rame.net  :  book reviews  :   killing for culture
From: ultradamno@webtv.net (Ultradamno A.D.)
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.erotica
Subject: Review; Book: Killing For Culture by David Kerekes & David Slater
Date: Fri, 16 Jul 99 15:42:52

Since the word "snuff" (as it pertains to film) was first coined (reportedly in Ed Sanders' book about the Tate-LaBianca murders entitled "The Family") and almost immediately "borrowed" and re-appropriated by Michael and Roberta Findlay as the title for their B-grade slasher that had formerly been known as (among other titles) "American Cannibale" the urban myth of the snuff film has been attached at the proverbial hip of the adult film industry. In part because in that unwatchably inept exploitation movie is a scene which depicts a woman being murdered by the director of a movie within the movie immediately after the filming of a sex scene as the fictional movie crew continues to film. It's hard to impossible for anyone who's actually had the misfortune of sitting through "Snuff" to understand how anyone ever believed that this scene could be a bonafide homicide. But they did, Gloria Steinem was one of them and she served as cheerleader for many others in protests against movie theaters around the country. And, odd though it may be, we all still witness the effect of this movie to this day.


         Killing For Culture is not an expose of snuff movies. It makes no claims of that sort. The authors do not conclude but rather begin by telling the reader that there is no more reason to believe in snuff than santa. What Kerekes and Slater have come up with here is a critical survey which concerns itself with Hollywood output with snuff themes, documentaries which contain actual death footage, how death footage has surfaced in the media and the overall effects of the snuff myth on video and filmmaking for the last thirty years.


         Part one of the book is entitled Feature Film and it is made up of three chapters. The first, "Slaughter," primarily details the story of Snuff (Slaughter was another alternate title), the movie's history and it's considerable backlash. "Hardcore," the second part includes detailed descriptions of early gore films which dealt with the snuff theme such as Last House on Dead End Street, Peeping Tom, Emanuelle In America and concluding with a discussion of Paul Schrader's "Hardcore." The final chapter is entitled "Thrill Kill Video" which brings us up chronologically to about 1993. Just missing the release of Mute Witness, Damn! What seems to be suggested in this part, and it is an idea which recurs later in the book, is that Hollywood, with no raw materials at it's disposal, invented an aesthetic for the snuff film. Literally defining, from whole cloth, what a snuff flick looked like, where one would be set, how the people would be attired (eg. the emphasis on black leather masks and other S/M accoutrements), and how the action would proceed. This part details the fine tuning of what is now, for many, the subconscious image held in the mind's eye when contemplating what they believe must surely exist.


         Part two and the two chapters of which it is comprised are dedicated to the Mondo genre of sensationalistic documentaries which prefigured what is now every other night on the Fox Broadcasting Network. The first chapter is the prerequisite (not to mention upteenth) history of the genre from Mondo Cane to Death Scenes (Mondo fans will also want to take a look at Amok Journal's Sensurround Edition which includes a mondo section with an interesting interview with Mondo Cane director Gualtiero Jacopetti www.youmag.com/u2/). Most interesting to me in this chapter was the suggestion, however trivial, that the Faces Of Death movies were actually Japanese productions. The second chapter in this part gives the reader the lowdown on which death scenes are real and which are fake in virtually any mondo style film/video you could be called upon to name. I especially enjoyed learning of industrial musician Monte Cazazza's involvement in a Faces Of Death style video called True Gore (way to put that video collection to work for you, Monte!) otherwise this chapter was a pretty grueling and tedious affair for this reviewer.

          The final part: death films has three chapters. The first of which is called "Babylon." The theme of this chapter was a little elusive for me at first, it seemed the movies and videos described appeared to be pulled at random. It finally came to me that the connecting thread is the gleeful, unapologetic, and pernicious wallowing in morbidity that runs through each cultural artifact presented here. Among the titles discussed here are SPK's "Despair" (an industrial music video notorious at the time of it's release for being sync'd to documentary autopsy footage), the films of R. Kern, Gimme Shelter, Chinese propaganda film Man Behind The Sun (the reproduced poster for which provides the book's most disturbing graphic. And believe you me that's saying something!) but the one that stuck with me most was the passage regarding Guinea Pig 2: Flower Of Flesh and Blood, a Japanese movie that an American actor named Charlie Sheen (doesn't he always pop up in the neatest places?) mistook for real snuff film and reported to the FBI for investigation (they concluded it wasn't). The following is from the excruciating and long synopsis of this movie:

The counter at the bottom of the screen reads 5 hours. There is no sound now other than her screaming. ...After 20 hours she is silent, convulsing with a pasty drool running from her mouth...Close up of her eye with several maggots crawling over it.

And believe me that's the least of her worries. Later in the book it is reported that death rock no-hopers Skinny Puppy played in front of a projection of what was probably this film and predictably claimed (I'm guessing to a reporter from Propaganda fanzine since I can't imagine who else would care what these doofi have to say) it was a real snuff film. In chapter two: death in the media we are presented with a litany of those pesky little broadcasting glitches that, be it by accident or by design, allow real carnage over the airwaves such as Pennsylvania State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer's suicide, the on air murder of Derwentside (England) District Councilman Harry Collinson by disgruntled homeowner Albert Dryden and the televised suicide of Florida newswoman Chris Chubbock. The final chapter, "propagating a myth", is about, according to the authors "...the orgins of snuff. And how the media can, and has, manipulated death into becoming something it is not." And, by cracky, it does indeed start right at the very beginning with Ed Sanders' Manson book and from there steamrolls on through Andrea Dworkin and Catharine Mackinnon's reprehensible (because I think they know better) echoing of Steinem's insistence of a snuff underground, but then, how could an ethically challenged feminist (if you can call Mackinnon a feminist, I wouldn't) resist? There's some stuff about Henry Lee Lucas, Lake & Ng and the Jonestown Live album before we close up shop with...alien autopsy? Well, why not? There's just as much evidence to support it as snuff.


         The writing in this book has a self conscious, overly footnoted film student theses feel to it, which is fine for the most part, though it can be murder during the slow patches (the stuff in which you're not interested, in other words). Luckily there won't be many of those moments for those into this sort of thing. Not for the squeamish seeing as the profuse illustrations are mostly...explicit, to say the least.

Publisher: Creation Books


Indexes of television, film, publications and names. Selected Filmography



Rating (1-10 scale): 6.5


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