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Blue Underground // Unrated // October 22, 2013 // Region 0
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 4, 2013 | E-mail the Author
The good
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news...? Blue Underground is back!

The bad news...? Um, Snuff.

That's not me playing up to some snarky online movie reviewer stereotype or whatever either. Just about everyone who's suffered through Snuff can't stomach the damned thing. Even the extras on this Blu-ray disc are teeming with people cringing at how amateurish, unconvincing, and generally tedious this sucker is, up to and including the "appreciation" by filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) who admits that he'll probably never watch it again.

The story of Snuff is a whole helluva lot more interesting than the movie itself. Back in the very early '70s, underground filmmakers Michael and Roberta Findlay trotted down to South America to hammer out a Manson Family ripoff on the cheap. Slaughter had the barely-there premise of a cult leader -- reigning over an army of nubile, bloodthirsty, drug-addled twentysomething-year-old women -- breeding the perfect child for human sacrifice. Sure, that sounds like something I'd wanna watch, but there are maybe six or seven minutes of that, and the rest of it alternates between clumsy melodrama and softcore frolicking.

Slaughter in its original form was basically unwatchable. Every scene drags on at least two or three times longer than necessary to pad the movie out to something vaguely feature-length. The Argentinian cast spoke little-to-no English, and the canned dialogue recorded months after the fact are sleepy, flat, lifeless, and howlingly inept all around, never even making an attempt to match any frantically flapping lips. Slaughter bounces back and forth between endlessly talky sequences about this flighty American actress' search for romance south of the border and brief derailment likes her boyfriend's German father selling arms in the Middle East and long, interminable stretches of nothing. There's a body
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count and all, but there's not really any attempt at tension or suspense, and the brutality is almost always a single gunshot or a single barely-on-screen stabbing...too meek to disturb or unnerve much of anyone. Slaughter is amateurish even grading on a no-budget grindhouse curve. It looks like the Findlays just slapped down a tripod and started rolling film, without even a cursory effort directed towards framing or composition. Nothing cuts together. There's no sense of rhythm or flow. I kept mixing up which characters are which. Sometimes all that works out in the movie's favor. One flashback has what seems like four and a half hours of a cow being milked, and that's followed up by a little girl desperately crying out to her pet turtle. I howled at a drug dealer's cartoony, billowing cape as she swoops into a restroom for the kill. I guess the Findlays couldn't schmooze their way into anything resembling a police station, so instead they have a detective sitting at a desk outside the Argentinian equivalent of Jiffy Lube or something. Generally, though, it's just really, really, really, really, really boring.

It's unclear if Slaughter in its original form scored even the most limited theatrical release in the 'States. Exploitation distributor Allan Shackleton eventually picked it up for a song, but it was so unwatchable that he didn't think he could
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recoup the few grand he paid, so he sat on it for years. In the mid-'70s, stories started circulating about underground filmmakers murdering people on camera and selling the footage. Even all these years later, there's never been any documented evidence of a genuine snuff film -- people dying on camera, sure; filming a murder for profit and eventual resale, no -- but the idea still unnerved the country at large, at long last giving Shackleton a way to cash in on Slaughter. First, he stripped away the credits and end titles. Then he rented a tiny little insert studio for a day, producing a five minute coda where the crew of Slaughter tortures and gruesomely murders the movie's lead actress on-camera. Nevermind the fact that the bedroom is a poor match and it's a completely different actress. It ends with the last of the film running through the camera and one of the crew asking "did you get it?"

It's a shameless stunt, but it worked. Before Shackleton could hire any fake protestors to drum up publicity for his newly-retitled Snuff, real ones started showing up, waving homebrew signs decrying the film's exploitation of women. As sloppy and unconvincing as the brutality that closes the film is, legions remained dead certain that they were watching a young woman being savagely murdered on-camera. Shackleton made a mint on this manufactured controversy, and even after the film had all but vanished from release, its notoriety never really went away.

