My brother has always had a dream of being a great filmmaker.
For as long as I can remember it’s been his obsession. He got a video camera for his eighth birthday and would literally film everything with it, even the most mundane things. He would have us do ‘interviews’ for the camera, make little movies for himself. I thought it was cute at first, I really did. I would always help him with whatever little ‘project’ he was doing this time.
As time went on though something started to change. I can’t really say what made him the way he was but he became increasingly arrogant, increasingly difficult. Our parents definitely spoiled him. Spent a small fortune making sure he got the education he needed to pursue his dream of becoming a director, paid for any of the expensive equipment he needed for making and editing his own little movies, helped pay the salaries of any crew or actors he hired for the little short films he produced.
Maybe it was that which made him become so arrogant and mean spirited. But increasingly he became that worst kind of cliché…the ‘artist’ obsessed with their ‘vision’ and treating everyone in their lives like crap, the self-centered, petulant child in an adult's body. I’d like to say that I called him out on any of this but the sad fact is that I went right along with him on it.
It started in his teens. Verbal abuse and the occasional slap any time that I didn’t do something right or quickly enough for his liking. I should have stood up to him, told him to get lost. But I found myself totally under his thumb, unable to say no or simply get him out of my life. To be honest, looking back, I can see just how unhealthy the whole thing was.
Now before you go getting the wrong idea there was never anything incestuous here. My brother was just a bully, a little tyrant who enjoyed bossing people around and I basically became his personal servant. He would belittle me and everything I thought, said or tried to do. Any time I tried to build myself up, he’d tear me down and make me feel like I couldn’t accomplish anything on my own, couldn’t even survive out there without him.
I should have known better I suppose but it had started from when we were so young that honestly a part of me came to genuinely believe the things he said. A part of me was too scared of trying to make it out there in the big wide world by myself that I put up with my brother's constant bullying and taunting and increasingly shrill, angry demands because I was scared of being alone, being cut off from the only family I had left.
Our parents had passed away by this point and we had no contact with the rest of the family. Without my brother I’d be all by myself…his overbearing presence in my life had prevented me from making any real friends and the thought of trying to build a life for myself BY myself was one that just terrified me.
So I did as I was told.
He would say ‘Joan, get me coffee’ and I’d drive all the way across town to the one Starbucks he liked to get him coffee. He’d say he needed extras and I’d devote weeks of my life to arranging and carrying out interviews. He’d demand some expensive piece of equipment and I’d spend however much it cost to get it.
That was my life now. My brothers P.A/maid.
The subject of my brother's short films and mini-documentaries had become increasingly dark and surreal over the years. He would create short, strange and frightening little pieces designed only to unsettle and scare. Or sometimes just ones that were so bizarre, so utterly devoid of plot, logic or reason that it was impossible to tell what, if anything, he was trying to achieve or convey with them.
His documentaries were much the same. He would either film about gang crime, serial killers and rapes or else create disjointed scenes. He once filmed a dog, starving and injured on the street for several hours. Just filming it struggling to move, to breathe. Just filmed the thing's pain. Some nights when I went down to get a glass of water I would see him sat there in the lounge, in the dark, watching these movies he made. Just staring at the screen.
And then one day he told me about what his newest film was to be about.
It turned out that he’d begun to hear stories of an urban legend in the film industry. It wasn’t something that was widely talked about or acknowledged and the people who DID talk about it always seemed to do so with a certain nervousness and paranoia, as if afraid that even mentioning it was dangerous.
It was called Better Films.
Supposedly it was a studio or individual who made incredibly strange movies. None of those we talked to who would admit to having watched a Better Films production would go into any detail about what was on the tapes (And the films were ONLY available on VHS from what we could uncover) but all of them seemed to be incredibly disturbed by what they had seen.
One had gone so far as to remove anything from their home that could play video or audio.
A guy who ran a small DVD and video store told us that he’d met with some representatives of Better Films just once, a pair of men dressed in red suits. He’d described them as looking like they’d been ‘Mutilated’ and claimed that one had been missing an eye and an ear while another was minus a hand and his nose. The scarring around these wounds looked ugly and raw.
They’d given him a business card which had nothing on it except for the logo (A cartoonish, childlike drawing of a frowning face) and the tagline ‘Making Better Films for a Better Audience’ along with a website address where they claimed he could purchase their titles for his store if he wished to help ‘Support independent art’.
He’d checked it out, expecting some kind of artsy foreign stuff in black and white. He had instead found a site full of strange and confusing clips that left him scratching his head and that provided no clear way to order ANYTHING. He said the whole web page appeared to be in Japanese.
