ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

The horror genre is constantly trying to push the envelope, so is it too much to wonder if one day some crazed director may push it too far? This is the question that keeps people wondering about "snuff films," mythical movies that feature an actual murder recorded and distributed for the masses.

Despite the fact that, time and time again, supposed snuff films are consistently proven false, there are a few that keep us wondering. Here's a list of movies that made death look so damn real, they'll make you wonder if you're committing a crime simply by watching.

WARNING: Because these films are convincingly gory by nature, the content below (both images and text) is extremely gruesome and NSFW. Read at your own risk.

1. Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood

Prepare yourself for a background story that somehow sounds even more unbelievable than a movie entitled Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood. In 1991, Charlie Sheen (yes, that Charlie Sheen) got his hands on a copy of the Japanese torture film, which revolves around a lunatic who mutilates a woman in order to add her body parts to his collection. Believing it to be an authentic snuff film, Sheen hurriedly summoned the FBI. You read that right, this is an instance of Charlie Sheen requesting the police's involvement.

After reviewing the tape, the FBI investigated nearly everyone involved, especially a distributor of the film named Charles Balun. He and director Hideshi Hino admitted that the victim's torture and death appear strikingly realistic, but that they were nothing more than movie magic. (Like they've never heard that one before).

In a moment of brilliance or complete exploitation, the Japanese filmmakers found this to be the best time to release Making of Guinea Pig in the US. The behind-the-scenes documentary revealed all the technical tricks and visual precision that went in to making the onscreen death appear so real. As a result, the FBI backed off, and the controversy stirred up enough interest in Flower of Flesh and Blood to land it on numerous lists of the world's most disturbing movies.

2. Irreversible

Admittedly, I knew Irreversible was entirely fictional (how can you not when you have celebs like Monica Bellucci involved?), but, holy crap, the violence in it feels so sickeningly real. The story is told in reverse chronological order and tracks a man on the hunt to avenge his girlfriend's brutal rape. Accompanying him is the woman's ex-boyfriend who begrudgingly joins pursuit and ends up committing a heinous murder.

Because the movie begins at the end, one of its first scenes depicts what must be one of the most realistic deaths ever captured onscreen. The two protagonists careen through a BDSM club called The Rectum, while the camera seems hellbent on spinning toward the most off-putting angles possible. At this point the viewer has absolutely no idea what is going on or who these characters are, which only enhances the overall feeling of confusion. All you is see is one of the characters pounce on a man, and, in a series of blows, the man's face becomes a mass of bloody pulp and ooze.

To add an extra dash of nausea, the director, Gaspar Noé, employs sonic techniques that covertly disorient the viewer through oscillating sound waves. The result, in my experience, was this moment of knee-jerk empathy that made me feel like whatever was happening in front of me just HAD to be real. No matter how much knowledge you have prior to watching, Irreversible manages to trick your brain into believing the gruesome crimes you see are really taking place.

3. Snuff

With the title alone, Snuff REALLY plays up fear of the entertainment industry's dark side. With taglines like "The film that could only be made in South America" and "The picture that could NEVER be now playing at a theatre near you," Snuff pretty much bragged about featuring an authentic murder and invited everyone to watch. Additionally, the story about cult leader who instructs his followers to commit murder felt disjointed and haphazard, and the amateur style only added to the feeling of authenticity.

In fact, Snuff proved to be a nothing more than hugely successful marketing ploy, orchestrated by Grindhouse distributor Allan Shackleton. He chopped together pieces of an unreleased movie called Slaughter and capitalized on the murder of Sharon Tate and others by the Manson family. Snuff is the perfect example of how much some viewers expect that a snuff film is possible and may even already exist, ensuring that we consider it every time.

4. Salò or 120 Days of Sodom

I first came across Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò or 120 Days of Sodom in a college course, and, let me tell you, there's a reason most people avoid this sadistic spectacle. First of all, it's literally sadistic, as in the man who authored the film's source material, the Marquis de Sade. Secondly, By the movie's third act, two of my classmates left the room to vomit and another passed out (in a class of only nine people).

Salo's story follows a group of young boys and girls who are abducted by four fascists and forced into acts of degradation, sodomy, and coprophagia (Google that at your own risk). After they suffer weeks of sexual and physical abuse, they are slaughtered in some of the most gruesome ways imaginable (scalping, burning, eye-gouging, and tongue extraction), all while the viewer takes on the perspective of one of the deranged old men. Salò may not be filmed in a documentary style, but it relentlessly berates you with in-your-face violence to the point where you can't help but accept it all (and end up hating yourself for watching).

5. Cannibal Holocaust

You can't mention would-be snuff films without addressing the depravity that is Cannibal Holocaust, a gruesome story about a documentary crew tasked with recording cannibalistic tribes. Director Ruggero Deodato filmed mostly on location in the Amazon Rainforest, creating a heightened sense of realism by having his actors engage with the area's indigenous people. The "shockumentary" was the first to exploit the found footage format for marketing purposes, a choice which would come back to haunt the director.

Clearly I wasn't alone in thinking this movie was way too close to reality considering Deodato was arrested on obscenity and murder charges after the premiere. To make matters worse, the six onscreen animal deaths WERE REAL, and the actors signed a contract stating that they would not discuss their involvement in the film for an entire year. In order to disprove the snuff film accusations, Deodato was forced to summon the main cast for an on-air interview (foregoing their agreement) and fully explain the special effects behind the infamous impalement scene.

Even after thirty years and an acquittal for Deodato, I still shudder when I see this woman lifelessly suspended while the filmmakers get their best angle.

What horror films left you wondering if the story really happened?


Which of these films had the most convincing portrayal of death?


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