Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reel Murder - An essay on snuff films

Chinese artist Zhu Yu eating what appears to be a dead fetus. Mr. Zhu claims the infant was stolen from a medical school.

A snuff movie is something real. It is also something horrible. Something so sinister and vile, dirty and utterly depraved, that you cannot help but curl your toes in revolt. Because a snuff film is something which makes you feel.

What you are about to read is all true. 


Being an avid horror movie collector, I had been searching for the ultimate scare for a long time. My personal collection numbered in the thousands, and I had seen the very worst of what was legal. And quite a lot of what was not. 

Yet the legend of snuff movies had always tantalized me. So, I began to dig.

But the road to snuff is a long passage through extreme violence and torture, pornography and blood, indifference and depression; where twisted images constantly whip you in the face. And then finally, when you're up to your corneas with dread, you meet a guy named Jimmy.


The term “snuff movie” was first coined by one of Charles Manson’s disciples, who claimed that the notorious cult leader had killed someone in front of a camera. However this was later proved to be nothing but a lie. And the history of snuff actually starts with a micro-budget movie filmed in 1971, originally titled Slaughter.

I won’t go into great details about what it’s about, but suffice to say that it’s very, very bad. And not in a “so bad it’s good”-way either. In fact, it is so bad that no distributor wanted to release it. So the completed film lay unwatched on a shelf for five years, until a small-time producer named Allan Shackleton stumbled upon it in 1976, and came up with an ingenious scheme to make some easy money with minimal effort: He added one extra scene to the end of the movie.

And what a scene it was.

Just when Slaughter was supposed to end with a young couple making love on a bed, this new scene continues. The camera pulls back and goes through the fourth wall, so that you can see the fake set and light fixtures, along with a whole film crew standing next to the bed where the two are having sex.

Thus, the illusion of watching a movie breaks, and you realize that you’re now seeing a sort of behind-the-scenes featurette showing the people who made the movie. In other words: You are no longer watching actors, but a recording of real life people. Only the young couple’s excitement does not end. They continue to caress and to kiss, passionately thrusting and panting as the camera rolls on.

Then it gets violent. The man starts beating up the young woman, abusing and insulting her, ever more intensely. And it goes on. The torture keeps escalating, until finally he pulls out a knife, opens up the woman’s belly, pulls out her intestines and shouts a sort of victory yell.

Then the cameraman says that they should get out of there and the screen goes black. THE END.

Of course this was all produced in a terrible low-fi fashion, so when Slaughter cuts from the old film onto this new scene, the image suddenly changes completely. The couple on the bed are played by other actors, and the set looks different. The special gore effects are nothing but hotdogs and ketchup, and the whole final scene looks absolutely nothing like the rest of the film.

But that didn’t matter, for Mr. Shackleton’s real genius lay in the marketing.

He got the altered film set to play at several grindhouse cinemas (remember this was long before the days of streaming, and even before DVDs and video) and hired small crowds of homeless people to stand outside and protest the movie.

Word spread fast and it wasn’t long before the feminist group Women Against Pornography joined the chorus. This gave the movie much publicity on various news channels, CBS News being the most prominent. And everyone who heard about it were outraged. They argued and complained, cried and shouted, as they all flocked to see the controversial feature. It was no longer titled Slaughter though, for Shackleton had given it a new name. Now the letters on the marquee spelled simply Snuff.


Back to Jimmy. Long before you could buy pretty much anything you would ever want online, most horror movie aficionados got their fix by swapping old and worn VHS-tapes. Sometimes however, you could get lucky by rummaging through “treasury chests”, where shady video shops put all the strange titles that nobody wanted to rent. And it was whilst reading the back of an oblique cover that I’d picked out of such a chest, that a young chap suddenly standing right behind me made me jump.

Jimmy laughed and said, “If you scare that easily, you better not watch that film.”


The definition of snuff movies is constantly debated. But most people agree on four main requirement which must be fulfilled for a movie to be called genuine snuff.

  1. A real murder must occur on camera.
  2. No special effects can are allowed.
  3. The movie has to be made for the purpose of sexual pleasure.
  4. And it must be produced with the intention of financial gain.

