The title serves it up without the need for dressing. "Faces of Snuff" couples elements of the death documentary/mondo film (with an obvious nod to the notorious "Faces of Death" series) with the faux snuff/found footage genre that has grown into an epidemic over the last couple of decades (epitomised by the "August Underground" series). No fewer than twenty directors from around the globe contributed to this 136-minute anthology film - and in an attempt to lend credence to the tagline 'Dozens of "snuff" films. Which ones are real?', nobody is credited onscreen.
This sense of unknown origins - amplified by the almost complete lack of production credits - is embellished by the lo-fi, spontaneous, homemade quality of the footage, shot on various formats and incorporating onscreen dates that go as far back as the early 80s. Grainy film stock, screen static, sound design reduced to nothing but the whirring of a projector - these elements echo representations of snuff in earlier grindhouse and mainstream films like the controversial "Snuff" (1975) and Paul Schrader's "Hardcore" (1979). This is perhaps most effective at the climax of the film, which features the bulk of a faux snuff film called "Captains Pride Volume 33" - an American short which has been in circulation for years but whose origins remain anonymous.
The grim tone of "Faces of Snuff" is offset at regular intervals by the inclusion of footage from a 1965 propaganda film (courtesy of pro-censorship group Citizens for Decent Literature), in which an onscreen narrator attempts to strike fear into the hearts of the righteous with his increasingly histrionic warnings of pornography depraving America's youth. Juxtaposed with scenes of graphic cruelty and sexual abuse filmed half a century later, these moments are quaintly amusing - while also compelling viewers to reflect on changing standards of obscenity and censorship in the media.
There are also brief clips and still images of the aftermath of actual atrocities, often flashing onscreen with subliminal effect. As with a film like "Faces of Death" (1978), well-known for including an abundance of faked footage among the real deaths, we are continually manipulated into reversing the scepticism that governs when we know that what we are watching is not real. The messiness of the film's construction, with its sudden switches between unrelated sequences and snippets of depravity dropped in at random, strengthens this disorienting device.
Seasoned horror aficionados will not be fooled, however. Coordinated by producer, segment director and actor Shane Ryan, the gore is often overshadowed by the kind of explicit nudity and unsimulated sex that typifies Ryan's approach in his own films - such as "My Name Is 'A' by Anonymous" and the "Porn Star Killer" series, both of which lend footage to "Faces of Snuff" - and displaces common expectations of an extreme horror film. While there is plenty of graphic violence, the film was obviously never intended to compete with the likes of the first entry in the "American Guinea Pig" series or the trailblazing faux snuff movies the Japanese have been churning out since the 80s, like the first two instalments of the original "Guinea Pig" series or "Tumbling Doll of Flesh" (1998). It's unlikely that Charlie Sheen will be calling the FBI over this one.
The 'Could this be real?' quotient is further diluted by the segments that incorporate a novel twist or sting in the tail. While often entertaining, this brings to mind the typical structure of anthology films like "The ABCs of Death" (2012), where the boundary between the end of one segment and the beginning of the next is clear, and viewers are invited to catch their breath and retune their antenna at these moments. The variation in both approach and genre tropes is enjoyable, however, especially considering the film's length - and actor/director/producer Ryan obviously believes length to be an asset in more ways than one, as evidenced by a nude scene in which he sports an erection you could hang a wet coat on. Captain's pride, indeed...
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