Snuff Films

This essay has a total of 2626 words and 12 pages.

Snuff Films

Also known as "white heat" films and "the real thing," the snuff film myth lives on like
Bigfoot, despite the fact that no law enforcement agency in America has publicly admitted
to ever locating one. Alan Sears, former executive director of the Attorney General's
commission on pornography during 1985-86, agrees with the more than two dozen law
enforcement agencies I interviewed. "Our experience was that we could not find any such
thing as a commercially produced snuff film," says Sears. "Our commission was
all-inclusive and exhaustive. If snuff films were available, we'd have found them."

This sentiment is echoed by Ken Lanning, a cult expert at the FBI training academy at
Quantico, Virginia. "I've not found one single documented case of a snuff film anywhere in
the world. I've been searching for 20 years, talked to hundreds of people. There's plenty
of once-removed sightings, but I've never found a credible personality who personally saw

Yet the rumour of snuff persists. The scenarios are invariably the same - a remote jungle
village in South America, a deserted beach in Thailand, the landscaped garden of a German
industrialist, a lonely Everglades swamp. The victims are usually women, often performing
a sexual act, their deaths sensational and unexpected.

One of the most resilient snuff rumours concerns convicted "Son of Sam" killer David
Berkowitz, who allegedly filmed the murders of some of his victims. Maury Terry, author of
"The Ultimate Evil," a book about Berkowitz and cult killings across America, tells me,
"Its believed Berkowitz filmed his murders to circulate within the Church of Satan. On the
night of the Stacy Moskowitz killing, there was a VW van parked across the street from the
murder site under a bright sodium street lamp.

"Witnesses have confirmed this, although the van never appeared in the police report.
Berkowitz or an accomplice filmed Moskowitz's murder, using the street lamp to light the
subject as she sat in her car across the street." The 20-year-old Moskowitz was killed in
1977 in Brooklyn.

Terry says the film was apparently made for Roy Radin, the Long Island impresario and
"wannabe Cotton Club financier." "Radin was known for his huge porno collection and wanted
to add a snuff film to it. I've heard there are ten copies of this film floating around,
although I've never seen it."

Rumours of snuff have surfaced in many Asian and western European countries, including
Great Britain. In 1990 The Times printed a story recounting a 1975 American investigation
in which police had discovered evidence of Mexican immigrants being killed in snuff films,
"in lurid detail to satisfy the insatiable demands of the pornography industry." It goes
on to tell the story of a Californian who in 1985 murdered 25 women on film; video tapes
of the actual killing were said to be doing a thriving business at video rental stores.

In the same Times piece, Dr. Ray Wyre, clinical director of the Gracewell Clinic for
convicted paedophiles in Birmingham, England, is quoted as having viewed snuff films
firsthand in America. When contacted, however, Wyre indicated that the films he saw were
"sophisticated simulations" but insisted that the FBI had a number of snuff films in their
possession. He said snuff films were definitely available in England, but that he had
never seen one.

Detective Mick Hames, head of the Obscene Publications Division at Scotland Yard,
responded to Wyre's assertions. "I'd be the first to know if there were any in Britain,"
says Hames. "But there just aren't. Though I understand snuff films exist in America."

For all its lack of verifiable evidence, one wonders why the mythology of snuff survives.
Ask any L.A. hipster, and although they themselves haven't seen a snuff film, they know
someone who has. It's become an accepted truth, like global warming: Snuff films are out
there because it seems plausible that they would be.

Director Paul Schrader, who alluded to the snuff phenomenon in his film "Hardcore,"
recently said, "Movies are a flexible medium. It's easy to simulate death on film, which
is partly why people think snuff films exist. They've seen simulated versions and believe
they're genuine. I think it's conceivable these films exist, but whether they do or not is
less important than the public's belief that they do; their willingness to believe in an
evil fantasy. That's what's interesting here."

According to Manny Neuhaus, former editor of Screw magazine, the rumour of snuff is kept
alive by anti-pornography crusaders. Contends Neuhaus, "Snuff is made-up phenomenon, a
formidable myth which has become pornography-related to discredit pornography." He says
that in the 1970s, when snuff was first in the news, Al Goldstein (publisher of Screw)
offered $ 25,000 to anyone who would come forward with a copy of a snuff film. There were
no takers. "Snuff has been talked about for 20 years," Neuhaus says. "Don't you think
they'd have turned one up by now?'

"After 'Snuff' came out in the 70s, suddenly everyone in America believed they'd seen a
snuff film, so it was our job to view these things and determine if they were real,"
remembers LAPD Vice Squad Sergeant Smith, who was then a supervising detective for the
department's Pornography Section. "I recall one particularly realistic film, a 16mm sex
loop called 'Vampira,' which I brought to the coroner's office. They took one look at the
torture scene and said the girl's intestines were cow's intestines. Which shows you to
what lengths these producers went."

"The closest we've got to snuff in this country is what I call the autopsy tapes," says
charles Balun, a distributor of Guinea Pig. "These video favourites, with titles like
'Faces of Death' and 'Death Scenes,' feature news and police file footage depicting all
manner of human immolation in sickening clarity. But these aren't snuff films, because
they only chronicle death. Snuff, by its definition, choreographs it."

Were a snuff film ever to surface, one questions the legality of showing or viewing such a
film. According to Sergeant Smith, "I do know we could seize it as evidence to a murder.
Then we'd have to establish who, what, where." Simply owning a copy could merit
prosecution in some states under obscenity statutes, providing sexual penetration occurs.
Otherwise, prosecutors would have to establish who made the film in order to press murder
or conspiracy to murder charges.

Logic tells us that in an America plagued by violent crime, where as any cop will tell you
an assassination can be purchased on the streets of the nation's capital for a few
thousand dollars, the possibility exists for snuff films to be realised. Others
knowledgeable about the snuff phenomenon refute the blanket denial of the authorities.

"You'd have to be completely naive to think they don't exist," says Andrew Vachss, an
attorney who represents children and a best-selling author of thrillers. "Just because you
haven't seen any on network news doesn't mean they're not out there. When someone steals a
Rembrandt, it doesn't show up in a gallery. We know that the Shah of Iran kept videotapes
of (the Iranian secret police) Savak torturing people to death. We also know that Idi Amin
collected video equipment and routinely witnessed executions. You can draw your own

"This is a world where kiddie sex tours are legal in some countries," adds Vachss. "Serial
killers have been documenting their murders for years, keeping their own private momentos
of their crimes to perpetuate the fantasy; it's part of their M.O. Do you think it hasn't
occurred to one of these people to film a murder, and don't you think that it's possible
one of these films is being circulated?"
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