Snuff (1976) Directed by Michael and Roberta Findlay. This is the film that jump-started one of the most persistent urban legends of all time. Originally a z-grade exploitation picture called Slaughter, the plot revolved around a Manson-esque cult, in order to cash in on the sensationalism revolving around the Manson family, and their involvement in the infamous Tate/La Bianca murders. The film was later repackaged with additional material under the name Snuff, to capitalize on then-recent rumors floating around about an underground South American snuff film ring. I covered the history of this film previously in an earlier post.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980) Directed by Ruggero Deodato. Like Snuff before it, and many films since (such as The Blair Witch Project), this film utilizes the concept of the “found footage” film, boldly proclaiming in print that the filmmakers were eventually killed and devoured by the indigenous tribe that they were filming. Due to the gimmick of marketing the film as “found footage”, the realism of the special effects, and a contract provision that demanded that the main actors keep themselves out of the media spotlight for a year following the film’s release, Deodato came under fire with allegations brought against him of first obscenity, then murder. The director was eventually forced to break the contract with his actors in order to allow them to appear in court before the media, as well as demonstrate to a judge how the infamous “impalement” scene was accomplished. The murder charges against Deodato and crew were eventually dropped.
However, the film did still portray the very real slaughter of six different animals, including the beheading of a squirrel monkey with a machete (which actually resulted in the deaths of two monkeys, as the scene was shot twice). The filmmakers were convicted on charges of violence and obscenity regarding the animal cruelty, and received a four-month suspended sentence. No charges were brought upon the local tribesmen, who cooked and consumed the animals after the killings took place.
Africa Addio (1966) (aka Africa: Blood and Guts - U.S.; Farewell Africa - U.K. Both of these versions are severely edited, and skew the original intentions of the filmmakers) Directed by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi. Rightfully considered one of the most controversial and hard-to-watch documentaries ever made, it chronicles the end of the colonial era in Africa, and the dramatic civil unrest that ensued. Considered part of the “mondo film” genre, Africa Addio also contains footage of the Zanzibar revolution, as well as the aftermath of the Mau Mau Uprising, giving the film substantial historical significance. Co-director Jacopetti was tried on charges that one of the execution scenes appeared to be staged for the film, but was later acquitted.
Faces of Death (1978) Directed by John Alan Schwartz. Easily the most infamous of all “mondo” films, it is still falsely categorized by many to be a “snuff” film. While it does contain actual footage of war atrocities and surgical procedures, the more sensational material has since been proven fake by those who worked on the film. I briefly covered this film in a previous post as well.
Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985) (aka ギニーピッグ2 血肉の華; Ginī Piggu: Chiniku no Hana) Directed by noted horror mangaka Hideshi Hino. This entry in the grisly Guinea Pig film series achieved its notoriety because of actor Charlie Sheen, who, upon receiving a copy of the film from Film Threat founder Chris Gore, mistook it for a genuine snuff film, and reported it to the FBI. Because of this, as well as investigation from Japanese law enforcement officials, the creators of the series produced a documentary titled Making of Guinea Pig, which profiles how the effects were created for both Flower, and and third entry in the series, He Never Dies.
Prior to the Sheen report, the series had come under scrutiny due to the discovery of the fourth film, Mermaid in a Manhole, within the video collection of Japanese serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki. In the beginning, it had been falsely reported that Flower of Flesh and Blood was the film obtained from the vast collection, and that Miyazaki had used it as an inspiration for his crimes.
Men Behind the Sun (1988) (aka 黑太阳731) Directed by Mou Tun-fei (credited as T.F. Mou) This film portrays the cruel medical experiments inflicted upon Chinese and Soviet prisoners of war by Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. It is the first film to receive the Chinese equivalent to an NC-17 rating (a rating of “III”) under the Hong Kong motion picture rating system. It is infamous not only for its subject matter, and the graphic depictions therein, but for the use of actual human cadavers in the filming, most notably the vivisection of the corpse of a young boy that bears a striking resemblance to a child actor in the film.
There was no established special effects industry in China during the time of filming, so director Mou instead obtained cadavers through special connections, even waiting a month to acquire one of a child the same size as the young actor in the film. The boy appears in the first half of the film, only to disappear shortly before the above scene of the cadaver, which took place during the real autopsy of the deceased child’s body, with the medical personnel dressed as WWII-era Japanese doctors. Despite permission granted from the parents of the deceased boy (who was killed in an accident), this scene provided the basis for the later “snuff” film allegations.
However, this is not the first time a film has been targeted for the use of actual cadavers - the effects crew of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now had made connections with a man who supplied bodies to medical schools, only to find out later that he was actually a grave robber. Subsequently, the bodies were removed from the shoot by soldiers after a brief police investigation, and never actually made it into the finished film.
Aside from the use of cadavers, the film has also been criticized for animal cruelty in a scene where live rats are set on fire, and a particularly disturbing scene where a cat is thrown into a room full of rats, where it is eaten alive.
Broken (1993) Directed by Peter Christopherson. Unfounded rumors abound regarding the infamous Nine Inch Nails extended video for the band’s 1992 album of the same name. The film, which has become a thing of legend and mythology in and of itself, is presented under the guise of a snuff film, with a man being kidnapped and tortured while being forced to watch Nine Inch Nails music videos. The film was never officially released, with statement given by band front man Trent Reznor that the group wanted to avoid “the film overshadowing the prominence of the music.”  However, the deeply disturbing nature of the film has also prevented it from being made available for streaming, and thus, the film can only be seen via pirated uploads of rips from bootleg VHS copies of first-generation tapes that Reznor made available to close friends.
It has long been rumored by fans that the film contains footage from a genuine snuff film. However, these claims are entirely unsubstantiated, and may have originated from a similar incident surrounding the filming for another one of the band’s videos, entitled “Down In It”. In an attempt to get an overhead shot of Reznor lying in a field, a cameraman tried attaching the camera to a helium balloon on a tether. The tether broke, sending the camera sailing into the field of a local farmer. Upon viewing the footage inside the camera, the farmer, mistaking it for a snuff film, reported it to the FBI. The story was later recounted by Reznor himself for Rolling Stone magazine.
Loose Cannons (1990) Directed by Bob Clark. In easily the most humorous entry in the snuff film saga, a stray piece of 35mm film was discovered by a Calgary landfill worker that appeared to show a man holding a knife, and kneeling over a heavily-stabbed dead body. Fearing his discovery to be from a snuff film, the worker turned it over to homicide investigators, who, after cleaning up the film, were able to easily identify the man in the frame as actor Dan Aykroyd, and the film a missing piece of a reel from a 1990 commercial flop staring Aykroyd and Gene Hackman as a pair of mismatched cops on the trail of a long lost Nazi sex tape featuring Adolf Hitler. Aykroyd later quipped about the incident:
"The movie should have been left in the landfill where it belongs."