reviewed by Andrew James
First of all, what is a snuff film? Although there's room for debate and argument on the exact definition, which can be interpreted in several ways, the general consensus is that a snuff is any film that depicts a real live human being murdered on screen for the explicit purpose of profit. Some may argue however that a snuff film is any footage of someone being killed - in that loose definition, even something as notorious as the Zapruder film could even be considered snuff. These are some of the types of questions examined in the film.
The opening title shot of this documentary is a giant red WARNING label in which the film maker's warn the audience that there is some shocking footage coming up and this film is not for the faint of heart... "and we're not kidding!" There's no doubt there. Besides being a standard, "talking heads" style of documentary, it's also inter-cut with several clips of not only old obscure, controversial films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Faces of Death and Cannibal Holocaust, but also war footage, faked snuff films, news reels and even portions of the journalist beheadings in Iraq. So as the title suggests, definitely "not for the faint of heart."
The subjects interviewed come from all facets of expertise: police, FBI, film makers, historians, cultural media experts and even producer Mark L. Rosen, who recounts a shocking tale of his encounter with whom he claims were Filipinos trying to market a real snuff film through his distribution firm in the 1970's. Even the director and crew (in attendance) admitted that Rosen's story is the lynchpin of their movie and it's obvious why they say that. Sitting in a dark theater listening to the story is jarring and creepy; and obviously quite emotional for Mr. Rosen.
The movie explores a bit deeper into the realm of snuff films than just the nature of their existance; but also the general psyche of why someone would want to pay for such garbage and the deeper implications of government use of snuff and how violence on film is perceived in general within society. This extends to an examination of the current YouTube generation and the "I'm disgusted but fascinated and can't look away" mentality of people today.
It's interesting to listen to the differing opinions and reactions of some of the speakers. It's also quite fun to see footage of some old b-movies (that I'd never seen or even heard of) that were thought to actually be real (and hence picketed and banned) but are so obviously fake that it's actually humorous.
The movie goes a little bit off the rails for me for about 10-15 minutes when it heads in the direction of anti-Iraq war preachiness. It's not blatant or "hit you over the head," but it's there none the less and felt a little unnecessary, considering the subject matter of the film - although there is some fairly harrowing/distressing footage of some American soldiers pinned down and under fire.
All in all a fascinating film that although hard to stomach at times, for the most part doesn't just show bloody footage for the sake of exploitation. It's attempting to get to the heart of a subject no one wants to talk about it and it's presented in a manner that's quite well done. The production value is on par with just about any documentary you might find on a "60 Minutes" special with Mike Wallace for example; specifically the score, which is played out eerily at key moments and adds an extra bit of emotional punch to this already heavy film. If you're able to deal with some pretty horrific imagery, I think you'll find a lot to be pleased about with Snuff.