Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera (2008) Poster

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1/10
The distinct smell of FAKENESS
Croc-O-Dyle19 September 2008
There is a really good documentary on the subject of snuff - and it's not this one. The good one, The Dark Side: Does Snuff Exist?, is not only better designed, but has a more sensible look at the subject, too. This one, on the other hand, feels like a bad attempt to shoot a "real horror movie" disguised as a documentary. The main selling point, the segment about seeing supposedly genuine snuff (hey, what do you know, a producer of a documentary on snuff just conveniently happened to have seen a real snuff tape! What an amazing coincidence!), felt like a badly acted lie. In fact, it sounded pretty much like a copy of a story that an Israeli journalist wrote about a few years ago, except of course that the Israeli claimed that he was the one who saw the tapes.

Then there's that Russian crime ring tale that makes up the other half of the documentary and that smells even fishier. If it was true, you'd think there'd be some more sources that wrote about it, other than one English tabloid and one Italian tabloid. In fact, it should be a worldwide sensation present in all media for months (remember Fritzl?), but there's not a word of it in any major newspaper ANYWHERE. Plus, those allegedly real Russians supposedly kidnapped and killed dozens, but they were released after a few years because of "overcrowding"? And then one of them goes and wins a pool contest? All it's missing is a UFO and a crop circle.

And it certainly doesn't help the documentary at all that most of the "experts" interviewed in it look and act like drugged, cackling maniacs. One of them makes Tom Cruise seem calm and collected.

What seemed like an interesting documentary turns out to be either utterly fabricated, or horribly (read: not at all) researched. Skip this and catch "The Dark Side" instead.
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pretty good documentary that looks at more than just snuff
FieCrier14 September 2008
A pretty good documentary. I had a few problems with it. I had trouble remembering who some of the interviewees were, as they are only captioned once. It's said The Skeptical Inquirer called King Kong vs. Godzilla and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre "snuff movies." Not true: the article says there were urban legends about these movies; that two endings of the former were shot, one with King Kong winning and the other with Godzilla winning, and that The Texas Chainsaw was really based on a true story. It also gives the impression Lake and Ng murdered their victims on camera: they did not. The case of Dmitri is discussed using a single article from The Observer, and the case sounds pretty fishy. Then, the longer of the two trailers included in the special features has Jennifer Bahe saying the filmmakers received a tape in the mail that appeared to be a snuff film, which they turned over to authorities. That sounds pretty fishy too: it's not mentioned in the documentary at all, it's not discussed further anywhere on the DVD. It sounds like something they made up to help sell their movie.

The commentary track is worth listening to, though it's not really a commentary on the movie, it's just further discussion of snuff. The filmmakers and some of the interviewees are gathered panel style. There are some microphone problems at one point.

Viewers of this film might like to check out The Dark Side of Porn: Does Snuff Exist? and J.T. Petty's S&MAN.
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7/10
Thought provoking at the very least
Razvan Alexandru17 December 2008
It has to be said from the get-go that this is no proper documentary as it's circumstantial and somewhat manipulative (maybe even insufficiently documented for all I know). But while the case studies it brings about certainly have this feeling of tabloid garbage fed to the masses by the teaspoonful, what it all boils down to at the end of it all is that it manages to raise the question of whether or not snuff cinematography is more than an urban myth (again). The answer it seems to convey is a definitive yes and, knowing human nature as I do, I tend to agree.

Sadly though there's just too much beating about the bush. Snuff and mainstream cinematography ('Cannibal Holocaust')? Snuff and war footage? You're missing the point here and stretching the concept way past the rupture point.

That said, if you happen to have a chance to watch this and can put up with its violent content, do not hesitate. And I mean really, really violent 'Saw'-has-nothing-on-this kind of content.
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5/10
An inconsistent collection of anecdotes, as opposed to a serious study
Corpus_Vile21 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Snuff films.

The very term conjures up dark images of a shadowy cabal of depraved human beings, who torture, rape and murder on camera, purely for profit, to sell to a secret and presumably rich clientèle worldwide. A fascinating urban myth, any documentary on the topic is guaranteed my personal attention.

