(2015) ‘A Murder Mystery in Black and Blue: The Marketing, Distribution and Cult Mythology of Snuff. in the UK, in Jackson, N et al. (eds.) Snuff: Real Death and Screen Media, London and New York: Bloomsbury
The history of the video nasty fiasco in Britain is now well documented with many books, magazines and websites detailing the Director of Public Prosecution’s list of banned titles. However, the UK distribution history of Snuff (1976)—arguably the most controversial nasty of all—still remains shrouded in mystery and dispute. This paper sheds some light on Snuff’s elusive British history, and its sustained legacy within contemporary video nasty fan communities and British culture more generally. Originally intended for release to rental stores in 1982, the film would be distributed by Astra Video, one of many independent UK distributors seeking to cash-in on the video rental boom. However, the video’s advance publicity—which presented the lurid blue cover-art for Snuff alongside the blood-red artwork for the release of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ similarly controversial Blood Feast (1963) (‘Wall to Wall Gore!’ the ad proclaimed)—sparked such a negative reaction in the British press, that Astra was forced to retract the film. In spite of this, two releases of the film followed: a ‘black sleeve’ version which bore no reference to Astra whatsoever, and a ‘blue sleeve’ version, which retained all of Astra’s branding. Both are denied as having been official releases by the company, despite being widely circulated in rental stores throughout the UK. Drawing on new archival research from trade magazines, the Mary Whitehouse archive, and online fan communities, this paper will explore how the marketing and distribution travails of the UK release of Snuff are mobilized in fan’s disagreements over its history and valuations of the original video cassette and the ways in which these contribute to Snuff’s continuing mythic status. The paper will also shed some new light on Astra’s original positioning within this debate, and reassess the long-standing assumption that the company were not behind either the ‘black sleeve’ or the ‘blue sleeve’ version.