And yet a week later a black bin bag was on the front step of his shop and inside were several tapes, all with the Better Films logo on their labels. We asked him if he still had the tapes and my brother in particular was very insistent that we get to watch them. The man refused and my brother offered him increasingly large sums of money to buy or borrow one of the tapes. Finally, the man just held up a finger to my brother's lips, before speaking.
“Now you listen to me and listen good, boy. I’ve seen your type. I know the look you got in your eye right now. I get a lot of weirdos in here, browsing the adult section, asking if I’ve got anything ‘Stronger’.
"I know what you’re after. I know what you’re thinking. So I’m gonna tell you this and then you’re gonna leave my store.
"What’s on those tapes ain’t no illegal little thrill for some gore hound trying to find himself a real life snuff movie.
"What’s on those tapes isn’t anything like what you’re imagining.
"What’s on those tapes is WORSE.
"And I ain’t selling or renting them to no one…especially not some half-wit little pervert with more money than sense.”
My brother stormed out in a rage with me following close behind. As I left the store owner called out to me. I turned to see him looking at me, with an expression of genuine concern on his face now.
“You want my advice, you stay away from him, Miss. Things he’s looking into, you don’t want nothing to do with.”
I suppose I should have taken his advice. But by this point I doubt there was anything that could convince me to abandon my brother, so great was the hold he had over me. And so I continued to assist him as he dug deeper and deeper into the mystery of Better Films.
We managed to piece a few things together. The earliest encounter anyone seemed to have had with their work seemed to be in the mid-sixties. One person we spoke to claimed that he’d known someone who’d been in a movie for them in the mid-seventies, a porn star who’d been hired right off the set of a film he’d been doing and had gone missing for almost seven months. He’d come back with a lot of cash and a hell of a lot of bad dreams.
Another said that the company went back even further, that there’d been something called Better Productions back before there’d even been silent films. Said her mother had told her stories that she’d heard from her grandmother who’d heard them from her grandmother. Some spooky bogeyman stuff about some performer named Elizabeth Walker.
We even found someone who claimed to have grown up watching a TV show Better Films had made. Sunshine Street, she said it had been called and she went on and on about how strange it had been and how she’d always remembered that logo…it was the first thing that had come to mind when she’d heard the name. She said it always used to creep her out, the way the frown would curve into a smile at the end of each episode. The animation looked eerie, that was how she described it.
And then my brother came home one day with a woman. A woman who he claimed was a producer who worked at Better Films.
I was dumbfounded. For all the work we had put into this I hadn’t expected us to get anywhere. To be honest I was pretty much convinced the whole thing was just some ghost story, that if there ever had been a ‘Better Films’ there was nothing more to it than some low budget production company that had made a few creepy little flicks and then folded up. All the weirdness around it, all the little hints and dark suggestions we’d gotten about there being something more sinister about the whole thing, I’d put that down to just people making stuff up.
Or at the very least, people having heard various stories about Better Films from unreliable sources and then passing them along.
But here was someone who claimed to work for the company, in the flesh.
She introduced herself as Ms Kismet. Her hair was a bright red, almost certainly dyed. I can’t believe that any hair could be naturally as bright as hers looked. She dressed in a red suit and like the men our ‘friend’ at the video store had described, she looked as though someone had gone out of their way to mutilate her body.
One eye was missing, as was an ear and her nose. Three fingers were missing from her right hand as well. I tried hard not to stare but all of these looked like they had been done so crudely, so violently that it made me wince.
She and my brother spoke at length for some time. I was not allowed to listen in or take part in whatever they were talking about but after a while they stepped out of the lounge and my brother asked to speak with me alone for a moment.
He told me that he had convinced the woman to let him actually come to the filming of one of Better Films movies and to meet with the director responsible for their work. To actually interview people who worked at the highest levels of this production company and get the real story about what it was they did.
However to secure this he’d had to offer the woman a form of ‘Payment’ he said. And that payment was her getting to spend a night with me, where I would do anything she wished.
I could have slapped him.
I wanted to hit him. Instead I just yelled, told him that this was too much. That I wasn’t going to have him selling me like his personal property, like a slave. He shrugged, seeming not to care about my anger, my hurt.
“It’s not that big of a deal. You like women, right? You’ll probably enjoy it. And she’s promised that you won’t be hurt in any way.”
His tone was cold, emotionless. It was clear that he couldn’t care less whether I’d be hurt or not, couldn’t care less what this person he knew nothing about and had only just met wanted to do with me. That he didn’t give a damn about my wellbeing or my safety, that I was just another tool for him to use to make his damn movies.