The problem with Snuff: A Documentary About Killing On Camera, is that it isn't particularly informative, credible or ultimately very interesting.

It covers a number of aspects of the Snuff mythology, from war (as in people getting killed for real, internet be headings, sniper attacks filmed etc), to horror films- yes, the director of Cannibal Holocaust was at one point arrested over fears he'd murdered his actors, and yes, people picketed the film Snuff back in the day, which was itself a cheap gimmick, and yes, every self respecting horror fan knows this anyway- to serial killers, such as Charles Ng and Leonard Lake; two survivalist degenerates who wished for sex slaves, and murdered whole families, tortured and raped the women, and filmed some of it (but not the actual killings) for their gratification.

Only thing is... none of these things actually qualify as a bona fide snuff film. In fact, the people interviewed for this documentary- basically directors and "cinephiles" I've never heard of- seem to have an extremely broad generalized view on what precisely a snuff film is, and none of them are really correct in their views.

Lake and Ng for example never attempted to sell their films, and didn't murder on camera anyway. An internet beheading is done for political reasons, repugnant as they may be, as are acts of war. Some producer cobbling all these images together for a DVD may be unscrupulous, or even morally dubious, but hardly a snuff film maker. One of the interviewed cinephiles, even tries to make out that Bowling For Columbine is a quasi snuff film, due to its decision to include CCTV footage of the Colombine shootings, which is a severe stretch to say the very least.

As for so called "real" bona fide cases, we're treated to a rather dodgy story regarding a Russian Snuff paedophile ring, who supposedly killed kids on camera, only... nothing more is made of this, and from googling the incident, it seems pretty dubious to me.

We're then treated to a producer in the adult film industry, who emotively tells of the time he really did see an honest to god snuff film in the bad old '70s, via some shadowy Fillipino distributors. Of course, nobody else was there with him when he saw it, the Fillipinos disappeared, and we only have his word that such an incident ever took place. Hearsay, in short- the backbone of the entire myth of the Snuff film.

Then, after one of its interviewees trying to make out Bowling For Columbine is at least quasi snuff, the documentary goes the completely exploitative and absolutely tasteless route in showing some real internet be headings, which I personally found pretty contemptible.

So overall, what do we make of this documentary about killing on camera?

Eh, it's watchable, but doesn't give any particular useful or new insights into the Snuff legend, particularly to those interested or half-way knowledgeable on the topic.

A generous 5/10, mainly for showing clips from Snuff, Cannibal Holocaust and Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, but overall, there's nothing new or particularly insightful to see or learn here at all.
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3/10
yikes
markusmcilwraith21 May 2011
rosen, who probably was in charge of coffee runs on several film sets, reads a news article and describes something that probably never happened.

they include a crime-scene photo of sharon tate and jay sebring. i can understand why- the whole myth of manson family movies.

video store clerks as experts and old A&E American justice footage doesn't make this a documentary.

it is an interesting movie though.

work harder next time.

also, when someone proclaims that hard that something really happened, it probably didn't happen.
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4/10
In-depth? Informative? Hardly.
Man, were my hopes crushed after watching this 'documentary.' It's supposed to be discussing the existence of actual snuff films (films of murders produced for profit), but it fails so miserably at this that it basically turns into a group of random people talking about gory movies (like Flowers of Flesh and Blood, Cannibal Holocaust, Henry, Trouble Every Day, etc.). Also, the 'professional' views seem more like they're just fa group of friends hanging around talking in front of the camera. I mean, their key 'witness' is a 'cinephile and filmmaker' with no real credentials other than he's watched some movies. His role as a filmmaker? He wrote one movie 10 years ago that has 74 votes on this site. So, literally, a single-film maker, I suppose.

Anyway, it could've been an in-depth and intelligent look at the snuff film 'industry,' but ends up being just a bunch of people without real reason talking about gory movies, war, and serial killers. Interesting subjects turned boring by uninteresting speakers on them.

