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Friday, October 17, 2014

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2014-Day 17: SNUFF (1976)

Ah, SNUFF, a film whose very existence helped divest me of my innocence at an early age. A legendary topic of conversation on the nation's playgrounds during recess when it came out, this flick introduced kids of my generation to the concept of "snuff films," movies allegedly made by nameless, faceless ne'er-do-wells that graphically depicted the on-screen actual torture and murder of innocent people who'd been kidnapped off the street specifically for that purpose. The very idea really fucked with the young minds of myself and my peers who heard of and discussed this unverified phenomenon, so we were beside ourselves with simultaneous horror and morbid curiosity when SNUFF hit the screen and made the bold claim that it dared to show footage of a woman actually being murdered by the movie's crew. How the hell could something like that be allowed to be shown anywhere, let alone on the nation's movie screens, and how in hell could its makers and the company that released it not face the stiffest of penalties and not be immediately thrown in jail for the rest of their natural lives? That question haunted us kids in the mid-1970's, especially those of us who witnessed it brazenly advertised on the marquees of NYC's infamous Times Square during its heyday as the Mecca for exploitation films with a tag line that proclaimed "The film that could only be made in South America...Where life is cheap!" How could a budding sleaze-monkey like myself not be strongly intrigued by such a come-on, no matter how low and vile the resulting frisson might turn out to be?

Opening with a "Born to be Wild" knockoff instrumental blaring on the soundtrack, in South America a Manson-like figure commands his group of female followers to kill and torture a number of victims while the bored audience attempts to stay awake. A film that wastes zero time in getting right down to its shabby business, SNUFF gives its audience  the hunting and torture of a woman approximately six minutes into the film, after which the violence and gore is intermittently doled out amidst incredibly boring plot material that no one in their right mind could care about. Originally shot as SLAUGHTER by the legendary Michael and Roberta Findlay (a husband-and-wife team of exploitation filmmakers) and later "improved" with the addition of its lurid climax, the film's sole purpose is to give the most rabid gorehounds what they hope will be the most shocking displays of spewing arterial spray and slippery viscera yet committed to celluloid, but even at that goal the movie comes up short. Herschell Gordon Lewis got there first over a decade earlier and even though his movies are basically crap, at least they are entertaining crap. The same cannot be said for SNUFF. It meanders boringly from murder to long stretches of dull plot and negligible acting and back again, and it fails to engage the audience with either an interesting plot or characters to care about. And the film's main draw, the tacked-on "murder" of a cute blonde by one of the filmmakers as the camera crew captures the incident for posterity is so obviously faked that even a grade-schooler would call bullshit on its content. 

The infamous "real" murder scene: I staged more realistic effects for a Halloween haunted house when I was in ninth grade.

Considering that SNUFF was released in the days long before the advent of the internet and YouTube, where one can find a plethora of real footage of people meeting their fates in all manner of horrible ways — though not in actual footage shot for the purpose of distribution as snuff "entertainment," thank god — the obvious fakery of the big murder sequence is really a huge "fuck you" to the members of society that the film's marketing come-ons aimed to attract. 

The final money shot.

And when you really think about it, SNUFF serves to allow more introspective viewers to note that the main reason they saw the film is likely because they were curious to absorb an alleged actual sadistic homicide as a cinematic spectacle. I have often wondered what moral issues the initial theatrical audience wrestled with while sitting in the flickering indoor twilight in anticipation of the movie's promised real deal. Did it bother them at all that they had shelled out their hard-earned cash to see a vital young woman held down, mutilated, and eviscerated on camera, supposedly as an actual document? And if it did nag at them, did they leave the theater pondering what blackness or emptiness in their souls allowed them to think that treating something so sadistic and vile as an amusement for general consumption was okay? I cannot speak for them but I can tell you in no uncertain terms that if I genuinely believed that what SNUFF had to offer was in any way exactly what it claimed to be, I would never have seen it. The idea of killing someone for real and marketing it as a legitimate form of entertainment is simply appalling to me and I cannot conceive of just how psychologically and emotionally bankrupt one would have to be to dig something of that ilk. I freely admit that I greatly enjoy gore and violence in my entertainment but I am fully aware that what I consume in that department is all carefully-orchestrated make-believe, and the individuals being shot, sliced in half, beheaded, or what have you would get up, dust themselves off and go home at the end of the day when the cameras stopped rolling. Obviously, such would not be the case with what would amount to a for-real act of human butchery, and as a thinking, breathing, feeling human being, I could not bear intentional witness to the life of another member of society's sacrifice to the bloodthirsty needs of clinical sociopaths.

That said, allow me one last brief moment on my high horse so I can state flat-out that SNUFF is poverty row-budget trash of the lowest, most crass order, the kind of work that makes one question the worthiness of the human animal to draw breath while one sits in a state of stultified boredom during its 80-minute running time. 

But if SNUFF had not existed, it would never have been fodder for NATIONAL LAMPOON magazine's hilarious parody of it. "Snuff Movie," from the March, 1976 issue and written by the legendary P.J. O'Rourke, only served to throw more fuel onto the fire of playground discussion of the source movie (once enterprising kids filched copies of the magazine from their dads or older siblings). When it fell into my hands a few months prior to my eleventh birthday, my mind was blown. It was the second issue of NatLamp that I'd purchased and my parents had zero clue that I was reading such ultra-offensive, drug-reated and sexually-explicit material at such a tender age, largely thanks to the fact that the local newsstands stocked it right next to issues of MAD, CRACKED, and CRAZY, assuming it was just as innocuous as those kid-friendly mainstays. Anyway, here's "Snuff Movie." Bear in mind that the 1970's were about as free from political correctness as it gets, so consider what you're about to read as a product of its era and the magazine's ultra-tasteless brand of humor.

From NATIONAL LAMPOON (March, 1976)

Believe me, this parody is a million times more entertaining than the actual movie.

Poster from the original theatrical release.

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