Roberta and Michael Findlay's notorious 1976 exploitation flick in HD ... really?!

The last time Blue Underground released this film was on DVD, way back in 2003. They deliberately released it onto shiny disc with no restoration whatsoever, and in a horrible VHS-quality pan-and-scan transfer that stayed true to the film's reputation as a bootleg genuine snuff film. The disc didn't even contain menus, let alone chapters or extras (if you recall, they also submitted it to the BBFC in a bid to release it in the UK: it was actually passed uncut with an '18' rating, but the film has yet to yet hit home video over here, despite having been screened on Film4 ...).

Now it's back, once again being released Stateside by Blue Underground, and has been given the blu-ray treatment, no less...

The film itself kicks off to a riff stolen directly from Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild". Then we meet a couple of hippy chicks roaring down a country lane on a motorbike. Immediately it couldn't be more blatant that here is a film shot - and set - in the early 1970s.

The repetitive riff continues (and keeps reappearing throughout the film) as the two women find their fellow gang member Anna (Ana Carro) sparked out in a field. Anna has been sneaking off and getting high on her gang's drugs � and so must be punished. First she is shot in the shoulder as she tries to escape her friends. Then she is held to the ground, her bare feet forced into makeshift wooden stocks.

The ensuing scene of toe-cutting would be nasty were it not so ineptly orchestrated.

Anna is spared her life because she is considered to be a valuable gang member. The gang of drug-addled she-devils on wheels is led and controlled by a Manson-type figure, Satan (Enrique Larratelli) who they later convene with at a remote farmhouse to initiate a new female member into their cult. Oh, and it's pronounced "Sah-taaan" �

Once the above gang's aimless bouts of sex and violence are sufficiently established. the film settles down into a semblance of plot as it follows the infamous true story of the Manson Murders very loosely, as arrogant film director Max (Aldo Mayo) and his starlet actress girlfriend Terry (Mirtha Massa) jet into Argentina to promote their latest film.

Inevitably, Satan wants to make waves and decides that by killing the pregnant actress and her friends (well, getting his women to do this dirty work for him) he can do so. Max is slain during a cheap variation of Mardi Gras, leaving Terry to be carted off to the home of a wealthy arms dealer living in a South American mansion, whose son has been having an affair with her all along.

But, hey, Satan and his wenches are never far behind. Especially seeing as though one of his cult is actually a girlfriend of the son too! This sets the scene for a house invasion massacre that distinctly recalls the fate of Sharon Tate and her partying Hollywood pals during the dying days of the 1960s...

Reviewing the film upon its DVD release, I originally wrote "As uninspired as the plot sounds, it becomes even worse when you actually sit through this mess � and a tale that essentially takes 80 minutes to tell, seems to last a lifetime. The South American dancing rituals clumsily edited into the middle of the film don't help the flagging pace much either".

While I stand by the comments about the running time and the amateurish edits of stock Mardi Gras revelling, my overall view of SNUFF has changed upon this latest revisit. I actually quite enjoyed the film!

Of course, the reason for this film's notoriety is not the fact that it's badly dubbed in post-production, or even that it boasts a script that co-director Roberta Findlay herself described as "really awful, it made no sense" (sourced from the Aurum Horror Film Encyclopaedia, although I recall a similar disowning of the film from Ms Findlay during her promotion of THE ORACLE in an early Fangoria).

It's the five-minute scene tagged inexplicably onto the end of the film, where a film crew finish shooting the main film's climactic bedroom scene - then continue filming (with a blatantly different actress) as the zealous director murders the female star � for 'real'.

It's a shameless (and indeed shameful) attempt to add life to a so-so hippy film called SLAUGHTER that husband-wife team Michael and Roberta Findlay had made in 1974.

The film languished on a shelf for a couple of years, considered by many as too shit to release. Until, that is, Monarch Releasing Corp got hold of it. Alan Shackleton was the man who linked the Manson theme to the infamous myth of the 'Family's lost snuff film reels buried somewhere in the desert, and dreamt up a new title for the film - along with a salacious advertising campaign ("Made in South America � where life is CHEAP!) along with that new ending.

