The Film: 1/5
In the 37 years since its notorious theatrical release Snuff has lived and died by a reputation that has built it up into a mythical oddity of modern horror, despite the fact that many who have heard of it and been repulsed by what they believed it to be about have never actually even seen it for themselves. Those who do are often left wondering what the hype was all about. Then again, Snuff did happen to come out in 1976; people were a little easier to rook in those days. New York-based distributor Allan Shackleton had acquired a $30,000 exploitation cheapie called The Slaughter made by Michael and Roberta Findlay - the husband and wife team of schlock merchants responsible for such sordid titles as The Ultimate Degenerate and Shriek of the Mutilated - in Argentina in 1971 for a fraction of its budget, but he knew that what he had purchased was sadly in no shape to be released.
The idea that snuff films could exist had been fired up in the public's imagination years before in the pages of The Family, Ed Sanders' nonfiction tome about Charles Manson and his followers. Shackleton found the marketing hook he needed to make a profit off of the Findlays' movie. He financed a day's filming to create a new scene at the end where the fictional crew of The Slaughter murders the lead actress for real just moments after filming her death scene in the movie. They cut off one of her fingers, saw off a hand (which continues to twitch after being severed, an obvious continuity goof no one thought to reshoot or cut from the final film), and then slice her open and proudly display her innards for the camera. Then the scene fades out as if the camera ran out of film and one of the crew members can be heard muttering, "Did you get it all?" Though the effects were horrendous, the acting cheesy and over-the-top, and the actress supposedly killed in the scene bore little resemblance to the actress in The Slaughter (not to mention the multiple angles and takes that make it look less like a filmed murder and more like a scene from a crappy Z-flick), that scene was enough for Shackleton to re-brand the movie with the title that it would bear for all time. The Slaughter was dead. Long live Snuff.
The Slaughter is set in Chile, where an insane cult of psychopathic women under the sway of their handsome leader Satan (pronounced phonetically, and played by Enrique Larratelli) concoct a mind-melting scheme to have one of the women impregnated with a baby they will later use as a human sacrifice. Their targeted sperm donor Horst Frank (Clao Villanueva) won't play ball - so to speak - because his manly essence is being saved for lover and famed Hollywood actress Terry London (Mirtha Massa), who has arrived in Chile for a new film with her producer and sugar daddy Max Marsh (Aldo Mayo). Satan adjusts his grand design so that Terry will instead bear the cult's sacrifice child. Then the women start killing people in moderately bloody fashion. We get lots of stock footage from a street festival and some needless subplots that never pay off. Then more people die. Annnnnnnnnd....that's it.
Oh, then there's the scene that gave the movie its name and cult status. Snuff was sold to the general public on the basis of a five minute ending that the Findlays had no involvement with making. Shackleton removed the opening and ending credits to make the movie seem more like something illicit and disreputable that was likely sold out of the trunk of a drug mule's Ford Pinto; for this release Blue Underground added a 2013 copyright. He was doing the Findlays a huge favor because the movie they delivered to their distributor is really, truly, honestly awful. Boring too. There are extended stretches of Slaughter were practically nothing happens. Satan indulges in delusional monologues while Terry and Horst enjoy endless romantic interludes. When violence breaks out it's swift and the blood squib effects look as cheap as they likely were to create and execute on film. That tacked-on ending turned out to be the best scene in the entire movie. Shackleton hired Simon Nuchtern (Savage Dawn) to direct the new footage and a skeleton crew to both film the scene and play the crew of the movie-within-the-movie. The effects are awful even for a mid-70's exploitation flick, but when compared to the dollar bin work displayed in what the Findlays got on celluloid they more than suffice. Nuchtern didn't also have to deal with the subpar - and that's putting it very mildly - performances from the no-name regional acting talent hired by the Findlays for the Slaughter shoot, which were only made worse by the hack English dubbing that rarely match the movement of the actors’ lips and sounded like the ADR sessions were conducted inside a drainage pipe.