“Oh well that makes it perfectly okay then! And while you were selling me off to this total stranger did it occur to you to ask what I thought about it? To ask for my consent, my opinion on whether or not I want to have to spend a night with some woman who for all we know makes a hobby out of making snuff movies?”
He stared at me for a few moments, his expression totally unreadable. And then, slowly, he spoke.
“If you don’t like it then of course I can’t force you to do it. You can say no. You can refuse.
"Just like I can refuse to let you continue to live here with me. Just like I can refuse to support you financially anymore.
"But don’t worry. I’m sure there are plenty of job opportunities for ugly, witless, talentless little things who barely made it through high school with no real skills or likable qualities.
"I’m sure the local burger joint is just desperate for someone to mop their floors and clean out their grease traps.
"And who knows? Maybe after a year or two you’ll be able to afford a place that barely has any roaches or rodents scurrying about in it. It’s not like anyone will be able to stand you long enough to come visit so really it won’t matter what it looks like.
"You’ll be the only one living out your sad, lonely life in it.”
I felt like I would cry. I wanted to tell him he was wrong, to go to hell. I wanted to storm out and never see or talk to him again. But part of me kept telling me that he was right, that I was everything he said I was. A loser, an idiot without any skills or good qualities about me. A stupid, pathetic child who wouldn’t survive without him.
I felt like garbage, like dirt. I felt the way he had always made me feel, for as long as I could remember now. And meekly I just mumbled that I would do it, that I would agree to spending a night with Ms Kismet.
We met at a motel, a sleazy looking place on the edge of town. She had sorted out a room for the night and told me to come alone, with one of my brother's cameras. I was terrified, more and more as I walked to the room she had told me to come to, terrified of what she might do to me, of what could happen. If she killed me my brother would probably help her hide the body.
I knocked and I heard her familiar voice tell me to enter. The room was pitch black as I stepped in, almost impossible to see. I could make out Ms Kismet, sat in a chair beside the bed. There was a knife on the table beside her. I have never felt more scared, more utterly frightened for my life than I did in that moment.
“Sit on the bed. And start filming,” she said. My legs shaking, I somehow managed to make myself walk over to it and do as she asked, sitting down and swinging the camera up to film her. I began to ask what she wanted me to do, what she wanted me to film. She just told me to keep the camera rolling and not stop until she instructed me to. Nothing else.
She whistled loudly and from the bathroom a dog came limping out. It looked like it hadn’t been fed in days, thin and unhealthy looking. As I watched, Ms Kismet picked up the knife from the table…and began to slice lines into her hand.
My jaw dropped. As I watched, as I filmed, she cut deeply into her own flesh, blood beginning to pour from the wound. She lowered her hand to within reach of the starving animal and allowed the dog to lap at the blood now trickling from the fresh cut. After a while she would withdraw her hand and repeat the process, cutting into her hand and then her arm, slicing deep wounds into her skin and letting the dog drink her blood.
I felt ill. Worse was the look on her face as she did it, that rictus grin that never changed, never left her. She kept that horrible forced smile on her face no matter how much or how deeply she cut herself, looking like something out of a nightmare. Sat there in the dark, smiling that awful smile.
Finally she put the knife down and reached into the drawer of the table it had lain upon. She withdrew a pair of scissors and, as I watched, placed the little finger of her right hand in-between them. Slowly, she closed the blades around that digit.
Do you know what it sounds like, the crunch of bone as a finger is severed by a pair of scissors? I do now. I could feel the vomit rising in my throat as she slowly cut off that finger, the grin still fixed to her face as she cut through flesh and bone. It fell to the floor, the dog pouncing on it. And finally she told me I could stop filming.
I was shaking, feeling ill, feeling worse than I had expected to feel. I didn’t know what this was or why she had asked me to do this and I didn’t want to know.
And then suddenly her arm shot out, grabbing me by the leg, her faces inches from mine. The grin was gone now, replaced by a look of pure terror, of the worst kind of fear I had ever seen on another person's face. Her eye darted side to side, her body shook. I could feel the blood from her fresh injuries soaking into my clothes.
The words were desperate, spoken as if it actually caused her pain to say them, coming out as a broken and pathetic whimper.
“For the love of god…please…she’s going to kill us all. Don’t you understand? She’s going to kill us all.
And then she stopped, her words cutting off. A little squeak of pain came from her as if someone had grabbed her by the throat.
And I realised we weren’t alone in that room.
Stood in the dark, in one corner of the room was another woman. She was dressed in a tuxedo, with a featureless white latex mask over her face. There were no eye holes in the mask and yet somehow, as she stood there motionless in the dark, I felt that she was looking at us. That she could see us, could see me. That she was studying me intently, watching me very closely indeed.
