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Case Number 26448: Small Claims Court

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Snuff (1976) (Blu-ray)

Blue Underground // 1976 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // October 22nd, 2013

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker doesn't understand how a film called Snuff could leave out Barney Google and Spark Plug.

The Charge

The film that could only be made in South America—where life is cheap!

The Case

And, apparently, so is film stock.

You like that tag line? Kind of edgy, right? Kind of makes you think that some kind of daring escapade was filmed in which, I don't know, unnamed and non-professional stunt people got blown up and the filmmakers kept it in the print, something like that.

How about this:

"The actors and actresses who dedicated their lives to making this film were never seen or heard from again!"

Mind you, any self-respecting person who appeared in this film might have considered entering witness protection afterward…but this does sort of hint at something darker.

Were the '70s—the "Me" decade, as Tom Wolfe dubbed it—also the Gullibility decade?

It was, after all, the decade that gave us the "Love Rollercoaster" urban legend—yes, apparently some people actually believed that when they popped on the radio and heard the Ohio Players' disco-ee hit, if they listened closely, they could also hear the screams of a woman being murdered in a room off the recording studio.

And, of course, it was the decade of the snuff film, another urban legend, this one just a bit more unseemly than the notion of a woman being stabbed within earshot of the Ohio Players. Snuff films were porn films that ended with the actress being killed and dismembered, though not necessarily in that order. It all made sense in those heady days after the release of Deep Throat and Boys in the Sand helped mainstream skin flicks; if everything else was on the table, then why not murder? Was it much of a stretch to imagine Frank Sinatra or Andy Warhol sitting in a smoky room watching this sort of degradation?

Apparently not; even though there's no evidence that such an animal ever existed, people bought into the idea of murderous, black-market, underground, real-time slasher erotica.

Helping fuel the snuff movie insanity was a film that, not so quietly, made its way into theaters in early 1976. The film was called…Snuff. It was shot in Argentina, a place known for its lawlessness and its embrace of fugitive Nazis…in short, a place where life is cheap.

And according to rumor, the film climaxed with the actual murder of an actual human being.

What's not to like?

This all caused great buzz, helped inordinately by protesters who turned out for the film's opening in New York, as well as official banning in a few places. Needless to say, the film did rip-roaring business.

Unfortunately, for all the lipstick applied to this pig, it turned out to be merely a badly made, low-rent slasher with a "real killing" scene that looked like it was created for a high school A/V project.

Snuff was nothing more than a repackaging of a film called The Slaughter that had been made in Argentina by the vaguely notorious Michael and Roberta Findlay, who'd made cheesy sexploitation films like The Touch of Her Flesh, The Curse of Her Flesh, and of course, The Kiss of Her Flesh. Made for virtually no money and featuring a cast of unknown South Americans, The Slaughter—not to be confused with the Jim Brown Blaxploitation classic—was made not to cash in on the snuff craze, still a few years away, but to cash in on the Satanic cult craze, made marketable by the Manson Family atrocities.

The Slaughter clumsily told the story of a bunch of druggie biker chicks under the thrall of a cadaverous looking guy called Satán—note the accent acute; his name is pronounced say-TAHN. Satán and his ladies sex around, and occasionally he tortures them, including a gross bit of business involving toes and a dagger.

Also in Argentina is an American actress named Terry, who's involved with a sleazy producer named Max but is humping a wealthy young German named Horst (Nazi alert? Nah…). For some reason, Satán wants Terry to become pregnant so he can send his ladies to slaughter her fetus. Which he does. There's a whole slaughter scene at Horst's compound that involves a lot of stabbing and slashing, and Horst himself is tied to a tree, flogged, and castrated. More mayhem ensues when the evil Satánistas find pregnant Terry in bed with Horst's father (huh???), and after abusing them for a while the film suddenly cuts to…

Well, something. Something that's supposed to be dangerous and reprehensible, but is just moronic. Something that, given the resultant "controversy," might make you question whatever faith you have that mankind is intellectually superior to, say, krill.

Well, at least one "smarter than krill" specimen emerged from this rancid pile of gloop, and that's exploitation producer Allan Shackleton. Shackleton bought The Slaughter for $5,000 from the Findlays and stuck it on a shelf for a couple of years. Then, when the talk of snuff films from South America reached his ears, Shackleton had a brainstorm: he filmed a new ending for The Slaughter, one that purports to take place on the film's set and shows a woman actually being murdered. I guess the whole meta-business of pulling back the cameras to reveal a production was relatively new, and in itself shocking—although decades later, it was still somehow a big deal when they did it on The Hills. Plus, how cool is it to actually claim to have seen a snuff film, even if the gore effects in Snuff wouldn't fool a toddler at a Halloween parade.

But ridiculous as it all way, it was also taken seriously—seriously enough that it actually spurred investigations by law enforcement. In fact, New York District Attorney Robert Morganthau made public statements confirming that his investigation determined that the "real killing" was actually faked, and that his office had tracked down the "dead" actress (who proved herself to not be dead at all by consenting to an interview with the DA's office).

Since Snuff the movie is really just a piece of crap, the Blu-ray from Blue Underground wisely focuses on Snuff the phenomenon—or, if you prefer, Snuff the hoax. Bonus material is plentiful and infinitely more entertaining than the main feature. It includes an interview with exploitation filmmaker Carter Stevens, who pretty much lays out the story behind the film; an introduction to the film and an interview with filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Only God Forgives), who actually offers something of a defense of the film The Slaughter; an interview with a retired FBI agent who essentially disabuses us of the notion that commercially viable snuff films actually existed; an on-screen essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study; a "Controversy Gallery," which consists of reprints of New York Times articles about the film (generally reviling it, but also calling it out as a hoax); and promotional materials. Since the film itself is garbage, it really needs context to be appreciated on any level, and context is what this release is about.

Is Snuff one of the worst movies ever made? Maybe, but I don't think so. Take away the last few minutes, and it's just another nano-budget, Manson-inspired, crazy-murderous-cult movie from the early '70s. Add on the big finish, and it's still a nano-budge, Manson-inspired, crazy-murderous-cult movie from the early '70s, only with a twist ending. It's dull, it's sleazy, it's horribly produced, and it's more stupefying than laugh-inducing.

But, somehow, thanks to the power of rumor and suggestion, it was briefly a big thing, one of the biggest things in '70s exploitation.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't: Snuff was vilified for supposedly showing an actual murder, and then vilified for not showing an actual murder. The irony is that you can still find people who not only believe snuff films were rampant in the '70s, but that this is an example of one.

Incidentally, while Blue Underground lists this as Not Rated, when Snuff played in theaters, it proudly flew an X rating—according to the ads, it was "Rated X for VIOLENCE."

The Verdict

Guilty film, superior disc.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 50

Perp Profile

Studio: Blue Underground
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
• English
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Blu-ray
• Cult
• Exploitation
• Foreign
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Introduction
• Interviews
• Promo Material
• Controversy Gallery
• Trailers
• Essay


• IMDb

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