Oh, also, I don't think I could get more annoyed than I do when I hear someone say, "It is very unlikely that ever in the history of cinema was a person killed on a camera for the purpose of profit." Really? Unlikely? Of the billions of people in the world and the many million that could've afforded to pay someone to do that, you have to assume that at no point did some rich guy have a murder fetish and paid someone, say, $100,000 (or more) to film someone getting killed? The odds that that NEVER happened are extremely slim just by the fact that EVERYTHING is done. Rant over.

Final Verdict: 5/10. Simply for the gore scenes and occasional bit of info.

-AP3-
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In Depth Look at the Snuff Film Myth
Rapeman14 December 2008
Ever since Michael and Roberta Findlay made their low budget Manson family cash-in Slaughter, and producer extraordinaire Allan Shackleton breathed new life into it by tacking on the post-script death sequence and renaming it Snuff, the term has sparked controversy and debate wherever it appears. Whether it be over the top porn-lobbying feminists, reactionary journalists, or BBFC watchdogs, the (still unproven) phenomena known as the snuff film has been the trigger for many inflammatory headlines and public scandals over the past three decades and I'm sure will be for many to come.

Paul Von Stoetzel's documentary explores the history behind the snuff film myth and tries to discover if there's any reality behind it. Throughout the course of the film ex-FBI agents, policewomen, film producers, directors, cinephiles, and even an Iraqi war correspondent are interviewed and put forward their opinions on snuff films. Interwoven with the interviews are clips from many of the exploitation films that have at one time or another been considered "the real thing" and/or have snuff themes including; Snuff, Emanuelle in America, Flower of Flesh and Blood, Cannibal Holocaust, Faces of Death, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, etc.

The majority of the interviewees state that they consider a snuff film - i.e: the actual killing of a human being recorded on film for monetary or entertainment purposes - an urban legend. Although one subject, onetime Texas Chainsaw Massacre producer Mark L. Rosen relates a couple of emotional anecdotes that, depending on your point-of-view, are rather disturbing: the first is regarding the investigation of a Russian internet child pornography ring that supposedly produced made-to-order kiddie snuff porn in October, 2000. This was all over the internet when it happened and judging from the sensationalised anti-Semitic (they were Russian Jews) articles that are rather ambiguous about the facts, plus the reality that all but the leader of the group were released from prison due to overcrowding(?!), it sounds a little dubious to me but if it is indeed true then it must be the first documented case of an actual snuff film.

The second story is Rosen's account of how in the 70s when he was a porno distributor he was approached by some dudes from the Philippines who said they had an adult film they wondered if he'd be interested in, what he ends up witnessing is some authentic snuff-porn that traumatises him for life. Now, I gotta say I'm very sceptical about all this as there are plenty of stories floating around about people who've seen a "real" snuff film, but who am I to say if they're telling the truth or not? I mean sure, Rosen's story sounds realistic enough, but why didn't he contact the authorities immediately afterwards and have something done about this "horrific" snuff film? When it comes down to it, I think it's a lot to pin on one man's (melodramatic) words and I personally need more than that, like corroborated facts.

The second half of the film covers the misogynist serial killing duo of Leonard Lake and Charles Ng - the two men who built a torture chamber / snuff film studio in their remote Northern California ranch - and even shows some clips from their home videos which depict them verbally & sexually humiliating their victims for the camera. The duo did indeed kill women on film and this is probably the closest any footage has come to actual snuff film-making. The last segment focuses on the war in Iraq: specifically the Abu Ghraib prisoner torture case and the beheading / execution footage that is constantly leaking onto the internet. This section is intercut with many of the actual clips including the decapitation of US soldier Eugene Armstrong and scenes from Abu Ghraib.

