Snuff is a 1976 horror film, well sort-of… and had a certain notoriety for being marketed as if it were an actual snuff film. This picture contributed to the urban legend of snuff films, although it didn’t originate the concept.

Set in Chile, we have a biker gang (with only one bike between them), shot in sub-Easy Rider style to a sub-Steppenwolf theme. The gang is led by the ludicrously monikered Satahn, and otherwise consists of damaged women – the one being noticeably older than the rest, turns out to be the director’s wife. The women don’t seem to get on in his absence, and spend their time torturing one another whenever they run out of drugs, and then killing people to get the funds for more drugs. They also spend most of their time complaining about the heat, when the weather looks overcast and freezing, and there’s not a shadow to be seen. The film’s highpoint is the location of their hideaway, an intriguing deserted graveyard for rusting steam trains.

Concurrently a porn actress arrives from New York to make a film with her director/lover, whom she immediately dumps to hook up with a local playboy she’d briefly encountered on her American sojourn. When they hit the town we’re treated to some appallingly inter-cut stock-footage of a carnivale. The playboy looks like a spruced up Satahn, so it all gets rather confusing.

Thirdly, a young girl is kicked out of a remote mansion and onto the streets, when she’s replaced as the owner’s mistress. The girl then joins Satahn’s gang and embarks on a tedious montage of rape, murder, and mutilation as she recounts her back-story. Her subsequent induction into the gang is then drawn out with the addition of some weird and unnecessary cutting between colour and black & white footage.

Finally, the gang invade the mansion that their newest member has just been cast out from. Weirdly, the estate is protected by a gatekeeper who sits at a desk in the trees all day, but just out of sight of the gate. He doesn’t last long. The younger members of the household are then killed off, and we burst climatically into the owner’s bedroom to find his new mistress is the porn actress and she’s pregnant! [You know, like that Sharon Tate was!!] So they don’t last long either. Then it all stops!!

And we get the comparatively superiorly filmed SNUFF shot tacked onto the end, but to no great effect!!

The film originated as a low-budget gore film, Slaughter. Written [??!!!] and directed by the husband-and-wife grindhouse filmmaking team of Michael and Roberta Findlay, it was filmed in Argentina in 1971 on a budget of $30,000, it depicted the actions of a Manson-esque murder cult, filmed mainly in silence due to the actors understanding very little English. The film financier Jack Bravman received an out-of-court settlement from AIP so the latter could use the title for the 1972 Jim Brown film of the same name. The Findlays’ film somehow enjoyed a very limited theatrical release, of no more than three theatres.[1]

In 1972, Allan Shackleton, a research engineer-turned-film producer had bought the world distribution rights for Slaughter through his Monarch Releasing Corporation, a distribution house that specialized in sexploitation fare. (Sexploitation films are exploitation films which are overwhelmingly sexual in nature, but do not fall under the label of hardcore pornography.) He was still “scratching to recoup a shaky investment in a rotten film” (Lynch 1976) three years later when it caught the attention of someone who mistook the proceedings in his film as something more sinister than it was. Instead of setting the record straight, Mr. Shackleton played up on the false assumptions. Gambling on the three I’s (implication, inference, and innuendo), he implied but did not explicitly assert that the atrocities in the film were authentic.

On December 1, 1975, Allan Shackleton sent out the first of several press releases aimed to pique the public’s interest. Unfortunately for him, Michael Findlay caught sight of it and immediately realized that it was his film Slaughter (now retitled under the more succinct, monosyllabic moniker Snuff) that was behind the escalating furor. Findlay approached the distributor about contract renegotiations (as he was obviously not getting a big enough piece of the pie), but was unsuccessful in his pleas for more money. He did, however, almost succeed in exposing the entire scam during a crushing interview; Shackleton immediately paid him off, and he did not hear from Michael again.

Shackleton took the next step of distributing fake newspaper clippings that detailed the efforts of a fictional “Vincent Sheehan” and the retired attorney’s crusade against the film through a newly formed organization called Citizens for Decency. Unbeknownst to him, though, there really was a group called Citizens for Decency, but this did little to deter the real organization from rallying behind Shackleton’s fictional do-gooder. If anyone from the group had checked Sheehan’s credentials, they evidently did not make it publicly known.

Amidst the national hysteria, critics everywhere were writing articles condemning the unreleased film, endorsing its authenticity sight unseen and giving it whatever credibility it had previously lacked. At this point, no one had actually seen the movie save for a few disgruntled theater-goers who had happened to catch it during its short-term run as Slaughter. Even more ironic, the notorious finale that would give the film the weight it needed to guarantee it a place in the history books had not even been filmed yet.[3]

Ever the entrepreneur, Shackleton secured a public showing in Times Square, tipped off the police about what was about to be shown and assembled a small group of “protesters”. The stunt worked better than could possibly have been hoped for when Women Against Pornography began staging real protests, outraged at the film’s purported imagery of sexual violence. The group’s protest received coverage by such media outlets as the CBS Evening News. The film made over $300,000 in the space of three weeks despite being exposed as a hoax in Variety in 1976.

SLAUGHTER is a pretty terrible film, even for a time period characterized by terrible film. It was a rush job, with no original story points; even Roberta [Findlay] said it “made no sense.”

Alyse Wax
March 11, 2016

… this movie is tedious, far too long, and so ineptly made that I can not find a single reason to recommend it. To normal people, that is. However, if you actually know what this film is, and still have any interest in seeing it, then you kind of need to, because it is as wretched an example of film-making as you could ever hope to encounter. Scene after scene, it is a shining an example of crappy C-grade schlock. But, you know, some of us really love crappy C-grade schlock.

We don’t want good dubbing, quality special effects, or actors who had heard of the phenomenon of “acting” before the cameras were turned on them. We aren’t concerned with continuity, character development, or coherent story structure. We simply want to spend 80 minutes of our life watching something that vaguely resembles a film, yet ends up being an hour and twenty minute exercise in incredulity…

happyendingrocks (United States)
8 June 2009.[2]

[1] Wikipedia. Snuff (film). Retrieved 19 November 2016.
[2] IMDb. Snuff (1975). Retrieved 19 November 2016.
[3] The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend. By Scott Aaron Stine, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 23.3, May/June 1999. Retrieved 19 November 2016.

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