Boris Arkadin is a horror film maker. His pregnant wife was brutally murdered by a Manson-like gang of hippy psychopaths during the 1960s. He becomes a virtual recluse – until years later he directs his own snuff inspired movies. He invites actors to take part in an audition at his country manor house – blurring the lines of what is real and what is fiction.
Writer and director Bernard Rose (director of the original Candyman) brings a whole lot to the viewer’s table when he hands them Snuff-Movie. It incorporates gothic horror, Manson family murders, social commentary, paranoia, boobs and gore, confusion, the battle of genius versus insanity, Satanism, and what might just be a movie within a movie within a movie within a movie. Rose himself actually goes so far as to say that the movie is more for genre aficionados than a general audience. But he didn’t say that all of us “genre aficionados” would like it, just that it is for us.
We open with a doctor riding a horse and carriage through the smoke and mist toward a large, ominous house. It feels very Sleepy Hollow. As he arrives, he hears a scream and rushes inside. Searching the place, he finds the man of the house who says his wife is dead, then shows the doctor the body of the midwife whom he himself killed. He shows the doctor his wife’s pregnant body and asks him to save the child. A primitive c-section is executed, and the baby is successfully saved. We also see a tear running down the woman’s face, making us realize that she is indeed still alive. The woman is placed in a coffin and put in the cellar, along with many other coffins. The baby keeps crying as we hear a knocking on the coffin, then suddenly the woman appears at the doorway, bloody and angry. We hear a bunch of screams and applause, and the camera pans back to show us…
…A grainy video of obviously 1960’s folks sitting around a room watching this movie, complete with a soundtrack of electric guitar playing what sounds like the intro to “Helter Skelter” until the next chord goes astray so as to avoid copyright infringement. Very sneaky, Mr. Rose. The hippies sit around, doing hippie-type stuff, and one of them, Boris Arkadin (Jeroen Krabbe, an actor who has appeared in everything from the Dolph Lundgren version of The Punisher to The Fugitive to what seems most relevant here, the role of Satan in the tv movie Jesus), the film maker of the horror movie they had been watching, gets called away on movie business. Eventually a group of three girls appear outside and start a path of destruction. They shoot a guy outside, then another guy inside. A girl wearing only underwear is hung. More people are shot. Finally, they take the director’s pregnant wife (Lisa Enos, also the director, Bernard Rose’s, wife at the time), stab her, cut her baby out, and kill her. They write words on the walls in blood, words like “Pig” and so forth, and, well, you get the idea. It is a thinly veiled reference to the Manson family’s murder of Sharon Tate and company.
As the camera pans back again, we see that this footage is actually a documentary (featuring real life that a couple is watching while having sex. And as we pause for a moment while watching the movie, we realize that this is all backstory and, if you’re like me, begin to grow weary of the story, or lack thereof. But it does continue, and eventually we have a group of four young actors meeting up in the same house from the first part (the horror movie) for what they think is an audition. Instead, they notice cameras everywhere, and are given envelopes that contain the character they will be playing (hint: all of them contain nothing but the word “PIG”). It’s like a giant reality show, with all of the over-acting and ridiculousness still intact. And then people start dying…or do they?
This is a movie that seems to have a bunch of wasted potential. Hearing the story idea itself, I got really excited and started wondering which interesting direction they might take it. Unfortunately, they drove it the wrong way. Between the bad acting (one of the four “actors” in the house is a former Playboy model whose character seemed to be written in as a provider of the “T & A” section of the movie, another is played by a guy named Sharif Rosales-Webb, and it’s no wonder this is his only movie to date as he makes the actors in Blutnacht 2 look like they’re doing Shakespeare in the Park as opposed to nonsense in the park) and preachy dialogue of the director character, we can actually hear the potential being actively sucked out of the movie minute by minute. While there is some good gore, it comes across as for show as opposed to essential to the story. Each time an interesting and possibly frightening or suspenseful piece of the story arises, the follow through fails and it ends up disappointing you one more time.
And then there is the end. Often times, when someone says a movie left them asking a lot of questions, this is a good thing. Not in this case. The Slingblade-voiced guy in the hoodie, the nursery and the kid tied to the bed, the theories the director character expounds; there are so many loose ends and jumps and unexplained pieces that whatever the director is trying to do at the end, whatever message or surprise he is trying to convey, just seems to fall flat. And so with it goes the entire movie. Sure, there are some decent scenes, and some decent ideas, but in the end we are left wondering who these “genre aficionados” Rose refers to are, and why do they like bad storytelling?
Snuff Movie (2005)