The rest is history. The film made a fortune upon its US theatrical release in 1976, and was lobbied against on the grounds that it included an unsimulated murder at the end of the film. This must be true, the witch-hunters argued, because the film deliberately carried no credits.

But - were they all blind?! The FX are poor, even by early 70s standards. The truth is, of course, that the people who rallied against this movie the hardest were those who hadn't even seen the thing. Like the DPP, for example, who banned the UK VHS back in the 80s �

Now, away from all of that controversy and having had the benefit of viewing a genuinely watchable (really good, actually) transfer which preserves - for the first time - the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, I have to confess to actually taking quite a bit of positive stuff from SNUFF.

It's better shot and lit than I previously imagined. There's some creative flair to its early scenes, as cheap as they undeniably are. The dubbing is still atrocious but now seems quite endearing, charming even. And the sex-with-Satan initiation scene is actually moderately stylish. Who'd have thought it? Also, the film now plays tighter for me than before. It's no masterpiece, of course - but if you can endure the first run of gore films from Herschell Gordon Lewis or the sleazy 70s output of Jess Franco, then there's no reason whatsoever to be sniffy over the equally dubious trash aesthetics of SNUFF.

And that's all without taking into consideration those final few, tagged-on minutes. They are ridiculous, admittedly. But, hey, they're fun. They're crude but they're gory and unapologetically so. You want to see a girl have her shoulder slashed, her fingers pinched off, her hand sawed off and her innards ripped out? Cool, SNUFF will accommodate your wishes in a most unconvincing, curiously charming and Grand Guignol fashion. It really isn't that big a deal anymore.

As mentioned above, Blue Underground's latest presentation of SNUFF really does look great. The MPEG4-AVC file houses the film as a 1080p HD offering, in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and with 16x9 enhancement. There is very minor print damage during playback and, when measured against previous home video variants, it looks little short of spectacular. Solid blacks, bright compositions, deep natural colours: for the first time, SNUFF looks like a film.

English DTS-HD mono audio is very clean compared to previous releases too. And it's a great bonus to finally have optional English subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing.

The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to SNUFF via 15 chapters.

And, hey! We even get some bonus features!

First up is "Shooting Snuff", a newly shot 10-minute featurette with porn director Carter Stevens. He describes SLAUGHTER as a "terrible piece of crap", and then goes on to explain how he provided the room for the infamous tagged-on ending to be shot in. He derides the FX work, reveals the shooting circumstances and even talks of how the actress involved freaked out, thinking she was really going to be slaughtered.

Next up is an onscreen appreciation of the film by cult director Nicolas Winding Refn (DRIVE; the PUSHER trilogy). Hmm. Refn's a nice bloke and all, but he hardly seems overly enamoured with SNUFF. In fact, he states that he's never likely to watch it again. Still, his opinion that the film has a "rock 'n' roll" attitude is strangely valid, and he makes for an agreeable host nevertheless. This runs for 7 minutes.

Refn also pops up to provide an optional 43-second introduction to the film. Again, this is enjoyable, but ... a little random?

"Porn Buster" is an infuriating 5-minute chat with retired FBI agent Bill Kelly. He speaks of going easy on a known paedophile previously, because he was his informant and it was hoped that he could validate a rumour of the existence of a real snuff film. Nothing came of this, of course...

The original US trailer looks a little ropy but is a lengthy affair with a running time of almost 4 minutes; the 2-minute German trailer (onscreen title is AMERICAN CANNIBALE) is better.

We also get a couple of stills galleries, and a text essay on the whole snuff film kafuffle from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Whoever she is.

It's also worth noting that this release comes with double-sided, reversible cover artwork. The reverse is a reproduction of the original, iconic UK video nasty cover art. Cool.

Finally, I must mention that this blu-ray is region free, and is therefore playable worldwide.

Also available on DVD.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Blue Underground
Region All
Not Rated
Extras : see main review