SNUFF (1976) Blu-ray
Director: Michael Findlay
Blue Underground

SNUFF, “the bloodiest thing that ever happened in front of a camera”, bits special edition Blu-ray courtesy of Blue Underground.

American starlet Terry London (Mirtha Massa) feigns displeasure at being dragged down to Argentina by sleazy film director Max Marsh (Aldo Mayo) to meet an investor, but she is actually quite eager to see her playboy beau Horst Frank (not the actor, but Clao Villanueva) whose gunrunning father (Alfredo Iglesias) conducts business from a luxurious compound in neighboring Uruguay Montevideo-adjacent Punta del Este. Horst does not understand why Terry wants to “cheapen” herself on film for Marsh (“all he’s interested in is big bosoms”), but she yearns for a degree of independence. Horst continues to monopolize Terry’s time, but she still feels indebted to Max (“Max made me the star of this picture, Horst. I just don’t wanna stab him in the back”). Fortunately, Horst’s ex Angelica (Margarita Amuchástegui) takes care of that for Terry during Argentinian Carnivale – which is apparently ten times better than its Brazilian counterpart – but she stabs him in the heart. Unbeknownst to Horst, Angelica has fallen under the sway of guru Satàn (Enrique Larratelli) who intended her to conceive a child with Horst for his grand sacrifice, but Angelica’s apparent frigidity has kept that plan from coming to fruition. When Horst tells Angelica that Terry is pregnant and he thinks it would be better for her to move out, Angelica gives herself wholly to Satàn; and the guru decides that Terry will carry his sacrifice. When the time is right, Satàn orders Angelica and his gang of girl coke-snorting bikers to descend upon the Frank compound and initiate “The Slaughter”.

Lensed in 1970, THE SLAUGHTER was an early attempt to exploit the Manson murders by famous New York roughie filmmaking couple Michael and Roberta Findlay (and reportedly produced by ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE’s Jack Bravman who had also financed some of the pair’s more benign erotic efforts around this period). Shot in Argentina with an inexperienced local cast later flatly dubbed with little emotion or conviction (Findlay himself plays a detective but appropriately dubbed sexploitation filmmaker Max, while Roberta Findlay dubbed lead biker Carmela), the film seems even more amateurish and less delirious than their earlier New York-lensed efforts; almost gentrified by the comparative luxury of shooting abroad and its ability to wallow in perversion hampered by the forward momentum (however sluggish) required of its more straightforward narrative. In his optional introduction by filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (DRIVE and VALHALLA RISING) – who describes himself as a fetish filmmaker – states that he is perhaps more in love with the “mythology” of SNUFF than the actual film. He also suggests that the film is very much the New Wave of horror and would be the sort of film Jean-Luc Godard would make if he had come to America. This claim may not sound so much provocative as laugh-out-loud pretentious, but I can almost see it had the film focused more on Angelica’s character. Frigid due to her childhood of sexual exploitation and dependency upon men, she states that she somehow feels free in her bondage to Satàn. This freedom is expressed in the use of violence upon others, culminating in the murders of Terry, Horst, his father, and their decadent guests.

Whatever its artistic or political convictions, THE SLAUGHTER remained unsold for five years until Monarch Releasing’s Allan Shackleton bought it for a pittance and commissioned a tacked on ending sequence that relegates what happened before as a film-within-a-film that precedes the making of an “actual” snuff movie in which the film’s sleazy director graphically disembowels the film’s script supervisor just before the camera runs out of film. The sequence was directed by Simon Nuchtern, a relatively unprolific sexploitation director/producer who also tacked on scenes to the US version of the Sonny Chiba film THE BODYGUARD (and probably has more uncredited post-production work on other films), and is perhaps best known to exploitation fans as the director of the 3D slasher SILENT MADNESS (1984). Shackleton’s incendiary ad campaign alone (“A film that could only be made in South America, where life is CHEAP!”) was enough to peak interest and controversy – he claimed not to have been responsible for the protesters outside the theater at the premiere (although he admitted that it was his intention to hire some) – but some viewers were actually convinced the sequence was real. Critics in general attacked the film’s tastelessness, and feminists attacked the sequence’s misogyny (even when it was revealed not to have been staged, the critics had it that it still embodied a masculine fantasy of violence against women). Despite the backlash (or because of it), Shackleton more than recouped his investment (purportedly a mere five thousand dollars for a film the Findlays could not otherwise shift, of which the original filmmakers no doubt saw not a penny). My own first experience of the film via this Blu-ray has unfortunately been spoiled by my previous exposure to the film’s “highlights” by way of the Elvira-hosted FILMGORE, a 1983 VHS compilation digest-sized condensations of films Charles Band released on his Cult Video label (including BLOOD FEAST, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE among other lesser titles like CARNIVAL OF BLOOD and DR. JEKYLL’S DUNGEON OF DEATH); but the end sequence is still jarringly unpleasant after the laughable melodramatics of the film proper. SNUFF as a whole is by no means a good film, but one that should definitely be experienced by horror and exploitation (and sexploitation) aficionados.

