12 Apr

…where life is cheap. Snuff: A Documentary About Killing On Camera.

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday April 12, 2009 | Reviews

snuff documentaryAh, snuff. One of those ultimate urban legends. You’ve heard the tales. A decadent rich gentleman who has tasted every perversion known to man is said to have commissioned a film wherein a real murder takes place in order to sample an extreme taboo. Or maybe you’ve heard the one where a murder is sexualized in order to combine sexuality with death to be sold to porn addicted psychopaths who have graduated to the highest level of perversion. Because the legend is so deeply ingrained in our culture, people automatically assume that the legend of the snuff film is very real. We, as an entire race at this point, believe that everything is for sale and that every man has his price so if you were to be told that there are people out there producing films where actual death is presented as entertainment, would you be at all surprised?

Would you be surprised if I told you that since the dawn of the film medium there hasn’t been a single seizure of actual snuff films? There haven’t been any arrests made. Anywhere. Not one person in this world has ever been conclusively proven to have shot, participated in or distributed a snuff film. You must understand before you start pointing out the wave of real death Mondos in circulation since the 70’s that feature people dying that the snuff legend has a very explicit definition. Snuff films are movies that are made where a real murder takes place and is then sold for no other purpose than profit. This is the very reason that I thought that this documentary, Snuff, an examination of the legend was a humongous load of bullshit.

Snuff: A Documentary About Killing On Camera henceforth to be known simply as Snuff (not to be confused with that Findlays piece of shit aka Slaughter), is an examination from a high level of the legend from its beginnings in popular culture, its relationship to American horror films, its relationship to the video tapes made by serial killers, its realtionship to war videos that have surfaced since Vietnam and is then broken up by dubious, long-winded anecdotes by producer Mark L. Rosen. Experts on the subject that are interviewed are a couple of professors of sociology and culture, a former San Francisco homicide detective, a couple of filmmakers you’ve never heard of and a bunch of “cinephiles” whose qualifications include working in a video store. The documentary concludes early on that there has not ever been a single investigation, of which there have been many ongoing investigations both in local jurisdictions and in federal cases, which has turned up any conclusive evidence of snuff films by definition. It also examines the Faces of Death fad, allegations of real death captured in notoriously violent horror movies such as Cannibal Holocaust and winds things up with a couple of Iraqi beheadings and scenes of American soldiers both gleefully killing and coming under fire. Rosen wraps the entire circus up with a Videodromish story of meeting some Phillipino gentlemen in the 70’s who offered him a rough porno that ended with a near-decapitation of the woman in the video with the intentions of it being distributed in the United States on the porno circuit.

Creation Books has a book called Killing for Culture that is the last word on the legend. Aside from being an exhaustive tome of the mania of the Mondo phenomenon, it goes to great lengths to exclude the possibility that people manufacture murder for entertainment in carefully controlled environments by the definition of the snuff film. It establishes this fact early on and supports its claim. But beyond intellectual discourse on how snuff films can’t exist, the most basic element that makes their existence so difficult is that certainly by this point in our history as a species, someone, somewhere would have turned up something. But they haven’t. No one has. Heinous crimes are committed every day and no matter how many of them occurr and how carefully the perpetrators are when committing them, there is always evidence of them having happened. When you apply this formula to snuff films, nothing has ever materialized on the subject. Snuff establishes this as well. Very early on the people on camera all seem to agree that there is no such thing as a snuff movie. Yet they let Mark Rosen talk any way.

It’s all fun and games early on as we hear about the beginnings of the legend which has roots in the Michael and Roberta Findlay piece of shit, Slaughter from 1970, unreleased until 1976 when sleazoid producer Alan Shackleton scooped it up, renamed it to Snuff and stitched a new ending wherein a woman is restrained by the film crew, is dismembered and then disemboweled before they run out of film. The scene is presented here in its entirety and in the event that you have never seen this movie or this scene, you’re missing nothing. It is as unconvincing as they come. But it didn’t matter. The hype went out to the masses that this grindhouse piece of garbage contained a real murder at the end and that is all film goers and anti-porn advocates had to hear about. Before you knew it, entire feminist organizations were assembled to tackle this snuff film phenomenon. Real money was spent on a phantom. It was insane! But hey! Entire communities were put in prison in the 80’s for being child abusing satanic cults, too, and there was never any evidence to prove that satanic panic was real, either. It then uses Faces of Death as a means of illustrating how the legend was perpetuated.