When Blue Underground's Bill Lustig got his hands on Snuff, he kept the myth going by releasing the movie on a full-frame DVD in basically a brown paper bag. No menu. No extras. No chapter stops. Not even any corporate indicia on the package. It was the closest thing to a bootleg that you could pick up at Best Buy. Blue Underground has taken an entirely different tack with this Blu-ray release, though, as close to a special edition as you can get for a film where virtually everyone involved has either died or were never to be found again. When it comes to Snuff, you're buying the legend, and the movie itself is almost beside the point. There's no point in bothering to endure Snuff a second time, but it's still something I'm glad I've seen once, especially in such a slick looking edition with a handful of quality extras in tow. Rent It.

Worlds removed from the full-frame 'brown bag' DVD, Snuff has been lavished with a brand new and shockingly gorgeous widescreen transfer. From what I understand, it's been brought to life by a collector's well-preserved release print, and between that and Snuff's no-budget, grindhouse origins, this Blu-ray disc is pretty much a revelation. It still looks like a gritty 16mm cheapie and all that, with some expected softness, but detail and clarity are surprisingly solid. This is a very filmic presentation, not dragged down by any excessive filtering or hiccups in the AVC encode. There's a modest amount of speckling, scratches, assorted wear, and the occasional cigarette burn, but that sort of thing is lighter than I'd expect and never really intrudes. I wonder how much of that was baked into the repurposing of Slaughter into Snuff or sloppy lab work before the fact; the tacked-on ending looks absolutely immaculate. The color correction is pitch-perfect too, ensuring that the film looks vital and alive throughout. There's no salvaging the least convincing day-for-night footage in the annals of cinema, but other than that...? This high definition presentation of Snuff is better than I ever could've hoped, finding that perfect balancing between gritty grindhouse and a high-def spit-and-polish.

"...after the carnival!"

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Snuff arrives on a single layer Blu-ray disc at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Interestingly enough, the newly-produced extras are served up at 1.66:1 as well.

On the other hand, Snuff's 16-bit, monaural DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack doesn't rank much higher than serviceable. Music and sound effects come through alright. The film's canned, incompetently looped dialogue shows its age and suffers from mild strain. It's listenable, and there aren't any pops, clicks, or dropouts to get in the way, but keep your expectations reasonable.

Optional English (SDH) subtitles are also along for the ride.

The word going around is that Blue Underground searched high and low for the original version of Slaughter, complete with end titles, but that didn't pan out. Previous efforts to track down more of the cast and crew of Snuff
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came a cropper as well, so it's pretty impressive that Blue Underground was able to assemble as many extras as they have here.
  • Interviews (24 min.; mostly HD): The centerpiece of this disc's extras is a conversation with Carter Stevens, a filmmaker who had a front row seat to the five minute tag at the end of Snuff. It's a tremendous story that includes everything from a failed Star Trek parody all the way to the nameless actress breaking down and dead fucking certain she was going to be murdered. Stevens points out some of the glaring flaws in the effects work and talks about some gags that they didn't have time to work into the film.

    Snuff admirer Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) offers a 45 second introduction to the film as well as an interview of his own. It's kind of a rambling conversation that less effectively retreads what Stevens had already covered, but it's interesting enough hearing his perspective...more fascinated by the goofy melodrama than the faux-snuff at the end.

    The lone standard-def extra -- shot in Hi8 or something -- has retired FBI agent Bill Kelly speaking about his investigations into snuff films in general and, yup, Snuff in particular, not that anyone that was paying attention was fooled.

  • Image Galleries: There are a few dozen images between Snuff's pair of galleries, including lobby cards, video box art from across the globe, and newspaper clippings about its notoriety.

  • Snuff: The Seventies and Beyond: Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study; Found Footage Horror Films: Fear and the Appearance of Reality) contributes a thoughtful five page essay about the depiction of actual deaths in art over the years and Snuff in particular.

  • Trailers (5 min.; SD): Last up are a pair of trailers: one domestic, the other German.

Snuff is an all-region disc, arriving in a really striking blood red case with reversible cover art.

The Final Word
Blue Underground had their fun a decade ago playing up the legend of Snuff with their mass-produced bootleg. This time around, they're honoring Snuff with the closest thing we're ever likely to get to a definitive release, complete with a shockingly pretty presentation and a solid selection of extras. No one's pretending that the movie itself is anything but trash -- that's treated like kind of a selling point on the flipside of the case -- but Snuff is still worth watching once for anyone fascinated by this notorious 80 minute publicity stunt, especially in a release put together as well as this one. Rent It.
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