Alexandra Heller-Nicholas has argued that while Snuff (1976) might not be the ‘best’ film produced in the 1970s, it could be the decade’s most important ‘worst’ film (online, no date); proof perhaps that an idea can often be more powerful than its execution. After all, the power of Snuff comes not from the quality of its production values, but from its central conceit; from the belief that somewhere, at some time, someone was killed on camera, and that crucially, this murder was carried out explicitly for commercial gain and for the sexual gratification of a debased and deviant audience. This is an idea has had a lasting effect upon both western cinema, and western society, and while the mythology of the snuff film did not begin with the release of the film Snuff, the existence of the film has given credence to the myth and to have consolidated the belief that people are actually being killed on camera for entertainment.
This is a book about the film Snuff, but it is also a book about the idea of snuff. The two are inseparable, and it is impossible to talk about the film without addressing both its cultural origins and its cultural legacy. The book is comprised of 6 chapters, that examine the myth, origins, authenticity, legacy, reality and definition of snuff, considering the acceptance and evolution of the category, and the ways in which much of this pervasive idea can be attributed to the film Snuff. Chapter 1, ‘The Myth of Snuff,’ introduces the film and provides an overview of the narrative. It explores the ways in which the film capitalised on the already existing myth of snuff movies in order to create a media furore. It considers how this furore further contributed to the myth and helped to consolidate an idea that has continued to reverberate through popular culture. Chapter 2, ‘The Origins of Snuff’, traces the aesthetic, cultural and the industrial origins of the film Snuff, exploring the debt that the film owed to cinema verité, but also to the mondo films of the 1960s. It considers how the Manson family murders contributed to the myth, and explores the industrial contexts that gave rise to the film in the first place. Chapter 3, ‘The Authenticity of Snuff’, considers a fundamental aspect of the snuff myth, the debate as to the authenticity of the film. However, rather than revisit the well-trodden argument about whether the film contains footage of a real murder, this chapter will instead consider the debate that surrounds the UK release of Snuff, and whether any of the versions available can be considered authentic. Chapter 4, ‘The Legacy of Snuff’, examines the cultural, cinematic and political legacy of the film, exploring how Snuff, and other films that have capitalised on the snuff myth, contribute to the belief that not only do snuff movies exist but that they are endemic in our culture. Chapter 5, ‘The Reality of Snuff’, examines some of the most horrific crimes of torture, rape and murder in recent years, and scrutinises how these crimes were reported but, also, how well they conform to the FBI’s definition for what constitutes a snuff movie. Finally, Chapter 6, ‘The Redefinition of Snuff’, revisits the accepted definition of the snuff movie and asks whether, in the 21st century and in the age of the internet, this traditional definition should be revised to accommodate an expanded notion of commerce in the attention economy.