Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera (2008)

Director Paul von Stoetzel’s documentary, Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera, explores the controversy of the “snuff” film and if these “murdered for profit” films really do exist. Snuff, as defined in the film, is a film that features a murder onscreen, usually preceded by sex, made explicitly for profit. Snuff isn’t made for pleasure nor is it death that just happens to be caught on film. In snuff, a person dies on camera for the sole purpose of making money off that scene.

Many people have questioned if snuff really exists and the FBI still vehemently denies it’s out there. Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera presents filmmakers, cinephiles and even FBI profilers with their thoughts on snuff films.

The official synopsis from Killing Joke Films describes it as:

“… a feature film examining the existence of films in which people are murdered on camera and the culture surrounding them. Through interviews with former FBI Profilers, Cultural Academics, and Film Historians the documentary delves into the disturbing history and myth of Snuff Films. The FBI claims there is no evidence to prove the existence of Snuff and, therefore, Snuff Films are a myth. This documentary analyzes the relationships between war, cult films, serial killers and pornography to prove whether or not this pervasive myth is, in fact, reality.”
Through these interviews and graphic scenes of torture, bloodshed and murder from controversial horror films as well as real scenes of death, filmmaker von Stoetzel examines the validity of snuff films and if they are truly real or not. The result is an emotional, powerful and troubling look into a society that views REAL torture and death as entertainment.

This amazingly comprehensive documentary is a real eye-opener to the ugly, twisted side of entertainment. While we would rather not believe human beings would pay to see real people get killed, this does happen, all in the name of entertainment. There are many segments that are hard to watch, especially one about a child pornography ring whose leaders were arrested after causing the death of at least one child. Outrageously, the leaders of the ring were released from Russian jail due to overcrowding and the head of the ring was only sentenced for 11 years for the atrocities they committed. Another particularly difficult segment to sit through was a discussion of war snuff, specifically the infamous execution by beheading of an American. The scary thing is that this video isn’t even considered “snuff” and is readily available to anyone for free on the Internet.

The film also features some surprisingly emotional scenes, specifically two in which Texas Chain Saw Massacre producer Mark L. Rosen talks about the previously mentioned child exploitation and another in which he describes watching a real snuff film. Both are powerful scenes, but Rosen becomes most visibly shaken when discussing the snuff film. He was approached by an investor who wanted him to distribute an “adult” film and invited to watch it in his hotel room. While two beefy bodyguards guarded the door of that hotel room, Rosen viewed the film that featured violent sex and, at the end, a woman’s throat being cut on screen. He goes on to tearfully say that there’s no way special effects were involved. His recollection of the event is touching and really makes you think about the atrocities being committed out in the world that most know nothing about. Rosen still doesn’t know what became of that snuff film and doesn’t care to.

Despite the horrors the film exposes, its execution (no pun intended) is equally well done. Von Stoetzel has done an excellent job assembling interviewees that have differing opinions and letting them all express their thoughts. The production values are equally high and I liked how the shocking clips from movies, the news and other sources were played in between the interviews. It also made you think about our current YouTube generation, where real and brutal acts of violence caught on video end up on the Internet for everyone to see. Snuff collectors might not be willing to pay exorbitant prices for snuff films if they can just watch them for free on the Internet. It also raises the question if people (including kids and teens) who watch these real death videos, which are so prevalent these days, are becoming desensitized.

The filmmaker isn’t kidding when a warning message is flashed across the screen at the beginning of the film, warning it isn’t for the faint of heart or spirit. I had plenty of trouble sitting through its disturbing elements, including the infamous video of an American being beheaded in the Iraq War. There were many shocking moments in the film, whether from controversial films like the Faces of Death series (though now we know many of these were fake), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, alleged snuff films, news and/or war footage as well as some footage shot by two serial killers that show them torturing a family. I can handle all the fake gore a movie can throw at me, but I get very shaken up over real-life torture, dismemberment and death. And, let me tell you, Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera, definitely left me shaken up.

Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera, is an excellent, although horrifying, documentary on the notorious “snuff” film. It never seeks to exploit its subject, but treats it with a reverence and respect to get the truth out. Filmmaker Paul Von Stoetzel has created a moving and thoroughly engaging look at the myth surrounding snuff films. If you can handle the disturbing elements of “real-life” horrors this documentary portrays, then it comes highly recommended.

Visit Killing Joke Films and Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera’s Official Site!

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