This means that Allan Shackleton’s Snuff movie is of course not actual snuff at all. The murder is just pretend, and the special effects are very obviously just that. However, the film did give birth to the legend of real snuff movies existing out there somewhere. And to this day there are still innumerable rumors and tall tales about someone who knows someone who knows someone who once saw a real snuff movie.

Yet, if snuff movies really do exist, proof of their existence has never been found. Or, to satisfy the conspiracy theorists out there: If any authorities have ever found a real snuff movie, they have never released their findings to the public.

They have come close a few times though. 


Jimmy and I immediately hit it off. As we both had seen a lot of the same films, we had much to talk about. We started hanging out, swapping movies and hunting down rarities together. Back then it was quite a hassle to acquire a lot of what is now internationally recognized as classic splatter cinema, and we often had to contact private vendors in other countries, just to obtain completely uncut versions of our favorite films.

After all, what’s the point of watching a scary movie, if all the scary parts are cut out? 


The most famous case of a real snuff movie ever existing was actually started by Charlie Sheen. As a devoted horror movie buff himself, Mr. Sheen was also searching for the extreme when he met his match in the infamous Japanese film titled The Flower of Flesh and Blood.

The movie is nothing but a prolonged torture sequence, where a man in a strange mask mutilates a young woman for 42 minutes. After hacking off all her limbs, cutting open her stomach and pulling out her guts, she finally dies.

For those who can bear to watch the movie, her death comes as quite a relief as her suffering is finally over. But before the movie ends, the vicious man pulls out a spoon and scoops out one of the woman’s eyes. The final shot has him sucking on her eyeball like a lollypop.

The Flower of Flesh and Blood is probably the most notorious of this type of films, but it is far from the only one. However, pure dismemberment sequences such as these were not for sale in any official video store. So you always had to get in touch with some private VHS collector who could make you a copy of an already worn tape. With each copy the quality got worse, and thus you always had to inquire about which generation the tape was.

When I first saw The Flower and Flesh and Blood back in the nineties, the tape I got was at least a sixth-generation copy and the image quality was so murky that it was difficult to make out what was going on at certain points. However, the deluded details only served to make the experience even scarier.

And when Mr. Sheen saw the same film, he hastily sent the tape over to the FBI, convinced that what he had seen was an actual murder on film.

FBI promptly opened an investigation. But when they started digging into who had made the movie, the filmmakers were quick to produce a behind the scenes-documentary which showed how it was made. And of course, it was all fake and special effects. In this documentary you can see a whole bunch of fake latex limbs being cleverly edited in a way to make them appear real, and how the “victim” laughs as she plays around with her fake guts to make time pass while she is getting covered by fake blood.

The movie was a smash hit in Japan, making it one of the most sold videotapes in the whole country. It also paved way for a whole bunch of sequels and created a new genre of so-called pseudo snuff.

However today, the myth about the original film is so well known that all the magic has long since disappeared, and the internet has made it next to impossible to fool anyone into believing that it’s supposed to be genuine snuff. As you once had to get in touch with somewhat shady people just to hear rumors about the vicious film, the whole thing is currently available on Youtube with a crisp DVD image.

But seeing it in crystal clear quality details does not help the 30 year old effects. And as the film even has English subtitles now, it all ends up a little bit silly. 


I had known Jimmy for more than a year, when he one day arrived with an exited grin on his face. I asked him what was up, and he replied by pulling out a black, unmarked tape from his bag.

But he wouldn’t let me have it.

First I had to promise that I would not tell anyone where I had gotten the tape if the police came busting in my door. 


The filmmakers behind Flower of Flesh and Blood are not the only ones who have gotten the police on their heels after being suspected of committing real murder on camera. Another who was persecuted is legendary director Ruggero Deoato after he made an absolutely ferocious film in 1980, titled Cannibal Holocaust.

This is a sort of mockuemtary (or fake documentary) that pretends to show the last hours of a film crew who venture into to the Amazonian jungle where they intend to film real life cannibals, only to end up as supper themselves.

To make it all seem real, the director had his actors sign a contract stating that they would hide from public for at least a year after the film’s premiere. But his plan worked a little bit too well, and mr. Deodato was arrested on murder charges. So he had to pull his actors out of hiding, to prove that they were of course very much alive.

