Wednesday, October 8, 2008

We are the Sprocket Holes vol. 40

Snuff: a Documentary about Killing on Camera review

snuff film
n. Slang
A movie in a purported genre of explicit pornography culminating in the actual violent death of a participant in a sex act.

from Killing Joke Films' website;


“Snuff: a documentary about killing on camera” is a feature film examining the existence of films in which people are murdered on camera and the culture surrounding them. Head Through interviews with former FBI Profilers, Cultural Academics, and Film Historians the documentary delves into the disturbing history and myth of Snuff Films. Tape The FBI claims there is no evidence to prove the existence of Snuff and, therefore, Snuff Films are a myth. WalkThis documentary analyzes the relationships between war, cult films, serial killers and pornography to prove whether or not this pervasive myth is, in fact, reality.

Cronenberg explored the idea in the 80s with his pitch perfect mind bender Videodrome, mixing the Snuff myth with body horror and nightmare logic. Joel Shumacher self-consciously exploited the myth with his silly Nic Cage vehicle 8mm. and there's always going to be ankle biters in studded dog colors and cheap hair dye who swear up and down that the Flower of Flesh and Blood and August Underground are the genuine article.

I can't remember when exactly i first heard about the myth of Snuff Films. as children of the 80s, when hardcore porn, splatter films and Faces of Death became a crucial rite of passage, Snuff just seems like the next logical step in what Wes Craven referred to as "boot-camp for the psyche". The proverbial real deal when it comes to grueling cinematic carnage. that all being said, The idea of Snuff Films has always intrigued the bleakest, most prurient aspects of my personality. So many stories circulate about people who claim to have seen a snuff film, purchased one at a horror or porn convention, and so forth. more often then not, your friends have either been had, or they're just bullshit artists. Truth is, even if you know a little about them, it's an easy tall-tale to authorize;

the footage was grainy... the camera practically rocking on the tripod. a young girl is wearing white panties and no shirt , bound at the wrists and ankles with duct tape. she has a plastic bag over her head, extension cord sealing the bag around her neck. a bulky gentlemen enters the frame, wearing a black hood. He stands over the girl. he is holding a large hunting knife. He begins to cut the girl, slicing her all over her body. Japanese call it "Leng T'Che"... death by a thousand cuts. Soon the girl's body is little more than a collection of gashes. Another hooded man enters the frame, holding a blowtorch. He stands over her head and begins to run the tiny blue flame over her wounds. The girl's flesh is now a palette of dark purples and deep browns. The guy with the blow torch lifts her up by her head, and pulls the plastic bag tighter. The girl at this point is in total shock. The camera is taken off the tripod and is now hand-held, and we go in closer, getting a look at the girl's face, opaque behind the plastic. tape stops.

....but i digress.

anyway, Killing Joke Film's Snuff: a Documentary about Killing on Camera is an entertaining, but disappointingly exploitive, less than informed examination of not exactly snuff, but the notion of death on film. cultural touchstones are looked at; Cannibal Holocaust, Faces of Death, the 1976 film Snuff, and perhaps the most revolting, the Al-Quada beheadings, but no new insight or information can be found in the talking heads; mostly a sub-impressive collective of would-be film makers and anonymous "cinephiles", some who look ill-at-ease in front of a camera, and others who just come off as twitchy and obnoxious.

no-name #1: "Snuff doesn't exist"
no-name #2: "yeah it does so!"

for 75 minutes. not exactly compelling stuff.

The most questionable material is found in the chapters dealing with longtime producer Mark L. Rosen (noted in the documentary as a producer of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though it's not listed on his IMDB page), where he tells first of a Russian Child Pornography ring that feels a little too 8mm to be real, and the next is his harrowing retelling of meeting with a Investor who wanted Rosen's film company to buy and distribute what turned out to be a real snuff film. Rosen gives a grand performance that at first viewing might convince even the most jaded cynic to be inclined to believe what he saw... but upon further examination something just doesn't sound right to me. Allegedly, Rosen saw this film 30 some odd years ago. He didn't mention it to anyone until a snuff documentary.... that he produced. some thing's missing.... but maybe it's just me. you be the judge...

There is some interesting stuff here; the Ng and Lake tapes were the most telling and graphic scenes in the film, but much of everything else feels as phony as what most people claim to be snuff tapes. In the end it's an exercise in vacuous sensationalism that is ultimately empty and without a real purpose. Documentaries are supposed to be intuitive as well as informative, and this is really neither. It plays more like the Last Broadcast than any documentary i've ever seen.

all in all, Snuff: a Documentary about Killing on Camera is entertaining on the first watch, but it's tedious and a bit of a chore to get through a second time around. if you're interested in this topic, look up Dark Side of Porn: Does Snuff Exist? for a well informed, fascinating look at what Snuff only grazes.


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