The internet has brought the snuff film legend back big time. It seems
obvious that distributing snuff movies would be easier than ever,
thanks to that series of tubes. After all, child pornography – which
was almost impossible to distribute back in the day, and which was once
restricted to small groups of cretins who produced the stuff themselves
– has blossomed in the internet age. Kiddie porn rings were, like snuff
film rings, once the province of the fantasies of alarmists and
anti-porn advocates, but today they’re a real thing, operating out of
some of the same nations where imaginary snuff rings are based. It
seems quite plausible that a real snuff film ring might one day emerge.

Of course the definition of snuff film that I used before is vital when we’re talking about modern day snuff films. Serial killers have recorded their horrible deeds in the past, although until this month I haven’t seen any claims that they taped the actual murders. Serial killer tag team Laurence Lake and Charles Ng made videos of themselves tormenting their victims, but nothing I’ve read indicates that they taped the actual killings. Another tag team, Lawrence Bittiker and Ray Norris, made audio tapes of themselves raping women, but again, not of the actual murders. Snuff film arrests happen occasionally, but there have never been any convictions. In all likelihood what happens is that people make fake snuff films and dupe gullible types – who’s going to go to the police and complain that they got bilked out of a few grand by a guy claiming to have a killing on tape? Once in a while these tapes fall into the hands of authorities, there’s a tussle and an arrest, and once it’s proved to be fake everybody just forgets that it ever happened, in an attempt to keep egg off the faces of law enforcement. One of the most recent cases happened in 2000 when Dmitri Vladimir Kuznetsov was arrested by Italian police for distributing child snuff films all over Europe, and especially in Great Britain. That case never seemed to go anywhere, and as far as I can tell Kuznetsov was released from custody. He was also accused of being behind a kiddie porn ring, but I guess that didn’t stick either.

This month an exceptionally disturbing video made its way online. It’s cell phone footage taken by the so-called Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs, a trio of well-off Ukrainian kids who have been convicted of the murders of TWENTY ONE people over the course of a month last summer (or in 2005. This stuff is hard to nail down). They apparently filmed their crimes on their cell phones and then went to the funerals of their victims; the footage I saw was unbelievably graphic, played out without an edit and showed the kids caving in a man’s face, stabbing him repeatedly in the gut and then, when he was still alive and wheezing after almost ten minutes of torment, bashing his brains in with a sledge hammer.

Interestingly, this case seems to have gotten almost no media attention. Aside from a report on the English language Russian news channel RT, I have not seen a single reference to these murders or the boys convicted of committing them in any place except for internet forums and blogs. Surely a case this sensational – twenty killings in a month, perpetrated by three teens! And filmed! – would cut through the Western media’s disinterest in the former Soviet Union. Yet nobody is reporting on it. I wonder if the ghost of Allan Shackleton isn’t at fact at play here.

At any rate, even if that video is real, it wouldn’t be a snuff movie. The kids in the video weren’t planning on distributing it – at one point you see their car, a pretty good way of getting caught – so it was meant for personal use. And by definition, a murder movie shot for personal use just isn’t a snuff movie.

Which brings us to the other strange internet murder video phenomenon – the videos made by Islamic extremist groups. Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was horrifically beheaded on camera, sights and sounds that will forever haunt me. Jihadists have taken up the indie filmmaking challenge by producing a wide array of sickening execution tapes, and there’s even a sniper in Iraq who goes by the name of Juba who tapes his exploits and releases edited videos on the web, accompanied by jaunty Middle Eastern music. Juba’s videos – which some have claimed are faked, but which would require some excellent production value (and the assistance of white people in the Middle East willing to pretend to be shot in the head) – are remarkable sniper’s eye views of US soldiers getting headshotted, but again, wouldn’t fall under the snuff film definition. These movies aren’t meant to ‘entertain’ in the strictest sense of the word (although the editors of Juba’s videos have certainly tried to make them ‘watchable,’ if not actually ‘entertaining’). They’re propaganda films, meant to incite folks at home and terrify us here in the USA. They’re skirting the edge – there’s no doubting that the Islamic fucktards making these movies like what they’re doing – but they’re not really snuff films.

There are still people who will claim that snuff films are real. Some will incorrectly point you to sites like LiveLeak, which specializes in video of shootings, suicides and accidents, as a place where you can see real snuff. Others will believe that snuff film rings operate in third world countries, convinced by rumors and by a long Hollywood history of making movies about snuff films (check out Videodrome for probably the best movie about snuff films ever made). And yet others will tell you they’ve met people who have seen snuff films, but these people they met were almost certainly like Charlie Sheen – folks duped by gore effects.

It’s interesting that this legend continues. And it’s even more interesting that we’ve created a nightmare for our society that it can’t actually meet. Growing up in a post-Holocaust world any inhumanity seems not only possible but probable. The horrors of John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer are so extreme that the idea of the next step – these creeps filming what they did and putting the footage out on the internet – seems almost tame. Well, of course they’d do it. But nobody has.

What’s scary about snuff films isn’t the idea of being murdered on camera, although that’s pretty scary and creepy. It’s the idea of being murdered for money. It’s the idea that drives Eli Roth’s Hostel, that atrocities visited upon you are borne of business. Nobody wants to be killed by a serial killer, but at least with your average maniac there’s some sort of motive, some sort of driving force that makes this person kill, something that feels like a force of nature. But being killed on camera so money can be made? That’s just cold.

This article wouldn’t have been possible without the following sources:

The May/June 1999 Skeptical Inquirer: “The Making of an Urban Legend”

Killing For Culture: Death Film From Mondo to Snuff
by David Kerekes and David Slater