A cult leader named Satan runs amok during the summer of love, bullying his motorbike-riding hippy followers into murdering and torturing anyone who gets in their way. Then the director calls “cut” and the crew, to relax, murders one of the actresses. Or do they? No. But can we ever be sure of that? Yes, we can. No actresses were harmed in the making of this movie. Or were they? For the last time, NO.
Thanks in no small part to the proliferation of Internet culture, Nicolas Cage (with his 08mm) and Charlie Sheen (who saw a Guinea Pig Movie and thought it was the real deal) everyone knows what a snuff movie is. Most people realise that they’re an Internet urban legend, like a reasonable troll or local girl in your area who actually wants to sleep with you. But in 1976, people weren’t so sure. That’s why the likes of Cannibal Holocaust’s Ruggero Deodato and the creators of Snuff found themselves in court, having to explain that their “snuff” movies were little more than red goo and special effects.
Snuff, to be fair, brought much of the controversy on itself. Marketing the film and its infamous ending as real, they couldn’t have been too surprised when people started to believe the hype. Watching Snuff now, it’s hard to see how anyone could be fooled for a second. But then, I’ve seen Face Off (the Syfy series, not the incredibly awesome John Travolta/Nicolas Cage movie, which I have also seen) and have a HD television – audiences of the 1970s weren’t quite so lucky or enlightened. For them, and 1980s’ Charlie Sheen, they had little reason not to believe the hype. Apart from common sense, maybe.
To be fair, the scenes of gore in Snuff are pretty gruesome, by 1970s standards. Even today, while not remotely believable, they do have the power to turn more sensitive viewers’ stomachs. The film opens with our cult chasing one of their own number through a field and warehouse, back out into the field again. They lock her feet into a portable wooden set of stocks that one of them happens to be carrying around, then proceed to torture her feet with a knife. She seems to be enjoying it, a little, which is odd, but not out of character for an old video nasty like this.
The gang continues in much the same manner for the rest of the movie, pausing to torture and murder anyone they might feel like torturing and murdering. It’s like a more serious version of I Drink Your Blood, minus that film’s charm or ksitch. The main event occurs during the last ten minutes, during which the so-called “snuff” segment happens. Here the director decides to murder his actress while the rest of the crew look on. Some of them even join in. A finger and then a whole hand is chopped off, and eventually the poor woman’s guts are pulled from her stomach as she lies, twitching on the bed. It may have looked more impressive on fuzzy old VHS or Betamax, but it’s hard to see how anyone was taken in by this. Like most video nasties, it’s incredibly disappointing by modern standards.
Snuff started life as a grubby little exploitation film called Slaughter, without the stupid ending. After a limited release and subsequently being left on the shelf for four years, it was renamed ‘Snuff’ and a (stupid) ending was tacked on to confuse people. It did the trick – while the main story is hardly sweetness and light, the rumours surrounding it have propelled it to another level. That level of infamy rarely feels deserved.
Were it not for that ending and the furore surrounding it, Snuff would surely have been forgotten a long time ago. Beyond the infamy, it’s a stultifyingly average film. Stuff that in your snuff pipe and smoke it.
snuff pipe and smoke it.