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Snuff love: British nostalgia and the mythology of real death in VoD horror

by Ethan Tussey

by Johnny Walker for IN MEDIA RES

In recent years, film and media studies has witnessed growing interest in the areas of “informal” film distribution and amateur fiction filmaking. Both are apposite discussion points, as they point not only to the unregulatory nature and (the alleged) “threats” associated with the Internet in an era of viral “shock videos”, but also to the creative potential that the amateur has in exploring these areas for capitalistic/creative means.

The British filmmaker Jason Impey is relevant here. A number of his shorts and features take as their focus the filming of “real death” for monetary or artistic ends, with titles such as Suicide Snuff (2008) pseudo-documenting the creative processes involved in the shooting and distributing of snuff movies. It might be suggested that the “amateur” qualities of his shot-on-video films (i.e. shaky cameras) and the largely informal methods through which they are distributed (online), pertain to “authenticity”. However, while it is true that other “filmmakers” have operated under these auspices, Impey is not concerned with “fooling” anyone. Rather, he positions “the snuff movie” as an intertextual reference point: one that is bound to an appreciation of (or “love” for) "video nasties" such as Snuff (1976), Faces of Death (1978) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980), and the centrality of the snuff mythology to their historical legacies as banned movies in Britain (Petley 2000).

In the clip provided, Impey plays himself: a factor which at once hints towards the many economic compromises that befall amateur filmmakers (often directors “star” in their own films), while also implying a certain recognisability and/or infamy on his part (it is expected that the viewer already knows who he is). He also “boasts” to the camera that he has been tipped-off about the existence of a real snuff movie—one that he seeks to claim and profiteer from.

What is most interesting about this is the way through which Impey works to satirise what we might recognise as the “exclusivity of snuff” by, first, “claiming” the found film as his own, second, pointing to its elusiveness and desirability among certain factions of the dark web, while third, placing the snuff movie in the context of exploitation film history and fan culture. These elements of the film at once strip the snuff movie of its broader threat, by celebrating the “hunt” for snuff as fan practice, as well as the mythology's place in British history as a nostalgic point of reference.

British Snuff films and Amateur Filmmaking

Clip from 2008's Suicide Snuff

from Suicide Snuff (2008)
Creator: Jason Impey
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey