What is a Snuff Film?

A snuff film is a slang term for a film that depicts a sexual act that includes a violent murder. The term was coined in reference to low-budget, but gruesome teen slasher films. It was eventually linked to sadistic pornography, in which an actress or victim is allegedly killed on screen. However, there is no evidence of a snuff film. Snuff films based on “real life” appear to be more urban legend than fact.

A poorly made cinematic film of the same name, released in 1976, gave birth to the snuff film. Snuff was a resurrected early 1970s project originally known as Slaughter. While Michael and Roberta Findlay, a sexploitation filmmaker, created Slaughter, Allan Shackelton later purchased the distribution rights. He reworked the film, adding new, provocative ending shots, and re-released it under a new title.

There was a lot of talk about Snuff at the time, and whether or not the action was real or not. Shackelton did little to assuage fears, relying on the fervor surrounding the then-current Charles Manson murders to pique interest. Protesters denounced the film, while others rushed to see it out of curiosity. The impact of Snuff spawned a slasher film genre that continues to exploit people’s deepest fears, as well as the snuff film urban legend.

Many concerned activists and feminists used snuff films to denounce pornography in general as public concern over depictions of sexual violence grew. Did underground snuff videos really exist, even if cinematic films were faked? Was it a case of “art imitating life” and death?

While many people believe that snuff films exist in the underbelly of the pornographic industry, others see this as a fallacy used to advance a larger agenda. People who claim these videos exist, according to critics, have never seen a snuff film for themselves. They also cite a number of law enforcement investigations that have unearthed a slew of so-called “snuff films” that have all turned out to be hoaxes.

On a different note, serial killers have been known to photograph or videotape torture sessions with their victims in order to relive their crimes. However, it is said that actual deaths are rarely, if ever, recorded. Terrorist groups, on the other hand, have used the internet to publicize actual murders in the form of beheadings. The unspeakable violence and very real death in these horrific clips is closer to a snuff film than the underlying urban legend that continues to usher teenagers into movie theaters, despite the lack of a sexual component.