There is one word that accurately describes “”Snuff,” a film from the notorious Michael and Roberta Findlay: crap. It’s not a good film. It’s not even a bad film that’s fun to watch. It’s painful to sit through, and the payoff isn’t worth it. Only a fool would rate it as a competent movie, and my guess would be that he accidentally saw another movie.
“”Snuff” was originally called “”Slaughter,” a film that played off the fear of the Manson family and its notorious deeds. It was made, like other movies of that era, to cash in on that spectacle, but it was shelved for four years by Allan Shackleton of Monarch Releasing. According to an interview with Roberta Findlay, Shackleton was reading the paper and saw that the FBI was claiming that snuff films (films where people are actually killed on camera — the most basic definition of the term) were coming into the US. Shackleton decided to call the film “”Snuff” and exploit the hell out of it. He didn’t stop with a title change, though.
Originally filmed in Argentina, the movie’s tagline read that it could only be made in South America, where “”life is cheap!” Then he had about five minutes tacked onto the end of the film, which was supposed to make it look like the filmmakers involved in “”Slaughter” actually killed an actress and caught it on film. The media then received reports that a snuff film from South America had been intercepted by the ever diligent New York police. Guess what film popped up at the same time? That’s right. “”Snuff.” The rumors of the confiscated snuff film? Courtesy of Shackleton. The public’s reaction to all this? Outrage. Shock. Total belief. A legend, which probably would’ve died until the Internet became popular, now had legs, and it’s been with us ever since.
If you watch “”Snuff,” the authenticity of the “”offending” footage is never really in question. It just doesn’t play right and should really fool no one … except the very easily fooled, some women’s groups and every other mob that has had a beef with exploitation films. Like “”The Blair Witch Project,” it’s another example of people believing what they want to believe. Even when some protest groups (and it should be noted that some of these groups were fakes set up by Shackleton) learned the film wasn’t real they continued to protest, but changed their tactics and stated that the film made the murder of women into entertainment. (Surely not the first film that could have been saddled with that accusation.)
The film’s authenticity had nothing to do with reality. The reality of it was that people believed “”Snuff” was actually a snuff film, though common sense and the authorities actually said otherwise. (In the late “˜80s or early “˜90s I was reading a magazine article on violence in the media. I have since lost my source material on it, but the author of the piece described the plot of a film that could have only been “”Snuff.” He was shocked that it played in movie theatres even though it featured the “”real” murder of a famous South American actress. He leaves readers to be outraged at the fact that the director of the film was never caught. It’s another example of how the rumor refuses to die.) Because of some shrewd disinformation, protests, and a lucky tap into the cultural zeitgeist vein, “”Snuff” struck a nerve … only now the idea seems even more believable.
“”Snuff” doesn’t work as anything other than a sociological experiment, and that experiment went very well. It showed, once again, how gullible people can be, and how fascinated American culture is with death and the taboo. While “”Slaughter,” had it been released, would have been a simple footnote (if that) in exploitation history (and watching the portion of “”Snuff” that was “”Slaughter” makes you realize what a strange film it was, as a lot of it seems dream-like and makes little sense, which probably added to the feeling that “”Snuff” was real), those extra minutes that turned it into “”Snuff” are a powerful and lasting statement on society today through nothing more than dumb luck and good timing. Because of that, “”Snuff” secures its role in horror/exploitation history, but only because of that. It’s no classic in any sense of the word, but it is a film that will be remembered despite the fact that only a fool could believe it.