In the United Kingdom, Snuff was added to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) list of 72 video nasties. Snuff was one of 39 films successfully prosecuted.
Snuff (1976) (80 min)
Directed by Michael Findlay, Roberta Findlay, Horacio Fredriksson and Simon Nuchtern.
aka Slaughter, American Cannibale
Written by Michael Findlay and Roberta Findlay.
Starring Margarita Amuchástegui, Tina Austin and Ana Carro.
One cannot discuss 1976’s most controversial theatrical release without first discussing the mythology of the ‘snuff’ film itself. You see, a snuff film is a filmed sequence that depicts the actual murder of another human being for distribution and financial exploitation.
The term itself is believed to have been coined by Ed Sanders for his 1971 book, The Family: The Story of Charles Manson’s Dune Buggy Attack Battalion. In this book, Ed alleged that the Manson family was involved in making such a film. According to poet and film critic Geoffrey O’Brien:
“…whether or not commercially distributed ‘snuff’ movies actually exist, the possibility of such movies is implicit in the stock B-movie motif of the mad artist killing his models, as in A Bucket of Blood (1959), Color Me Blood Red (1965), or Decoy for Terror (1967).”
Then came along Snuff: “The film that could only be made in South America…where life is cheap!” The history behind Snuff however, is far more interesting than the film itself. Written and directed by the husband-and-wife exploitation team of Michael and Roberta Findlay, Slaughter (as it was then originally titled) would receive a very limited theatrical release in 1971 before being shelved by indie distributor Allan Shackleton of Monarch Releasing Corporation. The same year Ed Sander’s book was released.
The ‘snuff’ film is an urban legend, with no evidence to suggest otherwise. But by 1975 rumours had began to circulate in local media. Shackleton himself had read in a newspaper article that snuff films were being produced in South America and distributed throughout North America, and it just so happened that Allan Shackleton was in possession of a South American low-budget exploitation film…
Slaughter was heavily inspired by the Manson family murders, following a similarly themed satanic cult whom would kill without question under the instruction of their leader, Satan.
“Each one of you must obey my command, or each one of you must die!”
The film also contained all the hallmarks of a Michael and Roberta Findley production; sex and violence tied together with a shoe-string budget. Unfortunately Slaughter was unlike their previous work (The Touch of Her Flesh, The Curse of Her Flesh and The Kiss of Her Flesh) in that, in Roberta’s own words, it “made no sense”. Entertaining nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless.
Allan Shackleton now had a plan to recoup his investment on Slaughter; to film a new ending that would make the movie marketable, and thus profitable. Without Michael and Roberta Findley’s knowledge, Shackleton assembled a small film crew (including Savage Dawn director Simon Nuchtern), rented the studio of pornographer Carter Stevens and filmed approximately five minutes of new footage to be edited into the previously shelved film reels of Slaughter. If you don’t want to know how Snuff ends I suggest you stop reading now.
Just as Slaughter appears to reach it’s climax, the director calls ‘cut’ on the tasteless Sharon Tate inspired murder scene. Production is wrapped up for the evening, leaving only a skeleton crew behind. As the set clears, the director admits to his production assistant that the last scene turned him on. She shares the same feelings. For the audience it makes the last 80 minutes of the film seem inconsequential, but then again would we still be discussing Snuff today if not for what was about to happen next?
Convincing his production assistant to stay behind by ensuring her that the few remaining crew members were leaving shortly, the two begin to fumble around on one of the beds brought in for the Slaughter set. Unbeknownst to this beautiful young woman is that the cameras are still rolling…
“What are you doing? Are you filming this?”
As soon as the production assistant realises she is being filmed she attempts to push the director back. Another crew member runs over to help retrain her. Ignoring her screams, the director produces a knife and proceeds to eviscerate his production assistant on camera; holding her guts in his hands as the film flickers before finally cutting to black. But before the audio cuts out, the cameraman assures the director that everything was caught on film.
No credits followed. Audiences were left to believe that what they had witnessed was a a real ‘snuff’ sequence. For those of you that have seen Snuff, it seems ridiculous to believe that a real murder sequence was filmed and given theatrical distribution; especially considering the sub-par special make-up effects. But upon the film’s 1976 release, rumours began to spread like wildfire that Snuff was the real deal. This was all due to the marketing ingenuity of Allan Shackleton.
Shackleton hired fake protestors to picket movie theaters showing Snuff, in an effort to generate publicity for the film. This practice soon became moot however when various groups (such as the Women Against Pornography) began staging their own protests; outraged by the depiction of sexual violence. These protests received coverage from various media outlets, prompting an investigation by the New York District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, who was quick to dismiss Snuff as “nothing more than conventional trick photography—as is evident to anyone who sees the movie.” Variety also exposed Snuff as a hoax, but the rumours persisted…
Snuff never received a theatrical release in the United Kingdom, but in 1982 Astra Video presented the title as a forthcoming home video release. Snuff was released on VHS later that same year without any reference to a distributor, leading to the debate that Astra Video had cancelled the release and the circulated tapes were instead bootlegs. Regardless, Snuff found itself at the center of controversy once again when the tape was featured on the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) list of ‘video nasties’; effectively banning the title from further distribution. Existing tapes were seized by police and Snuff remains unreleased in the United Kingdom to this day.
All of this ensured Snuff received far more attention that it rightly deserved. From what we can deduce from the remaining footage, Slaughter is nothing more than a forgettable time-waster, with just enough sex and violence to make the non-existent plot and audio dubbing vaguely passable. As Snuff however, the film becomes something else entirely, oozing sleaze from the screen. The difference that a few additional minutes of new footage made to the film elevated Snuff to cult status. Yet, Snuff’s history – the controversy it generated – is far more fascinating.
“Are the killings in this film real? You be the judge!”