Still the murders were so convincing that the moive was banned in more than 60 countries. However this only served to make people want to watch it all the more, and the film became a huge success that ended up making more money than Stephen Spielberg’s E.T. which was released at about the same time.

And the idea of promoting a movie by pretending the actors were really dead was later reused by the people behind The Blair Witch Project, to even greater financial success. 


Even holding Jimmy’s tape in my hands sent shivers down my spine.

Whenever we watched a movie together, we made a sport of being the first to spot the fakery and figure out the mechanics behind any blood splattered scene.

“That’s a fake knife.”

“That’s animatronics.”

“That arm is made of latex.”

“There was an edit where the actor was exchanged with a doll.”

“The blood runs too fast.”

“The intestines are in the wrong colors…”

We had seen countless documentaries about special effects and knew all the tricks. Figuring out how something was made was our way of dealing with the extreme images of blood and gore that kept filling up our head. After all, nothing is scary when you understand it’s not real.

But this time, Jimmy didn’t have any explanation for the film I was about to see. 


There are also countless so-called shockumentaries, meaning shocking documentaries about death and destruction, doing the rounds of hardcore horror circles. The most famous of these is the Faces of Death series, which illustrates various forms of execution techniques very realistically. Yet again, as terrible (or amusing) as these films may be, they are still all fake and forgery.

They did however spawn another spin off series called Traces of Death, where you do in fact get to see a lot of real murder and mayhem. But since these are all edited together from old stock footage, news reports, medical operations, etc., the films do not fill the snuff requirement of containing murders on camera done with the intent of financial gain.

Tapes such as these have also become quite outdated, since you can now easily find videos online of various real fundamentalists chopping of people’s heads. In fact, such recordings were so popular for a while, that they were often shared on Facebook by people who thought it was fun to trick others into seeing these atrocities against their will. But even these cannot be labeled genuine snuff, as they are not produced for sexual gratification. 


I put Jimmy’s tape in the VCR and pushed play.

White snow flimmered onto the screen, but gradually straightened into a black background. An uneasy mix of sound effects blasted from the speakers. Nails scratching a blackboard and quarreling cats, accompanied by daunting jazz notes from a double bass.

The screen went red and a title appeared: 



It is not uncommon for serial killers to attain celebrity status. And Tsutomu Miyazaki was at one point quite famous for having recreated scenes from Flower of Flesh and Blood without the luxury of special effects. He did it for real.

When he was eventually caught, a massive collection of horror movies was found in his apartment and among them were a bunch of private films where he had filmed himself slaughtering several young women.

As such, these recordings do fulfill most the requirements for being called real snuff, except for the fact that Miyazaki had kept the tapes only for his own warped pleasure, and never meant to sell them.

Still, the public frenzy over the case put a stop to there being made any more sequels to Flower of Flesh and Blood. 


Seeing the title Broken made me rather disappointed. Everyone on the trail of mythical snuff movies knows that they do not have titles. And Broken was not even pseudo-snuff. If it was, I would have heard about it.

Instead an obnoxious mix of bad taste and pornography blasted across the screen. Luckily it was quite short, and after approximately 10 minutes the image blurred again. 


Tsutomu Miyazaki is not the only serial killer who has filmed his victims. British citizen Fred West also became world famous when it was revealed that he had tortured, killed and buried several young girls under his patio, with the help of his loving wife.

When police eventually entered his house, they found a large collection of violent pornography. One of these supposedly showed two men raping a woman, before sticking a large tube into her vagina and making a live mouse enter. The police description of this tape would later go on to inspire famous author Bret Easton Ellis, who would write a very similar scene in his hugely successful novel American Psycho.

There were also 8 cameras found in West’s house. And a woman who worked in a local video shop once said in a BBC interview that Fred West had approached her and asked if they had any snuff movies. She had replied that yes, in fact they did have the 1976 movie titled Snuff, meaning the film at the start of this whole story. But Fred West replied that this was just bullshit. He was talking about real murder on camera, and wanted to know if she perhaps would like to buy some tapes?

As Fred West attempted to sell these tapes of real murder, it might be the only official record of snuff movies ever existing. However, police supposedly destroyed the tapes before anyone got to see them. 


