Among all nudie cutie/ horror movie/ hyperbole urban legend, nothing is as infamous (nor thankfully as completely commercially nonexistent) as the snuff film. The rumored existence of film depicting the death of an innocent person (usually a woman) and the footage being sold in underground circles has been one of Hollywood’s darkest myths since the advent of moving pictures. In 1976, famed sexploitation director Michael Nuctern decided to give the world what it had never needed, an “actual” film based on the “heavily suggested” premise that at least one of the grisly murders depicted onscreen was somehow real and captured by the camera. This film is SNUFF of course and never in recent memory have I reviewed a film that was so undeserving of its acclaim of the film going public of the day as well as the ire of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies who also took its claims as something more than the same BLAIR WITCH “Lost Tape” gimmickry we would see again and again in decades to come. Let us investigate this tale of simulated, sensationalized murder that has being gimmicked to the point of being gauche and see for ourselves if it is up to snuff?
First it must be stated that 99% of the actual running time of SNUFF is actually that of a whole different film, THE SLAUGHTER, directed by sexploitation pioneer Michael Findlay. Regardless of this pedigree it is altogether difficult to imagine a worse film than this. The original film is basically a fictionalized retelling of the Tate/ LaBianca murders as committed by the Manson family, a depiction that is ten kinds of exploitative. The leader of the murder/sex cult is named Satan (pronounced Suh-tawn) a man who looks a little like Jim Morrison only without any sort of charisma whatsoever. Together with his murderous, hippie misfits all girl gang they amuse themselves with robbery, petty crime and scenes of senseless ritualized abuse. But Satan has a plan, he wants to find a pregnant woman and murder her child in the womb as an act of allegiance to his dark lord and master. Oddly enough the women in his gang are more than okay with this, it seems they are down with anything (and I do mean anything). The “family” soon targets a director named Max Marsh and his pretty wife named Terri London (which most viewers will immediately identify as fictitious versions of Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate). Once Terri gets pregnant from her young boyfriend, you can almost imagine the unthinkable finale of this thing…but this is where it becomes SNUFF and it quickly becomes unlike anything else that had been seen onscreen on or before 1976.
A sense of responsibility forbids me from telling you exactly what the difference between SNUFF and SLAUGHTER is because this film really has nothing else going for it. After all, THE SLAUGHTER was such a terrible film in every possible way that it was shelved and never saw anything but a limited release. Normally, simply tacking on an ending to a forgotten throwaway film would have never worked, but this film masterfully short circuits its expected unthinkable “infanticide” ending moments before it gives you an even worse finale featuring special effects, gore and politically incorrectness that once seen will never be forgotten. SNUFF, while an absolute piece of dreck, does something that all horror great films must achieve in order to be remembered forever, and that is it takes a fears of an entire culture (In this case of snuff films) and makes it into a safe, shared experience. Granted, some thirty years later the final grotesque finale will never hold its own visually with the realistic premeditated butchery of a HOSTEL film, yet as an act of marketing genius, this film is worth studying closely even and especially if you can barely can stand to watch it. To this day there are those who SWEAR that the conclusion of SNUFF just had to be real (it isn’t). Yet the fact that people still think it might be genuine gives this film an underground cult authenticity that almost compensates for its complete lack of technical quality and a lack of all possible dramatic enjoyment. To put it simply, this is worth having even and especially to see how hype or “street heat” can be masterfully used to elevate an admittedly poor product to the status of urban legend. Any lover of controversial films must have this just for the sake of itself, even and especially if he doesn’t enjoy it whatsoever for the usual reasons. Besides, after seeing how badly all the recent PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies are destroying the subgenre of the “found footage” movie, it is refreshing to see something from the days when certain scare cinema seemed more concerned with smashing the fourth wall than breaking the box office. SNUFF achieves this, even if it ultimately does little else as an entertainment product with any semblance of replay value.
Special features include an interview with filmmaker Carter Stevens, an interview with filmmaker Nicolas Winding and an interview with retired FBI Agent Bill Kelly who had some very interesting things to say about his extensive investigation of actual snuff movies. It also includes German and U.S. trailers for the film, a collection of newspaper clippings which explain just how reviled this film was, and a short essay entitled “SNUFF, THE SEVENTIES AND BEYOND” written by Alexandria Heller-Nicholas. And perhaps most cool of all the first run edition comes in a glossy bright red plastic box that forever stands out on your Blu-ray shelf like a pint of blood on a bottled water display. If only it would have included an uncut version of “THE SLAUGHTER” with the original ending, it would have been a perfect presentation of this material. As it stands this was among the most comprehensive single-disk presentations for any title I have received for review in all of 2013 (if not the only title I personally received all year that I would have bought anyway).