Sunday, 19 July 2009

Snuff / The Slaughter / American Cannibale / El ángel de la muerte

First things first: Snuff is not an actual snuff film.

If we define a snuff film as one in which someone is deliberately killed on camera with the intention of releasing the resulting footage for entertainment purposes, then no such thing has been found or proven to exist to date.

There are certainly films which trade on the myth of snuff - like this one - or which incorporate real-life death footage. But even in the marginal case of the mondo film Africa Addio, which features actual on-camera executions, there is no evidence that the presence of the film-makers and the camera was the decisive factor behind these killings.

What Snuff did, however, was connect the idea of the snuff film back to its origin, in rumours around the Manson family; present what snuff footage might conceivably look like; and generally popularised the form in a way that the far more disturbing Last House on Dead End street had failed to do.

The origins of the film lie in a 1971 horror film made by notorious exploitation couple Roberta and Michael Findlay, The Slaughter. Made in Argentina and post-synchronised into English, Slaughter depicts a Manson-like guru named Satan who compels his female followers to commit murder. Two of their victims are a sleazy independent film producer, Max Marsh, and his Sharon Tate-styled leading lady, Terri London, who have come to South America to make a film.

The bargain basement, utterly inept production was redeemed only by a Steppenwolf-esque rock soundtrack; some gratuitous breast exposure; and the naming of one of the characters as Horst Frank, presumably not in reference to the German actor even though there is a strange discussion of the ethics of the West German arms industry equipping Israel to indicate that nationality did have some bearing here. (We all know about The Boys from Brazil and Adolf Eichmann hiding out in Argentina, after all)

Later exploitation distributor Alan Shackleton bought the film and, realising what a dog egg he had on his hands, had a new coda filmed in which another actress, who looks nothing like her Argentinian predecessor in the main film, is supposedly killed by her director and crew.

The effects within this sequence are unconvincing as is the way in which the camera 'just happens' to run out of film at the climactic moment. But, bolstered by Shackleton's clever promotion of the film, as he himself orchestrated a campaign of outrage against it, it didn't matter.

If someone went to see the film for themselves then Shackleton had already made his money off them, no matter what their response to it.

If Shackleton couldn't lose, nor could the feminists who put their hearts before their heads in supporting his campaigns and not bothering to research the subject. Basically, it seems the truth just didn't matter all that much when the legend was so much better to print.

Co-director Michael Findlay later died in a helicopter accident on the then Pan-Am building. He was on his way to demonstrate a new 3D camera. Part of me cannot help wondering if there is footage of his death extant and that it would thus make a suitably ironic inclusion in a Faces of Death entry.

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