A snuff film, or snuff movie, is "a movie in a purported genre of movies in which an actor is actually murdered or commits suicide". It may include a motion picture genre that depicts the actual murder of a person or people, without the aid of special effects, for the express purpose of financial exploitation, but that detail is extraneous, so long as it is "circulated amongst a jaded few for the purpose of entertainment". Some filmed records of executions and murders exist, but these were not staged for commercial purposes.
The first known use of the term "snuff movie" is in a 1971 book by Ed Sanders, The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion. He alleges that The Manson Family was involved in making such a film in California to record their murders.
The metaphorical use of the term "snuff" to denote killing appears to be derived from a verb for extinguishing a candle. The word has been used as such in English slang for hundreds of years. John Camden Hotten lists the term in the fifth edition of his Slang Dictionary in 1874 as a "term very common among the lower orders of London, meaning to die from disease or accident". The word is descended (via the Middle English "snuffen" or "snuppen") from the Old English "snithan", meaning to slaughter and dismember, from "snide", meaning to kill by cutting or stabbing, from "snid", to cut.
Use as plot device in fiction
According to 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 , Color Me Blood Red , or Decoy for Terror " also known as Playgirl Killer. Michael Powell's film Peeping Tom (1960) featured a filmmaker who committed murders and used the acts as the content of his documentary films, although no real murders are seen in the film.
The concept of "snuff films" being made for profit became more widely known with the commercial film Snuff (1976). This low-budget exploitation horror film, originally entitled Slaughter, was directed by Michael and Roberta Findlay. In an interview decades later, Roberta Findlay said the film's distributor Allan Shackleton had read about snuff films being imported from South America and retitled Slaughter to Snuff, to exploit the idea; he also added a new ending that depicted an actress being murdered on a film set. The promotion of Snuff on its second release suggested it featured the murder of an actress: "The film that could only be made in South America... where life is CHEAP", but that was false advertising. Shackleton put out false newspaper clippings that reported a citizens group's crusading against the film and hired people to act as protesters to picket screenings.
In the wake of Snuff, numerous films explored the idea of snuff films, or used them as a plot device. They include:
- Last House on Dead End Street (1977),
- Paul Schrader's film Hardcore (1979)
- Sidney Sheldon's film Bloodline (1979)
- Ruggero Deodato's film Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
- David Cronenberg's film Videodrome (1983)
- Nine Inch Nails' film The Broken Movie (1993)
- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
- Alejandro Amenábar's film Tesis (1996)
- Strange Days (1995)
- Anthony Waller's film Mute Witness (1994)
- Johnny Depp's film The Brave (1997)
- Łukasz Zadrzyński's film Billboard (1998)
- Joel Schumacher's film 8mm (1999)
- John Ottman's film Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)
- Fred Vogel's film August Underground (2001) and its sequels
- Internet snuff films are alluded to in Marc Evans' film My Little Eye (2002)
- Internet snuff films are alluded to in Rick Rosenthal's film Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
- Brad Jones (better known as The Cinema Snob)'s film Cheap (2005)
- The subject has been addressed in Bernard Rose's film Snuff-Movie (2005)
- Indian film Teesri Aankh: The Hidden Camera (2006)
- Mariano Peralta's film Snuff 102 (2007)
- The subject has been addressed in Nimród Antal's film Vacancy (2007)
- Nimród Antal's film Vacancy (2007)
- The subject has been addressed in the WWE film The Condemned (2007)
- The subject has been addressed in the Gregory Hoblit's film Untraceable (2008)
- Srđan Spasojević's film A Serbian Film (2010)
- Wes Craven's film Scream 4 (2011)
- Scott Derrickson's film Sinister (2012)
- Ridley Scott's film The Counselor (2013)
- Jim Mickle's film Cold in July (2014)
- Adrian Țofei's movie Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (2015)
- In Donna Leon's fourth Commissario Guido Brunetti novel, A Venetian Reckoning (1995) aka Death and Judgment, Commissario Brunetti's viewing of a snuff video helps to unravel the details of a multinational criminal enterprise engaged in such activities as human trafficking, prostitution, pornography, and the creation, distribution, and selling of snuff films.