My hats off to the late Shackleton for mounting one of the most effective advertising campaigns in cinema history. He had a crap movie on his hands and only wanted to recoup his meager investment. The only reason why I didn't rate Snuff a flat-lined zero out of five is because of the ending. It's completely sleazy but at least it succeeds at being just that. The scene isn't meant to terrify anyone by the severely gullible. The entire movie was a mercenary endeavor; it was only successful in the end because of Shackleton's desperate contribution. Snuff paved the way for superior movies like Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project that were far more artistically accomplished and managed to fool larger audiences and leave a greater impact on popular culture at large. They were also infinitely more entertaining. Snuff is deadly dull, and after seeing it once you won't want to subject yourself to the experience ever again. I think Shackleton would be happy with the second half of that quote.
Blue Underground tracked down a complete print of Snuff owned by a private collector and used it as the source for this brand new HD transfer. Presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio the movie sports minor print damage and much grain but otherwise looks pretty good. Color and detail have been cleaned up somewhat and brightened. The fake snuff footage at the end look even better, with hardly a trace of grain or defect to be found. The miserable dub job suffers from an off-balance English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track. Most of the dialogue sounds listenable and the derivative soundtrack is kept at a decent volume, but there’s also a fair amount of distortion in the audio that often distracts from those positive qualities. English subtitles have also been provided.
Blue Underground first released Snuff on DVD back in July 2003 in a bare bones edition with cover art designed to resemble a plain brown wrapper with the title scrawled in black ink on the front. For this special edition re-release the company has produced some new supplemental interviews that mostly revolve around the additional footage funded by Shackleton and the reputation Snuff earned during its controversial theatrical run.
Famed adult filmmaker Carter Stevens discusses the role he played in the movie that become Snuff in "Shooting Snuff" (10 minutes). As he tells it, the five minute murder sequence tacked on at the end of the Findlays' unreleasable product was filmed entirely in his studio, and Stevens shares a few brief stories about the shoot as well as some candid behind-the-stills of the footage being shot and the creation of the crude special effects (which Stevens admits were terrible). He talks about how the actress playing the murder victim in the scene was initially convinced that she was going to be killed for real on camera and how the F.B.I. had approached him in the past to view supposed snuff films to see if they were the real deal or not. I wish this interview had been longer because Stevens is a veritable fountain of great anecdotes; wait until you hear his revelation about a gruesome effect that was cut from the death scene that would have been executed with a sheep's head.
Nicolas Winding Refn, director of Drive and Only God Forgives, is up next for "Up to Snuff" (7 minutes). The most surprising part of this interview is when the acclaimed filmmaker talks about his love for the non-snuff parts of Snuff, particularly the movie that was once The Slaughter. He likens the Findlays' effort to fetish films (the non-sexual kind) and professes his love for the movie's multiple scenes of women riding motorcycles and going on bloody rampages to awful 70's rock music. Refn also offers an optional introduction to the film that runs less than a minute and is merely a little more love from him regarding the first 75 minutes of Snuff. Both his and Stevens' interviews are presented in high-definition.
In the standard-definition "Porn Buster" (5 minutes), retired F.B.I. agent Bill Kelly talks briefly about how his work with the Bureau on obscenity cases including the connection between the popular porno classic Deep Throat and its financial backers in the Mafia led to his abbreviated investigation into the existence of snuff films. Like the Stevens interview it would have been if this feature contained a few extra minutes.
U.S. and German (under the foreign release title American Cannibale) theatrical trailers are included, along with a series of still galleries. The first features promotional artwork and behind-the-scenes photos from the filming of the snuff sequence (the latter provided by Stevens) including foreign lobby cards, newspaper advertisements, and VHS cover art and rental posters. The second is a selection of newspaper articles and reviews related to the theatrical release of Snuff and the ensuing national controversy, which concludes appropriately enough with Allan Shackleton's obituary.
Finally we have a six-page essay entitled "Snuff: The Seventies and Beyond" written by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas that begins by calling Snuff the most important and underrated film of the 70's and continues on to compare it to Carvaggio's painting of the Virgin Mary and Michael Powell's disturbing British horror classic Peeping Tom.
I never expected to be horrified or amazed by Snuff. Based on its sordid reputation, I was at the very least hoping to be entertained. Only in those tackily gruesome final minutes that made this movie an unexpected success story was I finally granted my wish. The rest is a tiresome and lifeless excuse for cheapjack grindhouse cinema. However Blue Underground has done a fine job with the HD remastering and bonus features for Snuff’s Blu-ray debut, so fans of Snuff will find it worthwhile. That’s the best recommendation this flick will ever get out of me.