* Or exiled from their home countries, charged with obscenity, and/or possibly even killed themselves.
The snuff film, or film of a real world murder for the purpose of release/profit, has existed as a myth in the movie industry for decades. While there have been recordings of executions and assassinations retained by governments for use in investigations and law enforcement training or by news outlets for dissemination of information, as far as anyone knows, a true "snuff" film does not exist. (There are rumors that the Manson Family recorded their murders, but as far as anyone knows, they are just that: rumors.)
But that certainly hasn't stopped people from looking for them.
From the 1960s well into the 90s (and even today), Mondo Films were freaking out parents and inspiring kids to bogart the VCR and stay up well past their bedtimes. These movies (such as the Faces of Death series, Mondo Cane, and later Traces of Death) claimed to feature all real, all graphic, and all horrifying human and animal deaths that you couldn't see anywhere else. Of course, as time passed and viewers became far more tech savvy, it became clear just how fake most of these clips were. While an interesting curio of the time, the majority of the Mondo films simply don't hold up, and in most cases are laughably fake.
Then in the 1980s, the Japanese Guinea Pig series of films caused quite a stir when Charlie Sheen, of all people, contacted the MPAA about their content. Because Sheen and the ratings org believed the graphic on-screen deaths to be real, the FBI was involved, but it was eventually proven that the entire series of movies were inspired by Hideshi Hino's manga. Today, while definitely unpleasant, the effects look far less real.
Even today, the myth of the snuff film continues to persist. From The Blair Witch Project, to the recent The Upper Footage, people seem to desperately want to believe that lowlifes would actually murder people and turn it into the next great horror film. Is it because our desire for gore has grown to unquenchable proportions? Or are we just a society that has become numb to death because we see so much of it on the news? One thing is undeniable: in the current age of social media overload, the snuff film becoming an actual reality seems more plausible than ever.
While there are plenty to choose from, the following are the five most notorious "snuff" films, which at the time they were made were either believed to be actual footage of murder or featured so many simulated crimes that the creators suffered real-life consequences.
(You're on the horror page, but just to be clear: If you're bothered by nudity or extreme violence... don't watch the trailers.)
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Directed by Ruggero Deodato, Cannibal Holocaust is considered by many to be the first found-footage film. This documentary-style movie followed two separate film crews as they ventured into the Amazon and were both mercilessly slaughtered by a rainforest-dwelling cannibal tribe. Featuring real animal killings but (for the time) convincingly simulated human death, authorities were so horrified by what they saw in Deodato's film that they charged him with obscenity and murder. While the charges were obviously dropped when the actors appeared in court, alive and well, Deodato's career never really recovered from the controversy.
Sweet Movie (1974)
Out of all of the films on this list, this is probably the least seen... with good reason. When people ask me to describe this mind-boggling political allegory movie from director Dusan Makavejev, I am always at a loss for words. How do you describe a movie about a mute drugged out beauty queen who likes being peed on/eating vomit and poo and a female ship's captain who pilots a boat filled with chocolate and candy and sugar and molests young boys? You really can't... without sounding like you're on acid. But that description alone should tell you why Sweet Movie's main actress, Anna Prucnal, was exiled from Poland for over seven years and prevented from re-entering to see her dying her mother. Yeah. It's that kind of movie.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Almost everyone has heard of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò, but not many people have seen it, and I can understand why. I will admit, the first time someone suggested it to me, this was my reaction:
This based-on-a-true-story horror show features graphic depictions of child abuse, sadomasochism, coprophagia, and molestation, as four fascist libertines torture children for their own sick amusement. I have seen a lot of films, some of which others consider horrifying, but nothing has effected me like Salò. When Pasolini was murdered shortly after Salò's release, many in the film community believed his death was related in some way to the film's controversial subject matter. However, the motive behind the director's death remains a mystery.
August Underground (2001)
Thus far, each entry on this list of controversy-causing films has existed in a greater artistic or political cannon. But our next movie, August Underground, is by far the most... pointless. And it's a trilogy! Only vaguely directed by Fred Vogel, this haphazardly strung together series of clips featuring people being graphically tortured and murdered is not just brutal: it's totally stupid. All three films under the AU mantle terrified audiences because they looked so real, but in truth, they only looked real because the footage was so badly filmed. You could almost believe these movies were filmed by serial killers because they certainly didn't look like they were created by filmmakers. While I would consider suggesting the other movies on this list, don't with this one. Just. Don't.
The Upper Footage (2013)
This is the newest entry on our list, which is odd because it also is the least original (missing girl, found footage, shaky cam... yawn). The Upper Footage claims that for a large stretch of time, people believed it to be an actual snuff film, but after watching it, I'm wholly convinced this was just a truly clever marketing campaign. Directed by Justin Cole, this found-footage film claims to chronicle the real-life death and coverup of a young girl at the hands of a bunch of privileged, obnoxious asshats. While I appreciated the larger points Cole was trying to make about the way that society will forgive any crime if it's committed by the wealthy elite, The Upper Footage is so badly filmed and so horribly acted by its leads, that by the end, I just didn't care. Once again, I believe this is just a case of an epic marketing campaign supporting a mediocre film.
For horror reviews, lists, podcasts, and more, be sure to check out thehorrorhoneys.com!