Ah, Snuff. That enduring urban legend. Since the dawn of film, people have been passing around the horror story that sick motherfuckers in this world film murder for entertainment. Books have been written, documentaries have been filmed and not one shred of evidence has ever surfaced out there in this sick world of ours to support the claims of the morality police that for the right price, you can buy an actual snuff movie. The advent of the internet has done so much to cultivate the mythology of the snuff film, as well. As much as I hate to believe it, people out there in the world want to watch this sort of thing. If this were untrue, my analytics wouldn’t rank me so high for the keyword “snuff film” and I can’t help it that I rank so well for that term. It just happens. The horrible irony of all this is that there’s plenty of death as entertainment out there on the web. A quick search in any given search engine will turn up Iraqi beheadings and Chechen rebels carving the throats out of Russian soldiers. Yet people want to believe that there is some kind of organized syndicate out there; operating in Bulgaria or Mexico City, producing snuff films in the traditional mold. I don’t know what’s worse. That people think there’s some kind of organized snuff film underground or that anyone would watch the execution of Daniel Pearl for fun and good times.
Yes, these are strange times we live in and in spite of overwhelming evidence that conclusively proves that there’s no such thing as an actual snuff film, the legend persists and horror filmmakers are going to latch onto the concept until the eventual heat death of the universe. It simultaneously repels and excites us. So here’s a review of the latest movie to squeeze as much energy out of it as possible.
William Allen Grone, convicted on multiple counts of murder, torture and rape was executed in Arizona in 2001. In his wake he left behind several journals which meticulously recorded his acts and a canister of super-8 film depicting the murder of one of his victims. The Greatest American Snuff Film, based on a true crime book about Grone, recounts a piece of Grone’s journals wherein he and his accomplice, Roy, kidnap and terrorize two girls as Grone prepares to film his magnum opus, The Great American Snuff Film. Wouldn’t you know it? Things don’t exactly go as planned.
Isn’t it just the hottest shit in horror to allege that your film is based on a true story? Well, this one does, too. There’s just one problem. It’s not. Do a search around the interwebs for the crimes of William Allen Grone and all you’re going to turn up are links to reviews of the previous version of this movie, The Great American Snuff Film. This is a tweaked and rereleased version of an older film. This one inserts some footage of prison interviews and one of Grone’s killings on camera. It opens with the claim that what you’re seeing is based on a true story, but whose? Most likely a menu of real life killers, Edmund Kemper, Leonard Lake, Charles Ng, Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole. The Greatest American Snuff Film is the 31 flavors of serial killer movies and it mostly gets the serial killer vibe right. You’re going to be hard pressed to find a release this year as unpleasant as The Greatest American Snuff Film.
Though, occasionally hampered by particularly terrible acting, The Greatest American Snuff Film is a testament to the fine art of low-budget filmmaking. Though, only occasionally explicitly gory, most of the unpleasantness rests in the scenes where Grone and his simpleton psycho partner, Roy, terrorize their captive women. The filmmaking throughout is particularly low-fi, but it’s these scenes that benefit most from the nasty shot on video approach of the movie. Light sources burn extremely hot but most of the torture takes place in very dark settings, isolated from the daylight of the outside world. Occasional inserts of Super 8 film footage intrude on the movie, forcing Grone’s fractured perspective into the overall narrative. Grone swears by Super 8, as indicated in his creepy monotone narrations, but this is one of the few elements of the script that doesn’t jive with the rest of the serial killer profile that is a surprisingly accurate account of common serial killer cases. Difficult to process and without sound, Super 8 is the last likely format that a murderer would choose to record their crimes since they can’t immediately turn around and watch it, reliving all the terror and control. Semantics, I know, but The Greatest American Snuff Film gets everything else so right that this feels like such a glaring error. It’s hardly a deal breaker, though.
Though not in your face gory, The Greatest American Snuff Film more than makes up for splashy thrills with a deeply unsettling plot that is mostly made up of two men torturing a pair of women. The original cut of the movie has none of the prison interviews and lacks the Grone’s personal footage, a scene where he terrorizes his victim before shooting her and this new version would have been better off without them. Though, I suppose it wouldn’t require a new DVD release, these scenes add nothing to the movie and the execution at the end has an effect similar to the ending of the cult trash piece, Snuff, where the insert snuff scene is so fake and terrible that it robs the rest of the movie of its power.
The Greatest American Snuff Film serves a very specific market and isn’t for everyone. Fans of low-fi gory violence will be let down if they come to the plate expecting August Underground or Subconscious Cruelty, but refined fans that find terror in tonality, finding this movie will be a joyous occasion where it doesn’t preoccupy itself with the fragility of the flesh but puts you front and center in a grimy, mean reenactment of a faux torture and murder.