When Blue Underground first released SNUFF on DVD in a limited edition, they were either embarrassed by the film or intended to perpetuate its cult reputation with a cover designed to look like a bootleg, a barebones 1.33:1 presentation that played on a loop, and no attribution of their company anywhere on the cover, disc face, or on the disc itself (although the basic layout of the back cover was indicative of who was responsible for it). For their special edition Blu-ray, Blue Underground has slapped their logo on both sides of the case, the disc art, the head of the presentation, and even as a 2013 copyright notice under the title (in the case of the feature itself, still the only credit of attribution). The double sided cover now features the U.S. theatrical poster on the front and the black background artwork seen on the Cult Video release on the reverse. The new BD25 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC encode is framed at 1.66:1 and look spectacular with bright colors (save for the black and white scenes) and contrasts as harsh as they always were in the exterior scenes. The reel change marks have not been painted out, and there are occasional specs here and there, but it’s otherwise as gorgeous as it probably can look. The mono audio track is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 without any of the surround enhancements provided to some of Blue Underground’s higher profile titles. The post-dubbed audio of THE SLAUGHTER is never in sync, but one imagines that the local actors did not perform in phonetic English or the Findlays just decided to radically rewrite the dialogue later on. The SNUFF footage at the end looks and sounds better overall (but it was also more recent than the body of the film).

Nothing about Blue Underground’s Blu-ray edition screams bootleg. Besides the aforementioned optional introduction by Refn (0:43), there is an interview with adult filmmaker Carter Stevens titled "Shooting Snuff" (10:25). Stevens recalls how the snuff sequence was shot on the small insert studio he owned at the time. The only actors were the “director” and the victim, with the rest of those on view being the sequence’s actual crew. He points out that the set does not even remotely match that of the original film and that additional gore was supposed to be shot – he describes a bit reminiscent of UN CHIEN ANDALOU and still photographs show more special effects props – but they ran out of time (the shoot was scheduled for eight hours but ran eighteen). Stevens also has a degree in photographic science and had been asked by the FBI to look at some films (all of which were fakes). Winding Refn returns in "Up to Snuff" (7:28) in which he qualifies his provocative remarks from the introduction. He actually prefers everything about the film that came before the snuff footage, which he regarded as less “underground” and experimental than the Findlay’s narrative. Rather than being a die-hard Tarantino-esque fan of the film, he simply admires parts of it but says he does not plan to see it again. "Porn Buster" (4:56) is an interview with retired FBI agent Bill Kelly who was at the center of the original investigations into snuff filmmaking (as well as other obscenity investigations including that of DEEP THROAT and MIPORN, the mafia’s Miami porn racket). He describes being contacted about a rumor in New York of an eight reel 8mm porn film in which the last reel contained footage of an actress actually being murdered. He had a pedophile informant scour the country for the film but it was never found; as such, he concluded that it was only a rumor.

The disc also includes the U.S. trailer (3:01) which recasts the four biker chicks as the “actresses” who did not know what they were getting in to (no footage from the snuff sequence is on view), as well as a more explicit one German one (1:53) titled AMERICAN CANNIBALE. The poster and still gallery features several posters, lobby cards, and behind the scenes photos from the American part of the shoot (including some seen in the Stevens interview). The “Controversy Gallery” features news clippings of the sensationalistic critical reactions to the film, while the text essay "Snuff: The Seventies and Beyond" by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas traces the film’s association of snuff filmmaking and the Manson murders to an unsubstantiated claim in Ed Sanders’ 1971 book “The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion” in which he states that the family made home movies of the murders they committed on the ranch (not the Tate-LaBianca murders). She also pokes holes in some of the feminist charges against the film. Just by virtue of having any extras at all, Blue Underground’s Blu-ray would be considered an upgrade; but the extras are worthy and the transfer makes it a must for the film’s fans. (Eric Cotenas)