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Snuff: A Documentary about Killing on Camera

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Posted 5th April 2009 at 07:31 PM by Sam@Cult Labs
Updated 5th April 2009 at 09:39 PM by Sam@Cult Labs

Snuff: A Documentary about Killing on Camera

Urban Myth or Harsh Reality? The debate about Snuff movies has always been so. When Charlie Sheen made a fool of himself over the Japanese Guinea Pig series of hyperreal gore flicks, he was one of a long line of people taken in by explicit acts of staged violence in underground horror movies.

From the mixture of found footage and staged scenes that made up the notorious Faces of Death franchise, the staked lady and animal killings in Cannibal Holocaust to the crudely shot so called real kill that was tacked onto notorious video nasty "Snuff", selling the harsh reality of murder as popular entertainment has always been a quick route to whipping up controversy and raking in the Dollars.

The ugly spectre of genuine death, filmed for twisted pleasure and dirty profit, has always lurked, denied by the authorities and film experts, because the reality that such footage exists, that there is even a market for such a repellent product is too horrible an idea to stomach.

Killing Joke films present a documentary that examines the truths, rumours and urban myths of the Snuff phenomena, interviewing F.B.I. operatives, police officers specializing in serial killers, academics and film historians about the extreme end of horror films, the pornographic nature of war footage and whether our desire to be presented with taboo images of violence could lead some to film the rape, torture and killing of another human being as entertainment, to be traded for money.

Director Paul Von Stoetzel presents an intelligent and thought provoking film, which pull no punches in it's use of clips from such maligned and vilified movies as Flowers of Flesh and Blood, Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer and Cannibal Holocaust, as well as propaganda from Iraq, news reel from the Vietnam conflict and scenes of animal killings from Faces of Death. The net result is a movie that raises questions about our desire to see death on tape.

Of particular interest is the interviews with Mark L Rosen, the producer of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a man who has worked in the adult entertainment industry for many years. A fiercely intelligent and rather intense interviewee, he claims to have seen a genuine Snuff movie in the 70s, years before the likes of Hostel portrayed realistic torture and murder. Back then, special effects hadn't advanced past the stage of poster paint blood (as is evidenced in the clip from the film Snuff, with it's laughable effort to stage a murderous geek show), so his claim rings frighteningly true.

He is at great pains to stress that his business wants nothing to do with the exploitation of children and the selling of killing. He is extremely knowledgeable about some of the low life characters who deal in this kind of filth and in talking openly about the subject, offers a dark glimpse into the shady underworld of $4000 murder tapes and Russian Mafia porn rings.

The film also offers good insights into how war footage can almost be seen as pornography. With websites around the world offering beheadings, crowing marines trash talking as they kill civilians and the heart breaking sight of American G.I.s praying as they desperately try to stay alive while under fire, it asks us whether we seek this material out because our media denies us access to the sheer horror our governments are perpetrating on foreign soil or because it's a way of getting a few sick minded jollies. It's certainly true that the participants in this film who have watched internet clips of such acts aren't happy to have such images lodged in their memories for the rest of their lives.

Snuff: A Documentary about Killing on Camera, is a harsh film and the simple presentation of talking heads and clips works because it doesn't sensationalize subject matter that could all too easily slip into the realms of exploitation. It's a credit to the filmmakers that even when they use police footage recovered from a pair of backwoods murderers who kidnapped, raped and murdered numerous people on camera, it never feels like a cheap attempt at shock tactics. It's a delicate balancing act that the producers have successfully pulled off.

I really rate this movie. It made me question my love of shocking gore and provoked an armchair discussion as the credits rolled. I hope that, should some brave company in the UK decide to pick this fine movie up for distribution, the censors can get round the fact that it contains footage that has been excised from British cuts of certain films, alongside scenes of war that simply wouldn't make it onto the Nine O'clock news. Hopefully, they'll allow it to go out untrimmed. The clips that are used maybe from exploitation movies but this film is no cheap shot, being a finely balanced, well researched look a dangerous and horrifying aspect of both entertainment and human nature.
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