Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Of course they exist! They film them down in South America! – R.P. Whalen
Directed by Paul von Stoetzel
2007, 76 minutes, Not rated
Larry C. Brubaker as himself
Todd Cobery as himself
Linda Flanders as herself
Michelle Lekas as herself
Nathan Paulson as himself
Mark L. Rosen as himself
Ryan Schaddelee as himself
Raymond P. Whalen as himself
Julie Wilson as herself
In 1991, Charlie Sheen called the FBI and reported he had seen a snuff film. After a brief investigation, it was found that the "snuff" film Sheen had in his possession was not a snuff film at all, but Flowers of Flesh and Blood, the second film in the Japanese "Guinea Pig" series. This brought a giggle to some of those in the horror community.
The findings came as no surprise to the FBI, as they have always denied the existence of snuff films. But in this day and age, is the possibility of one existing really out of the realm? And what is the proper definition of "snuff film," anyway? Through of series of interviews with film experts, college professors, and a retired FBI agent and police officer, Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera tries to answer these questions.
The one thing Snuff does extremely well is attempt to define what a snuff film is. Does Thomas Edison's electrocution of an elephant — one of the earliest scenes of death on camera — count as a snuff film? How about the recorded beheading of Eugene Armstrong by Iraqi insurgents? Or is it something even more sinister: The taking of an innocent life simply for the profit of selling the film. Intermixing interviews and movie and video clips (both from films such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and — appropriately — Snuff: The Movie to the real clips), director Paul von Stoetzel meticulously explores the various ways the snuff film has ingrained itself into popular culture.
Of the people talked to in Snuff, the most compelling, hands down, is Mark L. Rosen, one of the The Texas Chain Saw Massacre producers. Incredibly knowledgeable, Rosen's sometimes emotional interviews are engrossing as hell as he is a plethora of knowledge. He discusses two of the most disturbing parts of the documentary: The case of Dmitri Kuznetsov, a Russian child pornographer who is suspected of making child snuff films, as well as something he discusses for the first time on camera.
Retired police officer Linda Flanders describes her experience with the Charles Ng and Leonard Lake case. A serial killing team, Ng and Lake videotaped the sexual torture and abuse of women by their own hands. Like most of topics discussed, Snuff shows clips from those videos. Disturbing is not a strong enough word.
The most animated of the interviewees is film historian R.P. Whalen. His interviews concentrate mainly on the film side of snuff, with movies such as Faces of Death and Cannibal Holocaust, and he is a much needed part of the movie, as often his passion and energy lighten the at times very dark documentary.
On the whole, though, each interview brings something interesting to the table, either through personal experience or knowledge of the subject in general. The only questionable interviewee is "Anonymous", a Cinephile/Video Store Owner. Why he is named Anonymous, I don't know, as there seems to be nothing shady on the need for not providing his name. His participation somewhat hurts the documentary because credibility is an issue. Why show your face if you want to remain anonymous? He doesn't add much to the documentary (his interviews are kept to a minimum) and I can't quite grasp why he's in it at all. The name doesn't add any mystique, only annoyance to a very well put together feature.
Snuff's editing is top notch. The documentary genre is a tough one to edit because when done well it's not noticed, but when done poorly the suck stands out. The film superbly mixes photos, interviews and video clips so you are never bored looking just at talking heads. Even within the actual interviews, the framing is mixed so you don't get the same shot of just a head and shoulders. I have to commend the cinematographer Matt Ehling and editor Nicholas Bochek for doing it right. Far too often a documentary on a fascinating subject is completely ruined by poor planning in these two very important processes.
Paul von Stoetzel has put together one hell of a film with Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera. Instead of concentrating on trying to prove or disprove the existence of snuff films, he did what a true documentary filmmaker should do: He put his cards on the table and lets the viewer makes the ultimate decision — there is no agenda here. While I wish he had more interviews from those in the law enforcement field, he easily made the most of what he had.
Anyone who has an interest in the controversial snuff film should check out Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera. While you will need a strong stomach to watch some of the graphic images (and, ironically, the more disturbing parts were the things you didn't see), you will get a well-rounded and unbiased film to draw your own conclusions from.