On the occasion of the Emmys’ passing, let’s take a step outside the spotlight. I want to lead you to the fringes for a moment.
You need to meet an artist who has yet to hold a gold statue aloft on a high-profile red carpet, but who is brilliant enough to be seen in the shadows all the same.
You need to meet Mae Catt.
I met Mae’s work at the annual film festival honoring the work of women in independent horror film, the Viscera Film Festival. The event was geared to give a moment of exposure to a wide population of filmmakers. And, as all horror film can be, the entries were hit and miss.
Nobody in the audience escaped being hit by Mae Catt’s short film, 12/15/1996.
The starkness of the title – just a date, devoid of any other commentary – won me over. The film that followed delivered a narrative that tied me up and tossed me in the trunk of its sordid little universe.
It wasn’t just good for a student film. It was good film.
Here, have a taste.
It left me eager for more. First, I needed a name to go with the piece. That came when the ballots were tallied and Mae Catt was awarded Best Director at Viscera, 2011.
The name led to a lean body of work: Short films and support roles. A companion piece to 12/15/1996 – 7/28/1989 – was listed. It also stood out that Catt was an assistant editor on Hatchet II.
Hatchet II might not spin too many heads among the mainstream crime fan base, but it was a rallying field for many in the independent horror scene out in Los Angeles. The brainchild of “Adam Fuckin’ Green,” Hatchet – and especially its follow-up – gathered together many artists who branched off into other projects of the noir and hardboiled sub-genres.
Point being, a lot of talent bloomed when Hatchet II was planted: The hilarious Colton Dunn, the prolific AJ Bowen – who serves as a link between fringe horror and more established auteur directors like Ti West – and Danielle Harris, a dynamo who is writing, directing and acting her way into indy stardom. Hatchet II rocked the cradle of modern grindhouse in a major way, and we’ll be seeing a lot of vicious crime film grow out of it.
Mae Catt might or might not be numbered among the ranks of that productive subset of low-budget, high-quality crime-horror. But her work certainly earns her both those bona fides: She makes a little fistful of cash into cinematic gold.
Now she’s popped back onto our radar with her most ambitious project yet. And, like plenty of edgy artists who turn to their market for a direct source of income, she’s doing so by seeking a direct link with her supporter’s pocketbooks.
Mae’s on Kickstarter with a project, Sam’s Story, that declares it will take the serial killer story to the next level.
I’m not sure what level that is. Try to mine it out of this synopsis:
This installment follows Sam on his journey of self discovery from the battlefields of Vietnam back home to another kind of battlefield – normal life. Since his horrifying experiences as a combat surgeon and losing friends and lovers to the ravages of war, he has been struggling to come to terms with who he really is and what he’s become. In addition to the stigma of his homosexuality, he has been trying to hide the new-found urge to kill everyone around him – even his best friend Audrey. Audrey tries to get Sam the help he needs as he rapidly reaches his breaking point.
I know this about that “next level” – I’m positive it’ll be a lift in terms of sophistication, clever dialogue and deft reveals. I don’t know what I expect from the plot, but I know it won’t be pieced together with cheap sound scares and smash-cuts on leering sickos.
Now, I’m sure that there are plenty of you out there in the crime fiction crowd that don’t find fault with a leering sicko. I’d like to think, though, that you’d want something more – some glimpse into the gray matter behind the twisted grin. For serial killer art – or any crime art – to be of value, it has to challenge and to educate, not just entertain.
Mae’s work has, over its short stretch, convinced me that she can challenge our notions of what constitutes monsters and men. It reveals the human behind the ghoulish, and the cannibalistic instinct that exists on a tight leash in the human heart. I watch her film and I wonder how close those around me, like Sam, are rapidly reaching their breaking point.
It calls to mind The Minus Man, a sleeper serial killer film by Hampton Fancher. Blade Runner is what Fancher is best known for, if he’s known at all beneath the shadow of that movie’s far-more-famous director, Ridley Scott. Not a lot of films followed with Fancher’s screenwriting credit on it. The Minus Man certainly deserves just as many accolades as any of them.
Why I’m keen to call it out is because, like Mae’s work, it doesn’t shy away from focusing the story squarely on the psychopath, but it doesn’t paint with a broad brush, either. Owen Wilson, of all people, does a dynamite job at playing a quiet, unassuming and deeply disturbed individual that fits in anonymously in our world, while living in an interior world all of his own. He is at once sick as they come and seemingly normal.
I expect much the same fine touch from Mae Catt. I hope she gets the capital to deliver it.
In a world of Michael Bay blockbusters and explosion-ridden Alex Cross stories, we need to be reminded that the most terrifying killers are the ones that don’t make a sound – the monsters that are men just like us.