Jimmy’s VHS stopped flickering again, and a woman appeared on the screen. She was tied to a chair and taped across her mouth. On the wall behind her someone had written Kill Roy was here.

Two men entered the scene and immediately started to grope her. Soon they were all naked and the film turned into traditional pornography.

I wasn’t really that keen on wasting my time watching some old porn flick from the seventies, and was about to fast forward, when one of the men plucked out several small live rodents from his coat pocket.

The other man produced a sort of transparent plexiglass tube, which he inserted into the woman’s sexual organ. A mouse was then showed into the other side of the tube and promptly started marching inside the victim.

I was watching the same tape that had been found in serial killer Fred West’s collection. 


Well-known horror movie affectionate Al Goldstein (publisher of the pornographic magazine Screw) has had a long standing one million dollar reward to anyone who can provide an actual snuff movie. Some people argue that the fact that no one has ever made claim to this money in the 40 years the offer has existed, is proof enough that snuff movies does not exist.

Others again point out that such a reward is an absolutely scandalous idea, since many people have committed murder for far less. And this offer can cause new killings. 


Kill Roy was here ended with the woman screaming, while several mice climbed all over her body. 

Suddenly the screen turned red and a new text appeared:

Sexual Perversion - Whip and Pierce 


Asian filmmakers are known for pushing limits, and there has long been rumors about a video where a group of men kill and rape a newborn baby, in that order. Still, the story is always told by someone who has a friend with a neighbor, who’s cousin’s wife once heard about it (or something to that effect) and there has never been any proof that such a video actually exists.

But in 2011 there was a more traditional horror movie released with the somewhat perplexing title A Serbian Film, which featured a similar scene. The film has since become notorious for its extreme depiction of rape and murder, and even though it is actually a very well made production that supposedly satirized the horrors of Serbian history, it has been labeled “child pornography” and banned in several countries. One of these is Norway, where any purchase, sale, or public showing of the film can result in up to 6 months in jail. 


Whip and Pierce lingered on the screen for a long time. I began wondering if this was actually the end of the video, when the text finally faded and gave way to a handheld recording of someone walking down a street.

After a little while the person with the camera noticed a woman and began stalking her. He followed her down several streets as she obviously became more and more distressed by his looming presence. Just as she was about to run, the unseen cameraman charged and struck her unconscious.

In the next scene she was naked and tied up in some dirty basement. The camera had apparently been mounted on a tripod now, and the woman screamed as a man with an executioner’s mask appeared.

Without any further warning, he began doing exactly what the title of the movie had promised. A sharp whip of sorts tore up her skin with every strike, and syringe needles was jabbed into her flesh.

After about 10 minutes of torture, the woman was bleeding all over. A tight rope had been tied around her neck and she balanced on her toes to stay alive. The executioner grabbed a long machete and moved in to strike the final blow. But just as he was about to take her life, the film ended.

My pulse pounded all over my body. I felt sick and dizzy and pushed the stop button. The whole world spun around me, and I sat in silence for a while, getting my grips.

Then I pushed play again. 


In the late 90s there was a Russian webpage which openly advertised that it could deliver genuine snuff movies. The site was called Candyland was run by Dmitri Vladimirovich Kuznetsov; a thirty-something car mechanic who had several kids locked up in cages, and did every horrible thing imaginable to them on camera, in order to make money off the videos. 

The site had several thousand customers who paid big money to have the videos sent to them by mail, and it was eventually Italian police who caught on to the scheme when they seized more than three thousand films on their way to clients.

The official report still claims that none of the children kept in captivity were killed on tape. However the Italian newspaper Il Mattino published the following transcript of Kuznestov’s email with a customer:

-      Promise me you're not ripping me off, says the Italian.

-      Relax, I can assure you this one really dies, the Russian responds.

-      The last time I paid and I didn't get what I wanted.

-      What do you want?

-      To see them die. 


A new text appeared on the screen. 

Sexual Perversion: Cut and Burn

This time the man with a mask used a dildo with protruding nails on some new woman he had tied down. He also singed her breasts with a blow torch. Cut and burn indeed.

It was all done in one continuous shot, giving no room to swap the victim’s body with fake prosthetics. The film was obviously such a cheap production anyway, that there couldn’t have been a budget to achieve this level of realism with special effects. I had no doubt that what I was seeing was real.

