A snuff film is a genre that purports to show scenes of actual homicide. The promotion of these films depends on sensational claims which are generally impossible to prove, and there are sophisticated techniques for simulating the appropriate special effects.
A snuff film, or snuff movie, is "a movie in a purported genre of movies in which a person is actually murdered or commits suicide". It may or may not be made for financial gain, but is supposedly "circulated amongst a jaded few for the purpose of entertainment". Some filmed records of executions and murders exist, but in those cases, the death was not specifically staged for financial gain or entertainment.
The first known use of the term snuff movie is in a 1971 book by Ed Sanders, The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion. He alleges that The Manson Family was involved in making such a film in California to record their murders.
The noun snuff originally meant the part of a candle wick that has already burned; the verb snuff meant to cut this off, and by extension to extinguish or kill. The word has been used in this sense in English slang for hundreds of years. It was defined in 1874 as a "term very common among the lower orders of London, meaning to die from disease or accident".
Film studies professor Boaz Hagin argues that the concept of snuff films originated decades earlier than is commonly believed, at least as early as 1907. That year, Polish-French writer Guillaume Apollinaire published the short story "A Good Film" about newsreel photojournalists who stage and film a murder due to public fascination with crime news; in the story, the public believes the murder is real but police inaccurately determine the crime was faked. Hagin also proposes that the film Network (1976) contains an explicit (fictional) snuff film depiction when television news executives orchestrate the on-air murder of a news anchor to boost ratings.
According to film critic Geoffrey O'Brien, "whether or not commercially distributed 'snuff' movies actually exist, the possibility of such movies is implicit in the stock B-movie motif of the mad artist killing his models, as in A Bucket of Blood (1959), Color Me Blood Red (1965), or Decoy for Terror (1967) also known as Playgirl Killer. The concept of "snuff films" being made for profit became more widely known with the commercial film Snuff (1976). This low-budget exploitation horror film, originally titled Slaughter, was directed by Michael and Roberta Findlay. In an interview decades later, Roberta Findlay said the film's distributor Allan Shackleton had read about snuff films being imported from South America and retitled Slaughter to Snuff, to exploit the idea; he also added a new ending that depicted an actress being murdered on a film set. The promotion of Snuff on its second release suggested it featured the murder of an actress: "The film that could only be made in South America... where life is CHEAP", but that was false advertising. Shackleton put out false newspaper clippings that reported a citizens group's crusading against the film and hired people to act as protesters to picket screenings.
False snuff films
The Guinea Pig films
The first two films in the Japanese Guinea Pig series are designed to look like snuff films; the video is grainy and unsteady, as if recorded by amateurs, and extensive special effects are used to imitate such features as internal organs and graphic wounds. The sixth film in the series, Mermaid in a Manhole, allegedly served as an inspiration for Japanese serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki, who murdered several preschool girls in the late 1980s.
In 1991, actor Charlie Sheen became convinced that Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985), the second film in the series, depicted an actual homicide and contacted the FBI. The Bureau initiated an investigation but closed it after the series' producers released a "making of" film demonstrating the special effects used to simulate the murders.
The Italian director Ruggero Deodato was charged after rumors that the depictions of the killing of the main actors in his film Cannibal Holocaust (1980) were real. He was able to clear himself of the charges after the actors made an appearance in court.
Other than graphic gore, the film contains several scenes of sexual violence and the genuine deaths of six animals onscreen and one off screen, issues which find Cannibal Holocaust in the midst of controversy to this day. It has also been claimed that Cannibal Holocaust is banned in over 50 countries, although this has never been verified. In 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine named Cannibal Holocaust as the 20th most controversial film of all-time.
August Underground trilogy
Trilogy of films about home footages made by a serial killer and his friends, depicting gore, sex, torture and murders. Some scenes are distributed in the darknet as if it were real.
- American Heritage Dictionary, s.v.
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- extract from book
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