All in all this is a competently put together doco that takes an in depth look at all the elements surrounding the snuff film myth and our societies ongoing obsession with death. It is obviously impossible to say whether snuff actually exists or not but Von Stoetzel presents all the possible situations, including one man's tearful testimony and leaves it up to you to decide.
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7/10
Good look at a taboo subject. Be warned the film will probably disturb you, if not in its discussion then in the images used
dbborroughs4 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The question asked by the film is do snuff films really exist. A snuff film as defined by the producers is a film that was made purely to record the death of a person who was killed for the film which was then sold for a profit. The film acknowledges films like Faces of Death and the plethora of real death DVDs and put them into a separate category since they are merely a collection of footage of already existent. The film also examines the videos of serial killers Lake and Ng who kidnapped people and filmed their murders.They also touch on war reporting and the films of terrorists (like the death of Daniel Pearl) The film talks to producers, law enforcement people, film historians and other about the subject. It is a thought provoking and disturbing look at the subject. I don't know how accurate the film is in some regards (some of the discussions of horror films isn't completely correct) but the stories of Mark Rosen about a Philippine film he says he saw and the reports of a Russian gangster who arranged for children to be mutilated and tortured seems to make one think they do exist. The film will make you think about what you watch and why. As one person muses why are we okay with horror films but a real depiction of the same thing would make us ill? If there are any problems with the film it maybe that it seems to wander too far a field, some of the sections seem to end up going on too long. I also found Raymond Whalen too over the top and any points he may have scored for his position the films don't exist are lost in his bothersome insistence he knows all. Problems aside its graphic food for thought, and the sort of thing that will leave you feeling uneasy.
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10/10
This is a fantastic film, and one of the best doc's I've ever seen!
Jeff Chitty21 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This film is absolutely fantastic! For a fan of shocking and subversive cinema, this is as good as a documentary can get!

From the opening explanations of what exactly a "snuff film" is by definition, to the de-bunking of urban myths associated with films many of us grew up watching (such as FACES OF DEATH, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and SNUFF), to real life footage of Leonard Lake and Charles Ng as well as the "Juba Sniper" and other Iraq footage, this doc is a no holds barred look at the grim realities of death recorded on film.

Filmmaker Paul Von Stoetzel does a wonderful job indulging us in just enough of the underbelly of the independent film world to perhaps satisfy our curiosity about the existence of snuff films.

I believe most people have a healthy (or maybe unhealthy depending on how one looks at it) curiosity when it comes to the morbid. How many people slow down and look when there is a massive car crash on the side of the highway? This entire film feeds into that curious side of the human mind without taking it too far over the top and verging into pure gratuitous shock value.

There are moments of humor while films such as FACES OF DEATH and SNUFF, once believed to contain real footage of death are proved to be mostly if not completely fabricated.

There are also sobering moments when cases are presented (along with real video footage) in which the deaths of human beings were indeed filmed.

I dare you to sit through the last 10 minutes of this film and come away feeling fine. If you can, then you are most certainly a sociopath! That said, I feel that a film (particularly a documentary) should leave the viewer feeling something, and this film should not disappoint. It is an emotional roller coaster that may leave you feeling dirty and send you to church afterward, but it will not leave you unaffected!

This film hits DVD August 26th. If you have a taste for films that are all at once thought provoking, shocking, disturbing and REAL, do yourself a favor and buy this film! -Jeff Chitty
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4/10
Not a good documentary, but interesting
KineticSeoul27 May 2010
This really isn't a good documentary about the topic of "Snuff" but is mostly about movies in the open market that has some realistic looking killings on camera. It's interesting though, for the most part but a lot of it seems to be over done. And I did enjoy it talking about real snuff films around the world, particularly about the Russian crime ring tale even if some claim it to be fake and if it is, it's a interesting lie. But as a whole this really isn't a good documentary and you will not gain that much info about snuff but more about realistic killing in certain films that is in the open market like I said, and I do agree with a lot of what the other reviewers are saying, some of the stories in this does sound a bit fishy. Cause they mention a interesting topic they can really get into, but after mentioning it, they never really get into it. The main flaw with this documentary is how it goes way past it's point and not in a good way either, it should of just stuck with the main topic at hand instead of stretching it. So not a good documentary, but interesting to say the least.

4.6/10
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