director Paul von Stoetzel
The investigation of Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera is in part existential. Do “snuff films” even exist? And by “snuff film,” as defined by some of the critics and film historians interviewed in the documentary, the definition is specific to a murder committed on camera and then sold or distributed for profit. Truth or urban legend?
Of the interviewees, only producer (executive producer of this very film) Mark L. Rosen claims to have seen some. Others believe of disbelieve. Though with Rosen’s interviews as two key segments of a film told in chapters, we are meant to believe his stories as he tells them.
The documentary is open in many ways and some of the interviewees provide interesting perspectives and knowledge, but the overall creation is amateurish, particularly the chaptering of the thing, referring back to the “table of contents” at each segment.
The film gives particular attention to the 1976 Michael and Rebecca Findlay film Snuff, even featuring its climactic pseudo-killing. Also the notable notoriety of Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is invoked. And of course, the Faces of Death series.
It also addresses the history of publicly viewed video and film of real deaths, starting with the airing of daily footage during the Vietnam War and extending to the video clips of beheadings and targeted killings in the Middle East of more recent times.
They also do a segment on the potentially innovative (and horribly horrific) murders and tortures made on video by Leonard Lake and Stanley Ng, samples that would classify as “snuff” only if they’d had mind to distribute and profit from it.
Really, “snuff” culture is freakishly rampant on the internet. You don’t have to delve too far into 4chan (or elsewhere) to find images of gruesomeness all too real. The atrocities that are “crush videos” and the extremity of not just your normal run of the mill pornography but the far more sinister and awful kinds that certainly exist in the darker recesses of the world, to think that images of people dying in reality are caught on film and pored over, whether profited by or not, I don’t doubt the existence of such terrible things.
The parallel with pornography is apt. Detached from specificity to anything vaguely erotic, it is depiction in lurid detail of real world sensationalist materials, devoid of something more artistic.
Frankly, it’s an interesting topic. It’s a shame it’s not a more interesting movie.