The dull hum of neon lights, the stench of sweat and stale cigarette smoke. All these things invaded my senses as I approached the counter at a local adult video store. The clerk, a pregnant Spanish girl with a listless look in her eyes, asked what I needed as I neared the counter. “I’m looking for a snuff movie.” She glanced up at me briefly, then pointed to a well-lit corner of the store. “Everything you want is right over there,” she stated. I was shocked, I thought it would be much more difficult than this. The corner walls were lined with movie boxes, most with leather-clad sex mistresses on the cover. Others showed tightly bound women or men, asses red and blue from severe lashings, each ball-gagged and staring wide eyed at the camera. As I looked over the boxes, each seemed to be what I was looking for, but upon closer examination I noticed a warning in small letters on each, stating “death and rape depictions are for entertainment purposes only, no actors/actresses were harmed in the making of this film.” These were not what I was looking for. These were not the scourge of the Christian right, nor the Holy Grail of porn. These were not real snuff films.
But what is a snuff film, what defines it? A snuff film is a movie (film or video) that depicts the rape, torture and eventual murder of the actor/actress (victim) while engaged in a sexual act. The victim being filmed is not aware of his/her impending death and usually they are young prostitutes, kidnap victims, or girls from foreign countries. The films are made for sexual gratification by the most extreme sadists and are for sale to only the most bizarre collectors. They are said to mainly originate in South America but this might be related to a 1970 film called The Slaughter that was filmed in Argentina. Wel, at least that is what the rumors state. You see, the more you investigate snuff the more it seems nobody has every really seen a snuff flim.
The hype about snuff films really began to circulate in the early 1970s. It seems it started with a letter to the FBI from Raymond Gauer, then-director of The Citizens For Decency Through Law. “They’re producing snuff films now,” he wrote, and went on in detail describing the making and use of the films. The FBI (being a law enforcement agency) was obviously interested in finding some of these films. This began an almost 25 year investigation, that is now revealed through the freedom of information act. It shows that although the FBI has constantly heard rumors of snuff films, they have never actually seen one or been able to purchase one. The one thing about snuff, is someone always knows somebody else who has seen it. Hmmm … quite interesting.
The hype was amazing, the search was excruciating. Al Goldstein, owner of Screw Magazine, once put up a reward of $100,000 to get his hands on one of these films. No luck. In 1976 the FBI thought they were hot on the trail when an underground cinema in Indianapolis announced it had a copy of a film called Snuff. Among the 12 people attending the screening were two agents and a criminal pathologist. The film depicted a gory and amateur-type sex and death sequence, which the pathologist stated was a theatrical staging. Come to find out, to the trained eye cow intestines do not match human intestines. Later, it was also determined that the producer had hoped the FBI would investigate the film to bring him more publicity. Another dead end.
(On a side note, the film title Snuff is actually the early ’70s movie titled Slaughter. This was filmed in Argentina, and is directly related to the persistent rumor that snuff comes from South America.)
It seems snuff is something many want (for various reasons), but no one can find. A San Francisco Chronicle reporter, Rider McDowell, spent over six months trying to track a film down. He talked with pornographers, collectors, police, murderers and others, with no luck. While he did find movies claiming to be snuff, these were all deemed theatrical representations. This search was also attempted by the LAPD, after hearing rumors of satanic cults making snuff films on the beaches in California. This investigation actually went on for a while, but It turns out the eye-witness was making everything up. Geesh.
One of the more famous or infamous snuff legends involved Son Of Sam killer David Berkowitz. It is rumored that Berkowitz filmed the murders of his victims to circulate among the Church Of Satan members. Maury Terry, author of a book on Son Of Sam, states that on the night of Stacy Moskowitz’s killing, a VW van was parked across the street from her death site. This van was supposedly used to film the murder. Unconfirmed reports state this footage was obtained by Roy Radin, a financier and well-known porn collector. It is said that about 10 copies of this film exist, although none have ever been found or seen. The trail continues.
An expert on pornography and obscene material once stated that he had seen a snuff film, and that Scotland Yard had numerous copies of these types of films. But when contacting Scotland Yard, Detective Mick Hames states, “although they have never found any in England, they surely exist in America.” Once again, this is not what the FBI says. What is interesting about snuff films is that it is not actually illegal to view or own one. If one were to turn up the police would have to use local obscenity laws to even confiscate the tape (and only as long as the owners/viewers were determined to not be involved in the murder). The FBI even questions its own ability to prosecute if such a tape were to be found. “Since there hasn’t ever been one found, there have never been any laws enacted against snuff films,” states a California agent.
Members of Screw Magazine state that the snuff film is an urban legend perpetuated by the Christian right to give pornography a bad name. Christians claim that snuff films exist and are the work of the devil and evil pornographers. Police in the United States say they exist in England. Scotland Yard states they don’t have any but they surely exist in the states. One thing is sure, fake ones exist and do a thriving business at adult video stores and online. But what about the real thing? Well, in the past four years, more information has surfaced.
In 1999 we finally get a break in the case. Two men in Germany were arrested for making a snuff film. It seems they kidnapped a 21-year-old girl, raped and tortured her. The only problem was she died before production could finish. They then attempted another kidnapping but this woman managed to escape and alert authorities. So it seems the myth of snuff is not a myth anymore. Also, in Italy, a child pornography ring that allegedly sold films of children being raped and tortured to death for prices ranging from $60-$6,000 dollars, depending on how brutal the film was, was broken up. Hard evidence at last? Or just a couple of random acts?
It only seems logical, in a world where murder can be bought on the streets for a few hundred dollars, teen sex tours can be bought from countries like Thailand and South America, and video equipment is easy to operate and obtain, that these movies exist. And it seems that with the proliferation of image transferring media on computers, this style of film will become more and more real, leaving the back alley world of dark pornography and invading Web sites and mainstream media. That is, if they really exist…