When Snuff first hit American theaters in the winter of 1976 it blew in upon the biting winds of controversy. Protests staged by women’s groups made it onto the CBS evening news amid rumors that the film contained footage of one of the actresses being mutilated and murdered. Certainly the film’s tagline “The film that could only be made in South America… where life is CHEAP” only served to fuel the ire of the anti-exploitation crowd, but the initial protesters were in actuality hired by the distributor to drum up publicity (real protesters would later materialize in their wake).
The true story and surrounding mythos connected to Snuff is honestly more interesting that the film itself. Therein lies the problem with reviewing the forthcoming release from Blue Underground. Snuff started theatrical life in Argentina under original title Slaughter, and was predominantly a mix of exploitative female biker flick with Manson family cult overtones. Judged on those merits, it’s a boring, pedantic romp filled with less than compelling psychosexual imagery. An experience like this weathers a warmer reception from a rowdy drive-in or a cult repertoire screening crowd, to whom it is precisely balanced to titillate and amuse. Uninterestingly edited and slipshodily plotted, Snuff doesn’t really entertain outside of those contexts.
The story unfolding on screen is not why cult fans clamor for a high quality release of this notorious cinematic chupacabra. They’re far more interested in the legend surrounding its American ending. The famous finale depicts the film proper wrapping, camera pulling back to show the actors framed by the crew running their equipment. A few folks exit while the remaining crew commences torturing, mutilating, disemboweling, and eventually murdering one of the actresses. This tacked on ending doesn’t even star the same actress, but perpetuation of this urban legend spread faster than California wildfires in an arid June. Disregard that the faux snuff footage contains absurdly unrealistic gore effects, with bright red wax colored blood and a sequence where the actress is clearly below her fake body (think Kevin Bacon’s death in Friday the 13th), and you’ve still got a multiple camera angles and apparent complicity from about ten crew members. The fact of the matter is that none of this matters as those among the most virulently outraged would never, and will never, see the scenes in question to reach that conclusion.
So the legend grew, and while Snuff is not the spark which originated a despicable genre of real murder sleaze, its release helped to grow notoriety and popularize legends about them. There’s certainly a market among collectors and cinema buffs for a special features laden release of Snuff, and Blue Underground very wisely plays toward the strength of the legend and mystery surrounding the film’s notoriety, rather than the weakness of the plot. This doesn’t imply that the film transfer is left to suffer; it shines brightly to illuminate every grime encrusted frame, staying true to Blue Underground’s reputation for immaculate visual products (this one taken from one of the only known remaining prints).
The special features are where this release really shines. Feature “Up To Snuff” spends time with Danish filmmaker and historian Nicolas Winding Refn (the brilliant mind behind 2011’s Drive) as he delves into the macabre mythos surrounding Snuff. He also gives a bluntly honest introduction to the film. Another feature “Shooting Snuff” interviews adult filmmaker Carter Stevens, on whose film sets in NYC the faux snuff ending was created. There’s even a segment with a retired FBI agent, which gets into the nitty-gritty with regard to investing purported snuff films. Trailers, stills, and a “controversy” gallery round out the extras, and a reversible art slip cover adds some extra versatility to the blood red plastic casing.
Snuff is an ugly movie but there is no doubt that its creation is at the center of fascinating legacy. It’s this legacy which Blue Underground takes great pains in issuing a quality release of. This is an A level release of a C- film, which in itself is a praiseworthy accomplishment. The audience for Snuff knows who they are and will pounce on this release. Fans of Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack will likewise get a kick out of the story behind the story. Make no mistake that this is an exploitative genre flick, through and through, then decide if this belongs in your collection accordingly.