Per tradition in these parts, it's time for another Halloween special! One year ago, I chilled you to the bone with a horrifying tale of Confederate ghosts! Well... not really. But still, I'm sure you're all on the edge of your seats in anticipation, wondering what horrors the Booth has in store for you this year. This time, my pretties, it's a wicked, bloody tale of a homicidal Satanic cult and an actual murder caught on camera!
Well... not really.
This being the time of year when our most disturbing urban legends return to life and start to make the email rounds, I figured Snuff was a logical choice. See, just like the munchkin who hung himself on the set of The Wizard of Oz, or all the people who died as a result of the Poltergeist curse, this movie is responsible for one of pop culture's most enduring urban legends.
No, it's not the one where neighborhood psychopaths plant razor blades in candy apples or lace Twix bars with cyanide before handing them out to kids. But you're close.
The recap continues after this advertisement...
Personally, I'm fascinated by urban legends. You can often find me reading magazines and websites where these myths are debunked, particularly the Skeptical Inquirer and the Urban Legends Reference Pages (better known as Snopes).
When you scratch below the surface, these legends are really our way of expressing our darkest, most unfounded fears. They allow people to give those fears legitimacy by dressing them up as "true stories" that were heard from "a friend of a friend". And where civilizations of yore articulated their fears through fairy tales or campfire ghost stories, we in turn have emails and faxes about snakes in ball pits and hypodermic needles in payphone coin slots.
And so it is with "snuff" films. The public seems convinced that there really is an underground, international black market where films showing actual murders are bought and sold. Never mind that after several investigations by law enforcement, not one single snuff film has ever turned up. To most, the notion that people would pay to see someone murdered is so plausible that it must be true.
And Snuff is the movie that is almost single-handedly responsible for starting the idea.
Snuff was originally released in 1971 as Slaughter, a crudely-dubbed, low-budget exploitation flick filmed in Argentina. The "creative" forces behind the film were Michael and Roberta Findlay, a husband and wife team who churned out nothing but Z-grade sleaze like Touch of Her Flesh, A Thousand Pleasures and Shriek of the Mutilated.
Slaughter was an attempt to cash in on the then-recent murder of Sharon Tate by the followers of Charles Manson. The movie depicts a wacko dude with a similar Messianic complex (and a similarly bad haircut) instructing his young female followers to stalk and kill a pregnant actress.
Slaughter only played in a handful of theaters in South America, and after its brief initial run, it probably would have never been seen again. But as (bad) luck would have it, the film was bought up in 1976 by Allan Shackleton (or, as the video box calls him, "Allan Shackerton"), who intended to distribute it through his Monarch Releasing Corporation.
As the legend goes, one of Shackleton's associates saw something in Slaughter that he mistook for actual, bona fide violence. Lord knows what kind of heavy drugs that guy was on at the time, but regardless, the idea had been planted in Shackleton's head. And from there, he brilliantly proceeded to milk that idea for all it was worth.
Using phony faxes and fake press releases, Shackleton started a rumor about a film from Argentina that purported to show the actual murder of an actress on camera. He then re-titled the film Snuff, gave it the tagline "The film that could only be made in South AmericaWhere life is cheap!" and used the publicity he himself had generated to get it booked into a few theaters.
("Snuff" was a term originally coined in the book The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion by Ed Sanders. In the book, interviewees claimed that Manson's followers had filmed some of their murders, but none of these "snuff films" were ever found to exist.)
Incredibly, Shackleton then staged fake protests, paying people to picket theaters where the film would be shown. Eventually, genuine feminist groups bought the whole thing hook, line and sinker, and they went so far as to join in on the protests against Snuff. With all the free publicity rolling in, Shackleton was poised to make a small fortune.
There was just one problem: The part of the movie allegedly showing an actual murder didn't yet exist.
Shortly before the movie's premiere, Shackleton hired a small film crew to enact a murder scene. After about a day's worth of shooting in a Manhattan loft, Shackleton put together ten minutes of footage supposedly depicting a girl being stabbed, mutilated, and disemboweled by the film crew. He chopped off the original ending of Slaughter and tacked this "murder" on in its place.
This is why your mother told you never to run with scissors! You could end up making a snuff film!
