Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Video Nasty #35 - Snuff

A film that needs no introduction among readers of this blog, the saga of Snuff, remains a quintessential piece of Exploitation hucksterism, capturing the zeitgeist of 70's urban anxiety. With the rising tide of underground pornography, some of it sado-masochistic in nature, the idea of murder being filmed for the gratification of the viewer seemed entirely plausible. Masterminded by distributor Allan Shackleton, (a vile man by all accounts) Snuff played a few dates in Philadelphia before washing up in New York in 1976 to pickets, protests and nationwide headlines. In a sense the film had arrived too early - Snuff as a concept, seemed better suited to home video - the idea of film-as-illegal substance, distributed through unofficial channels kept under the counter by shrewd video store owners for a few select customers. In the UK, the film was never officially released on video1, copies that were out there were said to be work of a Dutch piracy gang, and despite the scarcity of tapes in circulation, the film was duly added to the DPP's Wanted list in July of '83.



The history of Snuff is so fascinating that the original film that Shackleton stitched his phony snuff footage to, The Slaughter has been largely forgotten and written off as a piece of junk. And while Michael Findlay's 1971 horror is no great shakes, it's neither better or worse than the kind of schlock served up by Andy Milligan or Al Adamson. The plot of The Slaughter though decidedly vague, was inspired by the Manson Family murders in 1969. The story concerns an American actress who arrives in Buenos Aires to make a film, and unwittingly becomes a target for cult leader Satán and his female followers when she becomes pregnant, the killing of her unborn child an integral part of Satán's plan...



Evidently, Roberta Findlay's screenplay didn't extend to a feature length film as The Slaughter is full of padding - the opening sequence where two of Satán's groupies are seen riding a motorcycle is stretched out to interminable levels with endlessly repeated shots of the bike on the road. There's also a long flashback sequence that seems utterly disposable and a scene set against the backdrop of a carnival is beefed up with copious amounts of ill-matching festival footage (some of it a little unnerving with the celebrants in grotesque blackface). Made with a largely Argentine cast, the film was recorded without sound which explains many scenes where characters speak off screen or with their backs to the camera. The English language dub is dreadful, the echoing voices sounding like they were recorded in a hollow room, and it's quite obvious that the actors were dubbed by the same man and woman (reportedly Michael and Roberta Findlay) no matter how much they try to disguise their voice.



As much as it misfires, The Slaughter remains a strangely compelling film and watching beautiful hippie girls on shooting sprees or sticking knives in peoples backs is not without its charm. The film certainly has its fare share of exploitable licks - it's a violent romp full of nudity and sleaze, and backed with a loud pulsating rock score, the main theme music sounding like an infernal loop of the opening bars of Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild. It looks like the film might have been reworked in the cutting room, the film makers try to inject some pace into the action with some frenzied editing, and one sequence has been tinted in an attempt to relieve some of the visual blandness of the film. Ironically the final few minutes of the film responsible for its unlikely resurrection is one of Snuff's weaker moments - the grafted on footage sticks out like a sore thumb and the gore effects are appropriately cheap and shoddy. It's difficult to understand how anyone could have taken it seriously. Most people didn't.



Snuff is available on DVD from Blue Underground, not that you would know it - aside from a very small spine number, all traces of the label are missing from the sleeve, mocked up to appear wrapped in brown paper. Quite a nice touch. The film itself looks quite good, the fullframe transfer generally clean and attractive. Audio is decent too, free of distortion and hiss. The disc itself has no extras, even dispensing with a menu, the film beginning as soon as the disc is loaded into the player, and when the film ends, the film simply restarts from the beginning.

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Notes
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1. Snuff's UK video history remains a hotly debated issue among collectors. Astra Video had definite plans to release the film in a limited run, (which is thought to be the origin of the infamous "blue" sleeve pictured above) but cancelled the release due to the controversial nature of the film. However, copies of Snuff were available in video shops, featuring a black sleeve with no distributor information to found anywhere on the sleeve. These pirate tapes were thought to be the work of a Dutch piracy gang, the tapes imported from Belgium. It's also been alleged that it was Astra who were behind these "unofficial" editions, a claim Mike Behr of Astra vehemently denies to this day.

8 comments:

  1. Nice review Wes, I couldn't make it through this way back when. It just bored me to tears, you manage to make it sound pretty interesting though. The storm around it is of course far more exciting. Not many to go now Wes!

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  2. Thanks Mart... Yeah, this one is undeniably dull, I suspect my feelings towards the film are tinged with nostalgia. I never owned a bona fida copy of the film but I did own a pirate tape (or I should say a pirate of a pirate!) which seems appropriate... Yes, we're getting down close to the end of the series - I'm hoping to squeeze the last few reviews in before Friday !

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  3. 'Snuff as a concept, seemed better suited to home video - the idea of film-as-illegal substance, distributed through unofficial channels kept under the counter by shrewd video store owners for a few select customers'. Very well put, Wes. You summed up the whole video nasty phenomenon right there. Will be sorry to see these reviews end.

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  4. Ah thanks Jon... Yeah, I think I'm gonna miss the Nasties series as well. I'll have to start thinking again about things to post, something a pre-destined series takes the sting out of...

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  5. I liked it too, but I think we are in the minority!

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  6. We definitely are Adam, I don't think I've ever read anything positive about this film. But in comparison with remorseless trash like Franco's Devil Hunter, Snuff, is a David Lean film. Thanks for the comment !

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  7. I was afraid to see this back in the day - I feared it to be real. (Yes, we were that naive in the American midwest). I would certainly watch it now - think I'd enjoy it for the reasons you list.

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  8. Oh, me too, I wouldn't touch anything with real death in it. But people like to believe in myths and legends, and the Snuff film is now one of our modern myths. The thing is, I like the immediacy of the Cinéma Vérité movement, but I like the artificialness of Cinema as well - give me special effects, good or bad any day over the Real Thing - isn't Life depressing as it is ?

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