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Release Date(s)1976 (October 22, 2013)
Studio(s)Monarch Releasing (Blue Underground)
One of the best lines in movie history comes from John Ford’s great 1962 western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” That line frequently seems to be treated like a commandment in the movie industry. Undoubtedly one of the most notorious (and profitable) examples of printing the legend is the 1976 proto-torture-porn opus Snuff.
The story behind Snuff is infinitely more interesting than the movie itself. In the early 70s, grindhouse filmmakers Michael and Roberta Findlay schlepped down Argentina way to make a Manson-family inspired thriller named Slaughter. Even by the Findlays’ low standards, the finished product was unreleasable. The movie languished until it was picked up for American release by producer Allan Shackleton. Shackleton knew the movie was crap, so he shot an additional scene that effectively turned Slaughter into a film within a film, cutting away from the original footage to the soundstage where it’s allegedly being shot, whereupon a female crewmember is tortured and killed on screen.
Taking advantage of the then-hot urban legend of snuff films, Shackleton retitled his stitched-together movie Snuff and orchestrated a brilliant marketing campaign. While he never explicitly said that anyone was actually killed, he didn’t say that anyone wasn’t killed either. The movie became a lightning rod for controversy and the rest was exploitation film history.
I probably don’t have to tell you that Snuff is a terrible, terrible movie but it is. The Findlays’ footage, with cult leader Satan (pronounced “Suh-tan” with an emphasis on the second syllable) targeting alleged movie star Terry London alternates between laughable and painfully dull. The dialogue, all dubbed by actors who sound like they learned the English language phonetically, reaches its pinnacle of absurdity in a charged political debate about the moral complexities of German arms dealers selling weapons to the Arabs. Whenever the issues of the day aren’t being discussed or knives aren’t being plunged into people, we’re treated to endless shots of girls on motorcycles and stock footage of Carnival. It is less than riveting.
As for that infamous final scene, it’s no more realistic than anything that precedes it. And yet it is kind of effective, partly because it comes out of nowhere and partly because these actors are a bit more committed to their work than anybody else in the movie. The scene wouldn’t fool anybody over the age of 10 but it feels sleazy and dangerous, which I guess means it did its job. I’m just not sure if its job is anything to be proud about.
Snuff may not be the last movie I ever expected to see get a Blu-ray release but it would have made my top ten. And yet, here it is thanks to Blue Underground. The transfer is surprisingly good if understandably inconsistent thanks to all the different film stocks. At its best, it’s very detailed with deep, solid color. The audio isn’t all that great but you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. The audio was never all that great to begin with.
The extras are the real draw here, starting with an introduction and a seven-minute discussion of the movie by Drive filmmaker and Snuff aficionado Nicolas Winding Refn. At first, I thought maybe he’d lost a bet but he seems to have a genuine appreciation for the film, going so far as to compare it to Godard in his intro. The fact that he may actually have a point says more about Godard’s movies than Snuff, in my opinion. There’s also an extremely interesting 10-minute interview with adult filmmaker Carter Stevens, who owned the studio used for the final scene. A five-minute interview with retired FBI Agent Bill Kelly sheds some light on the actual investigation into the myth of snuff films. Author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas contributes a thoughtful essay entitled Snuff: The Seventies & Beyond. Finally, the disc includes both US and German trailers, a poster and still gallery, and a gallery of newspaper clippings about the controversy surrounding the film.
Fans of the glory days of grindhouse cinema kind of need to see Snuff at least once. It’s horrible but significant, so you should probably check it out and judge for yourself. The Blu-ray is worth picking up, both for the extras and for the looks you’ll get when your friends and family see a copy of Snuff on your shelf.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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