Of course, it's an obvious fake. The gore effects are bargain basement, even by 1976 standards. But with all the attention the movie was getting in the media, none of that really mattered. Snuff opened big in New York, even outgrossing some mainstream releases playing at the time.
I doubt it took long for anybody wanting to see a girl murdered on camera to realize it was all an elaborate put-on. And after sitting through Snuff, they all probably wanted to see the director murdered on camera.
But a short time later, a funny thing happened. Law enforcement officials claimed to have trustworthy sources who knew of an actual snuff film. Unfortunately, part of the rumor was that the movie had been made in Argentina. In retrospect, it's obvious that the film was Snuff, and the "trustworthy sources" were actually the rumors that Shackleton himself had started.
Regardless, the public was sold, and ever since then, there's been an enduring belief in the existence of snuff films.
In 1991, even Charlie Sheen got sucked into the legend when he saw one of the infamous "Guinea Pig" movies from Japan. Believing it to be footage of an actual murder, Sheen tipped off the authorities. And considering how many hookers and drugs that guy's been into, you know a legend's got to be convincing for him to want to contact the authorities of his own free will.
And let's not forget all the fictional movies using snuff films as a plot device, like Hardcore, Last House on Dead End Street or Emanuelle in America. Which is probably why the cover of Snuff proudly boasts, "The film that inspired 8MM!" Okay, not something I'd shout from the rooftops personally, but I guess that's true. But only in the same sense that Space Mutiny has "breathtaking special effects from the team that brought you Star Wars!"
In the years since, Snuff has taken on an air of historical importance, having been discussed in great detail in several books on cinematic violence, as well as in the Skeptical Inquirer and on websites like Snopes. But most of these sources tend to leave out one fact: The movie is awful. Spectacularly, atrociously awful on a level only reached by a few of the most incompetent films ever made. Even without all the historical context, there would still be plenty of reason for Snuff to be featured on this website.
The movie abruptly starts with a shot of a couple of biker chicks on a motorcycle, interspersed with random footage of a big pipe somewhere. Playing behind this entire scene, and actually, behind most of the movie, is a totally bald-faced rip off of Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild". It's basically the opening guitar riff played over and over, ad infinitum, until you feel your ears start to bleed.
The title of the movie appears in a really rough, handwritten type, then changes from white to red. Ooh, scary! Then the word melts into a totally shapeless, formless mass, looking like a big red pile of puke. Sort of sums up this movie, doesn't it?
There's more cutting back and forth between the biker chicks and the big red pipe. We pan down from the pipe to a stoned, motionless girl dressed in white. Meanwhile, the biker chicks continue to get their motor runnin', and we see that they're both wearing big round Paul Schaffer glasses.
Hey, is this one of those Rorschach tests? I see... a shitty movie!
The camera does a meaningless quick zoom-in on the unconscious girl in white, then it's back to the biker chicks cruising. Meanwhile, a blond chick smokes a cigarette somewhere. After more random cuts back and forth, the girl in white eventually comes around. She picks up a piece of paper, unfolds it, and stares at it. What is it, a coupon for Denny's? I mean, where else can you eat when you're this stoned?
Meanwhile, the Biker Chicks continue to cruise. After a billion haphazard shots of the bike cruising down the road, we cut to Blonde Smoker Chick still enjoying her dose of nicotine.
Finally, the music stops and the Biker Chicks hop off the bike. They eventually wander over to Blonde Smoker Chick. Biker Chick #1 says, "Jesus, I need something in this heat! Hasn't Ana got some good stuff?" In response, Blonde Chick hands her cigarette over. That's some good stuff, alright.
In a dubbed, halting monotone, Blonde Smoker Chick explains that Ana disappeared hours ago, but she said she didn't have any "good stuff". Biker Chick #2 yells, "How ya gonna believe a greedy bitch who's always holding out on us?" That's actually a good question. So, the three girls take off to go find Ana.
Cut to Stoned Chick in White (presumably Ana) holding a straw between her teeth, and I swear to God it's a Pixie Stick. To the sound of randomly pounded bongo drums, she pours a small plastic bag of white powder into her palm. She then jams the Pixie Stick up one nostril and begins a-snortin' like crazy.
