[Review] THE BRILLIANT TERROR (Arrow Video FrightFest): Documentary Looks at the Ups and Downs of Grassroots Horror Filmmaking

Basically a movie about grassroots horror for filmmakers and fans of grassroots horror, The Brilliant Terror (2021) is an earnest, big-hearted effort that probably won’t convert many viewers into new fans of the subgenre but that shows the dedication and passion of people who live to make horror movies whenever they can find the time and funds. 

Grassroots horror essentially means applying the punk rock DIY spirit to making no-budget-to-microbudget horror movies, often getting friends and coworkers to pitch in as much as possible, for as little payment as possible. There’s not much hope for profit when making these kinds of movies, as some of the filmmakers interviewed attest — some folks will lose money doing so —  and wide distribution and recognition are also little more than a pipe dream. The goals, as some of the interviewees state, range from working out personal issues to simply having a love of the craft and needing to tell stories.

Codirectors Paul Hunt and Julie Kauffman have fashioned a documentary that wanders a bit but overall gives an entertaining look at some of the personalities working away on their grassroots horror dreams. The main focus is on Mike Lombardo — writer, director, special effects artist, and more — who is shown working on initial shooting and reshoots of his Lovecraftian short film The Stall, which takes place in a restroom stall. Mike’s life is shown behind the camera — including such stress as his mother being hospitalized during a shoot — and behind the counter of the pizza parlor where he works to pay the bills in a small U.S. town.

Yours truly is not a fan of gratuitous gore, so I was admittedly distanced from the documentary at times because of its focus on splatter and gore for sample clips and behind-the-scenes special effects techniques from grassroots horror movies. Gorehounds, therefore, are likely to get more of a kick out of The Brilliant Terror than I did, or at least this aspect of it. For a documentary that delves into the psychology of many of the filmmakers interviewed and of horror movies in general, very little time was spent on discussing psychological horror in grassroots scare-fare.

Highlights of The Brilliant Terror include wise, engaging words from writer/director Jeremiah Kipp (Black Wake [2018]), whose terrific new supernatural feature Slapface (2021) was one of the highlights of this year’s Arrow Video FrightFest, and thought-provoking comments from film journalist and Etheria Film Festival founder Heidi Honeycutt. 

The Brilliant Terror celebrates imagination, spirit, and can-do attitudes among horror creatives. Those who have long considered picking up a camera and making their own scare-fare flick may learn some of the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of doing so through this documentary.

The Brilliant Terror screened as part of London’s Arrow Video FrightFest, which ran an in-cinema lineup from August 26–30 and an online digital lineup from September 1–5, 2021. 

2.8 out of 5 stars (2.8 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.