With the Oklahoma police currently on the hunt for a snuff film, myths about the very existence of this type of media are sure to begin circulating once again. Since the creation of video as a medium, many have wondered whether footage of actual murders exist. In fact, some think that an entire crypto-economy circulating secret tapes has proliferated in the underground or in the darkest corners of the World Wide Web.
But what exactly is a snuff film, anyway? The American Heritage Dictionary describes snuff films as "a movie in a purported genre of movies in which an actor is actually murdered or commits suicide."
The public became interested in the concept after the appropriately named horror movie Snuff debuted in 1976. The movie, a schlocky yet surprisingly post-modern film directed by Michael and Roberta Finlay, featured a twist ending in which a woman was supposedly actually murdered by the film's crew. Many believed this to be a real incident caught on camera. The film's producers even hired fake protestors to object to it's release, giving the film a transgressive aura. Many debunked the footage as an elaborate hoax that year, causing the film to gain a cult following. From movies like Cannibal Holocaust to The Blair Witch Project, an entire sub-genre of found-footage horror was created from this concept.
But when the internet became popularized in the 90's, shock sites like Rotten.com (NSFW) began to pop up, purporting to host actual gore, violence, and murder. Videos like Faces of Death (a series of exploitation films that used both real and staged videos of actual deaths) circulated on various obscure forums and chat groups. Some speculate that these videos are still traded on the deep web.
Whether or not an actual underground black market for snuff films exists has never been proven or disproven. With the complexity of hoaxes on the internet, it has become increasingly difficult to verify footage as either completely real or completely fake. Research on the subject is difficult to conduct for this reason. Any news about snuff films is often kept very secretive out of fears that encouraging public interest in the subject would result in the proliferation of violent imagery.
It will be interesting to see if the current investigation into the most recent brutal incident in Oklahoma turns up any new discoveries on this front.
[Photo: Wikimedia Commons]