- The Showtime TV series Dexter features an internet snuff scene and the shooting of a snuff film.
- Most recently, a snuff movie shooting has been shown in American Horror Story: Freak Show (2014), which is the fourth season of the FX horror anthology television series American Horror Story.
- Rockstar Games, the controversial game publisher, released the snuff-themed Manhunt in 2003.
False snuff films
The Guinea Pig films
The first two films in the Japanese Guinea Pig series are designed to look like snuff films; the video is grainy and unsteady, as if recorded by amateurs. The sixth film in the series, Mermaid in a Manhole, allegedly served as an inspiration for Japanese serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki, who murdered several preschool girls in the late 1980s.
In 1991, actor Charlie Sheen became convinced that Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985), the second film in the series, depicted an actual homicide and contacted the FBI. The Bureau initiated an investigation but closed it after the series' producers released a "making of" film demonstrating the special effects used to simulate the murders.
The Italian director Ruggero Deodato was charged after rumors that the depictions of the killing of the main actors in his film Cannibal Holocaust (1980) were real. He was able to clear himself of the charges after the actors made an appearance in court.
Other than graphic gore, the film contains several scenes of sexual violence and the genuine deaths of six animals onscreen and one off screen, issues which find Cannibal Holocaust in the midst of controversy to this day. It has also been claimed that Cannibal Holocaust is banned in over 50 countries, although this has never been verified. In 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine named Cannibal Holocaust as the 20th most controversial film of all-time.
- American Heritage Dictionary, s.v.
- "Snuff films false". October 31, 2006. Retrieved December 2010.
- "Barbara Mikkelson, "A Pinch of Snuff", Snopes.com, 31 Oct 2006, accessed 8 April 2007". snopes.com.
- extract from book
- Bible in Wycliffe tr. (i.e. 1384) Exodus xxv.38 "where the snoffes ben quenchid"; cf. xxxvii.23
- O’Brien, Geoffrey (1993). "Horror for Pleasure". The New York Review of Books. (April 22 issue), n.1.
- Stine, Scott Aaron (1999). "The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend". Skeptical Inquirer 23.3. Retrieved December 13, 2010.
- "Do snuff movies exist?". Documentary, part 1. YouTube.
- Cook, David A. (2000). Lost Illusions: American Cinema in The Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam. University of California Press. p. 233. ISBN 0-520-23265-8.
- "The Curse of Her Filmography: Roberta Findlay's grindhouse legacy". New York Press. July 27, 2005.
- Lees, Martina (October 18, 2003). "Death robe of secrecy hangs around snuff films". Beeld. Retrieved December 13, 2010. (originally in Afrikaans)
- Hawkins, Joan (2000). Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and The Horrific Avant-Garde. University of Minnesota Press. p. 136. ISBN 0-8166-3413-0.
- "Snuff". Britannica Online Encyclopedia.
- "Death and Judgment Summary & Study Guide". Bookrags. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
- "Serial killer inspired by Guinea Pig films". guineapigfilms.com. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
- McDowell, R. (August 7, 1994). "Movies to Die For". The San Francisco Chronicle. p. A5.
- Ruggero Deodato (interviewee) (2003). In the Jungle: The Making of Cannibal Holocaust (Documentary). Italy: Alan Young Pictures.
- Cannibal Holocaust 25th Anniversary Edition (Media notes). Ruggero Deodato. UK: VIPCO (Video Instant Picture Company). 2004 . p. back cover. VIP666SE.
- "The 25 Most Controversial Films of All-Time". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 14, 2006.
- David Kerekes and David Slater. Killing for Culture: Death Film from Mondo to Snuff (Creation Cinema Collection). London: Creation Books, 1996.