Meanwhile, the other three women wander through a grassy field, and eventually discover Stoned Ana. Blonde Smoker Chick quietly picks up a revolver that just happens to be nearby. She shoots it off right near Ana's ear, much to the amusement of one of the Biker Chicks. Ana has a dubbed-in cry of "What kind of crap?" Well, I'm not sure what kind, Ana, but this movie's definitely crap.
Biker Chick #1, the one wearing a blue headband, says, "Still holding out on us, huh, Ana?" Yeah! We know you've got all the good dialogue!
Next, she's going to try getting a buzz off Pop Rocks.
Biker Chick #2 continues to be unendingly amused by the whole situation, and just laughs her psycho biker head off. Meanwhile, Blonde Smoker Chick suggests they "make [Ana] pay" for what she's done. As soon as she says this, Blue Headband Chick suddenly has a gun.
Blue Headband shoots at Ana and Ana takes off running. Then in a total continuity error, Blonde Smoker Chick has suddenly teleported about ten yards away to actually be standing in front of Ana. Blondie starts shooting at Ana, and Ana runs off in the opposite direction.
Laughing Biker Chick continues to laugh as Ana runs down a dirt path through some trees. In a very Benny Hill-like moment, she's relentlessly pursued by the other girls.
Ana passes through an abandoned brick building, but when she emerges on the other side, Blue Headband Chick is right there waiting for her. Whoo-hooo, they even have the Vorhees Unreality Engine down in Argentina!
Blue Headband shoots and a packet of stage blood explodes under Ana's blouse. She collapses to the ground and, as you'd expect from somebody with a big gaping gunshot wound above her heart, Ana sort of moans and writhes around in discomfort. Meanwhile, the camera harshly jerks around to keep her in the frame.
We pan down from a useless shot of a smokestack to find Ana lying in the grass. Bizarrely, Laughing Biker Chick comes along with wooden stockades [!], which she ties shut around Ana's ankles. Where are we, Colonial Williamsburg?
Welcome to the crappiest Ren Faire ever.
The other girls come along and stand over Ana for a while. Then a guy with really big hair shows up. Just picture Warren Beatty in Shampoo, and you're almost there. He's wearing nothing but blue denim, which I have to assume is part of the David Koresh line of cult leader apparel from JC Penny.
Koresh-Lite tells Ana, "You have disobeyed me!" Ana breathlessly says, "Yes!" Koresh-Lite tells her, "You will feel the pain!" and Ana again moans, "Yes!" Koresh-Lite says, "And you will not flinch from it!" With a resigned nod, Ana assures him she won't.
I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Koresh calls out to "Susana", who turns out to be Blue Headband Chick. Koresh-Lite tells Susana, "The feet!" The hair! It can only be... Koresh-Lite!
"And now the time has come for you to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid! Do you prefer Tropical Punch or Great Bluedini?"
Susana obediently takes out a hunting knife and begins digging it between Ana's toes [!]. She really scoops that blade around, too, almost like she's on a quest for hidden toe jam. I guess in this cult, the penalty for bogarting the heroin is being forced to endure the extreme cure for athlete's foot.
Ana writhes around, groaning in pain, or in ecstasy. One or the other. I'm sure this is all supposed to be very gruesome, but considering the knife obviously has a blunt edge and the bright red "blood" on her foot doesn't appear to be coming from any kind of wound, all in all the horror is somewhat subdued.
Anyway, this toe-slicing scene goes on well past its expiration date. We get zooming close-ups of The Artist Formerly Known as Koresh stoically looking on. Finally, Ana communicates the pain she's in (or perhaps her disdain for crab grass) by gently ripping up some of the pasture around her. Oh my God! Random violence against foliage!
The bongo drums reach a feverish tempo, until there's a zooming close-up on Koresh-Lite's right eyeball [?] and he speaks in echoing voiceover. "Each one of you must obey my commands, or each one you must die!" Whoa, he can communicate with them telepathically? Nah, couldn't be. That would actually make this movie suck less.
"You do not live for yourself," Koresh says, "But for me! In me, and through me!" Eventually, the torture ends. Well, for Ana, anyway. Not for the audience.