After about 10 minutes of torture it ended just like the last one with the screen going black right when the victim was about to die.

More such short films followed. All of them with the same descriptive titles, and the same ending. 


The most common excuse as to why anyone would ever want to watch a snuff film in the first place, is morbid curiosity. The well-known traffic accident-metaphor is frequently used as an explanation as to why you simply have to look at something that you do not want to see.

The whole appeal of horror movies is to experience something scary. Like the tantalizing twists of a roller coaster, you will stand in line for ages just to experience true terror. Then, once buckled up in the relative safety of your chair, you will scream and regret ever going on the ride, only to run to the end of the que and do it all over again.

However, after having sat through countless horrifying features, anyone will go numb. But you still want more. Thus the hunt for extremities begins. And before you know it, the worst thing you can possibly imagine, is also the best thing you can think of. You long to feel afraid again. To feel something real.


After five or six Sexual Perversion-clips, the tape came to an end. I had then bore witness to several torture sequences which I was completely convinced were 100% real.

But all the victims had still been alive at the end of each clip. And I could still not boast to have seen a real snuff movie. 


In 2010, underground porn director Jason Whitman was interviewed by the bondage site and revealed how he had produced the Sexual Perversion films. The secret behind the unbearably realistic torture sequences was as simple as it was outlandish: He had simply found women who were extreme masochists and enjoyed being tortured.

At the end of each shoot he had always asked his “victims” how the experience had been for them, and made sure that he hadn’t gone too far. But when several ladies replied that they had actually achieved climax while he cut their flesh, he was always annoyed at how difficult it was to capture female orgasms on camera, as it was impossible to tell the difference between cries of pain and shouts of pleasure. When asked if he also got excited from torturing women, he flatly replied that it was just a job.


I gave the tape back to Jimmy a few days later, and we stopped hanging out after that.

My search for the extreme whimpered and these days I much rather go for a gripping drama or a silly comedy.


But I still can’t stand a happy ending.

It has later been speculated that the baby was in fact assembled by the body of a duck and the head of a doll. Although this has never been proven.

Some sources:

Other good feature films to check out are:
-       “Tesis” a great gem of a movie, concerning a fictional snuff movie production crew.
-       “Cure” by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. A hypnotic film, which will make you afraid of your own willingness to watch it to the end.
-       “Mute Witness” actually a poor movie, but still deals with the topic of snuff.
-       “August Underground” series. I did not like these films. They were quite annoying, in my opinion. But if you want a rough idea of how all these authentic video tapes made by serial killers might look like, you can take a look at these. There are loads more movies like this, especially from Asia.
-       “The Hostel” by Eli Roth. A movie about a place where one can go and pay a large amount of money to be able to butcher innocent backpackers. I didn’t like the film very much, but it suggests a possible way these things might go down.

Copyright Tiger Blam


  1. If you have facebook you can contact a guy called Natan Solans sr, he's an argentinian master of visual fx, but he also knows something you may like to know, it's a real experience with snuff, in Brazil.

  2. Hey, Tiger Blam! First of all of thanks for following my blog Written in Blood. I am now following you via Google FC.
    Secondly, great blog you have here.Your article on snuff films is a pretty damn good one. It seems like you believe they exist even the Eff Bee Eye says no way. I believe in them too. People will pay money to see anything. Thirdly, thanks for commenting at my blog.
    Keep up the good work!

  3. Hey John. Thanks

    Sure they exist. Actually, with all the weird things in this world, I believe it's somewhat ignorant to think that nobody out there has ever made a snuff film.

    But, after all my own searching, I also found myself wondering why the heck I wanted to see one, when a snuff film is simply a person being killed. Turning on the news, you will see multiple people killed every day. So what if they're not "filmed being killed for the purpose of being sold as snuff movies". These are still real people dying on your screen. And the whole obsession with snuff movies, becomes just that: an obsession.

  4. The introduced essay is great, thanks for the write-up! I guess it's a real experience with snuff!

  5. thanks a lot for telling us about the Reel murder and snuff movies! I like your essays, they show your level of education! keep posting!

  6. I am sure that your story has been read by many of your visitors. Thanks for sharing it with us! We pretty much appreciate your assistance.