

“We are damaged people playing for damaged people.” – Stephen Romano, Screenwriter

The Brilliant Terror (2022) is a documentary directed by Paul Hunt and Julie Kauffman that tells the story of grassroots horror filmmakers and the challenges they face in trying to bring their terrifying and sometimes humorous visions to life with next to no budget, a lot of caffeine, and a collective dream.

Starting off with some great behind-the-scenes makeup-centric footage, we see what sorts of grueling situations the actors in these productions and those who make the magic of blood, gore, monsters, and all things scary come to life must go through for just a few precious minutes of the finished product.

To see later that the same kid who is doing the special makeup effects for some of the opening scenes works at a pizza place to pay the bills (and discusses some of the trials and tribulations of his personal life) just goes to show how much of a labor of love grassroots horror filmmaking is.

To hear him talk about how much he appreciates a dearly departed relative who took him to his first horror convention is heartwarming and humanizing in a way we don’t often get to see when it comes to those behind the camera.

If the only thing that came out of watching The Brilliant Terror for me was that I now have a nice, long list of low-budget horror movies to check out, it would have been worth it.

But I’m happy to report that I also came away with a new level of respect for bargain basement filmmaking.

My personal favorite scene features journalist Heidi Honeycutt waxing honest about most low-budget filmmakers being fanboys who know nothing about writing or filmmaking and who just get a bunch of their buddies together and hire a couple of aging scream queens and call it art – which is absolutely true; just look at the current scene.

Calling bullshit, she wrote her own screenplay and got it made into a movie (Wretched)…and it doesn’t suck.

Her advice? Get a cinematographer. Maybe have people read over the script a few times before shooting.

I would agree.

My personal advice as a wannabe journalist would be to care about the craft of filmmaking at least as much as you would like your audience to care about your film; that would include us critics – most of us are not “haters” just because we’re willing to call it as we see it.

Writer/actor Amanda Rebholtz made a point very eloquently about the fact that she never gets judged by the horror community the way she does ‘in real life’. I have noticed this about horror fans as well – we tend to reserve judgment of others, probably because we’ve been judged by others our whole lives for our misunderstood obsession with the macabre.

Another enjoyable aspect of The Brilliant Terror was the inclusion of experts to discuss the psychology of horror.

Psychologists and professional authors add a level of legitimacy to the proceedings that a bunch of (for lack of a better term) fanboys and fangirls might otherwise not have been able to simply by rambling about their common obsessions.

If you want a cool look into the real lives of some hard-working indie filmmakers (as well as a gorgeous behind-the-scenes look at a handgun suicide and other badass sequences), you could do way worse than The Brilliant Terror.

And with a running time of just 78 minutes, it’s a quick and enjoyable watch. It’s also worth it to sit through the credits and note the various filmmakers highlighted in the doc and what they’re up to now.

Pro tip: Text yourself a list of each of the movies talked about in this fine documentary and check those out, too. They include:

  • The Stall
  • I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday
  • Till Death
  • Serial School
  • Gitchy
  • Long Pig
  • Caveat
  • I Clean Up Your Grave
  • Night of the Loup Garou
  • Fast Zombies Suck
  • Chew Toy
  • Amy
  • Tales of Poe: The Tell Tale Heart

Congratulations to Mr. Hunt, Ms. Kaufman, and the entire production crew on a brilliant documentary.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

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