I felt more afraid than ever before. That motionless woman in the white mask, stood silently in the blackness made my heart pound, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I had to get out of this room. I stood up, turned and ran. I ran out of the room, down the stairs, out into the parking lot. I didn’t even bother to get into my car, I just ran out into the street and away from that motel.
Away from Ms Kismet.
Away from the woman in the white mask.
It was the next day that Ms Kismet showed up at my brother's home. She was all smiles once again and thanked me for my time. My brother had asked no questions about what had happened, most likely because he couldn’t care less. And he was happy to hear that Ms Kismet would now arrange for him a meeting with their director, at the set of the current production they were working on right now.
Kismet made it quite clear that this invitation was for my brother only, which suited him just fine. He told me to stay at the house and work on editing the footage we’d put together so far and said he’d be back as soon as possible with the interviews with the director and actors involved in Better Films newest movie. He was beaming, clearly happy that he’d gotten his way. That now he would get to finish his movie with actual footage of what Better Films did.
As much as I hated him, in a way I wanted to tell him not to go. In a way I was actually scared for him, worried about what might happen. He was a bastard but he was my brother. But I kept my mouth shut and let him go off with Ms Kismet, waiting for his return.
And I waited.
After it had been several hours I started to worry.
When he hadn’t returned at the days end I called the police. They told me that I had to wait a few days to file a missing persons report and told me not to worry, that most of the time people showed up long before that time had passed.
My brother didn’t. And so I went to the cops and I told them about him and about what he’d been working on and about Ms Kismet. I described her to them and told them about Better Films which they reacted to sceptically…I can’t say I blame them. I told them about the woman in the white mask and they looked at me like I was crazy or making it up.
Again, I really can’t hold that against them. The whole thing was so bizarre and unsettling that I don’t know that I would have believed it if someone told me about it. They told me they would look into it and said they would be in touch with any developments in the case, anything they managed to turn up. They told me not to worry about my brother, that they were certain he would turn up.
The longer I waited without news, the less I worried though. The less I cared about him at all. Finally free of his bullying, his endless taunts and insults I found myself becoming more confident, more assured. I began to go out. I began to talk to people, to actually start to make friends. I even met a girl at a little bar not far from my brother’s house who I began to see as more than friends.
I started sorting out job interviews. I started feeling good about myself, looking in the mirror and not feeling like crap for once. I felt happy, actually happy for the first time in a very long time indeed. I felt like I had worth and value and that I could make it on my own.
A package came a few months ago. It had no stamp, no address and nothing written on it. Just a brown package, left on the doorstep of my brother’s place. I opened it up to find a video cassette inside, with a label on it that simply read ‘We make documentaries too’
I was worried now. Nervous and yet curious at the same time, not wanting to know what was on the tape and needing to know at the same time. I walked over to the television and slid the tape into the old VCR my brother still owned that I had never bothered to throw out since he had gone missing. It began to play.
It was footage of us. Footage of us going around to talk to people about Better Films. Footage of us going into the video store where we’d met the man who claimed to have seen some of Better Films movies, footage of us going to the homes of those people we’d interviewed about this, footage of us walking down the street going to and from places.
On several occasions it zoomed in on my brother, whoever was behind the camera seeming to be focused on him. I stared at it, a chill running through me. How long had they been filming us for? How long had they been following us, watching our every move? How long had they known about us before Ms Kismet had met with my brother?
The tape went to static for a few moments and I thought it was over. I was wrong. Red light spilled out of the screen as the picture returned, bringing with it an agonised chorus of screams and howls of agony. On the screen was my brother.
He was suspended by what looked like metal hooks, rusty metal hooks, his body hanging from them in a veritable maze of razor wire. The wire wound around his body, cutting into his flesh, seeming to move like metal snakes. Whoever was manipulating the wire was off screen but the effects were very clear. He was missing a hand, a leg and his ears, his mouth open wide.
Screams were all around. The source of them was not visible but I could hear what sounded like dozens of voices all screaming with him, all howling and shrieking in pain. His eyes were wide and terrified, his body jerking and twitching as he screamed the same words over and over again, the same two words.
I stood there, staring at the scene for a moment. My brother trapped somewhere, in what appeared to be a private hell on earth. Having god knows what else done to him by these people for reasons I would probably never know. I walked over to the set. I turned off the tape. I unplugged the VCR and the TV.
And, knowing that I would never mention this tape to anyone I knew, I whispered a few words to myself.
“No I won’t, brother.”
I burned the tape.
To this day my brother has never been found.