The document takes a sharp turn following this segment, though, realizing that it has nothing but sensationalism left and showcases some particularly grotesque horror movies and equates the carnage of 70’s horror with talk of Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, the killer team who raped, tortured and murdered women in their northern California survivalist compound and video taped everything. Serial killer behavior, for some reason is explored here, though it barely has anything to do with anything, aside from the morbid fact that some killers captured their crime on tape for their own enjoyment later on and then it takes another left turn into war footage and how real death video is used to fuel both sides of the conflict. For those faint of heart, the Eugene Armstrong beheading, probably the second most publicized beheading on the internet (next to journalist Daniel Pearl) is presented here in its entirety, so be warned. I have not and even after viewing this movie, still have not seen this clip as I refuse to watch the Iraq beheadings. Seriously. Fuck that shit.

The final bullet point, about war footage as snuff is an interesting angle, but the problem is that the documentary still abandons its conceit that snuff movies are real and there is really nothing snuff about the war footage.

The most despicable parts, however, are the Mark Rosen interludes where he alleges that no matter what you’ve been told, snuff is real and he has proof in the form of strictly anecdotal evidence. I’m sure that one of you reading this right now is thinking that my claim that no evidence of snuff has ever surfaced is poorly informed and that a joint police effort on the part of UK and Italian agencies broke up a pedophile ring led by Dmitri Vladimirovich Kuznetsov which seized hundreds, potentially thousands of vile, violent videos of child abuse that were sold to the scum of the earth in Europe, and that the Guardian UK alleged that among them were videos depicting the rape and murder of children, yet no concrete evidence has ever surface about this and in this world of rampant yellow journalism, a claim like that would be on every news agency everywhere around the world because it’s a ratings monster.

But it wasn’t. As a matter of fact, anti-child pornography advocates refer to it as a media blackout but no one can prove that that happened either. There is also the element that the Russians in charge of this were Russian Jews and just about every report about this case suffers from pervasive anti-semitism. Most likely, it was just a big bust of pedophiles and nothing more. Two of the three men arrested are walking free these days. The convictions, even with videotaped evidence, couldn’t have been bad enough to put them away for longer.

So rant over. Snuff films do not exist and as fascinating as the mythology may be, this writer advises you to pass on Snuff: A Documentary About Killing On Camera and, urging you, insead, to read Killing for Culture, a much better examination of the legend. This “documentary” is just sensationalist bullshit.


  1. April 13, 2009 2:25 am


    Sounds like a rehash of Faces of Death, with the movie being an excuse to show the Iraq beheadings.

  2. April 13, 2009 8:19 am

    Bryan White

    That’s pretty much the impression I was left with. They get it out of the way early that snuff is just urban legend and then move on to showing you extremely violent footage from Iraq and archive video of Lake and Ng terrorizing their victims. This movie sells itself as a documentary, but so does Africa Addio and Face of Death. It’s really just a poorly developed modern Mondo.

  3. April 14, 2009 1:31 am

    Michael Allen

    I saw one of the beheadings online somewhere and I really wish I had not. When you say, “I have not and even after viewing this movie, still have not seen this clip as I refuse to watch the Iraq beheadings. Seriously. Fuck that shit,” I think that you are missing zero. Probably one of the lowest points in humanity to end the life of another like an animal. Those clips still haunt me.

  4. July 31, 2014 2:43 am


    The sad thing is the Mexican drug cartels video everything they do. From the chopping up of people including women and children to their tape and torture before hand. Bestiality, mutilation and other vile, evil sick acts are all recorded for intimidation and sale. A few hola be been sold to crime families or criminal organizations the world over.

    All the authorities know about it but cannot or will not tackle the drug barons in Mexico.

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