In our culture, violence is popular. So is sex. When people want to put forth a message about the values of our current society, they imagine what it would be like if both these valued qualities were blended and taken to the point where it's clear that anyone who appreciates the work has something very wrong with them, indeed.
Behold: the snuff film, a film where a person's death, the gorier the better, is captured on celluloid (or digital data in these internet-connected times) for someone else's...prurient interest. The snuff film has captured American imagination since the days of the Manson Family; in the aftermath of the cult's killings, the author of a true crime book on the Family put forth the rumor that they had videotaped their killings, inadvertently creating the term "snuff film." It wasn't true, but when American producers brought the Argentinian horror stinker Slaughter (based loosely on the Mansons) over to America they retitled the movie Snuff, tacked on a new and gorier ending, and launched a viral campaign that someone had actually been murdered on film as part of the movie.
What makes a snuff film is often up for debate. Whether it just captures a death on film (like the tapes put forth by terrorists that show people getting their heads cut off), is released for a commercial motive (like the Traces of Death franchise), or has to include sex and death is up in the air. This is mainly because there's no such thing as a "true" snuff film — according to the FBI, no such thing has ever been made. To clarify this point, the FBI defines a snuff film as depicting a murder that was committed for the primary purpose of being filmed and commercially distributed. While films of actual murders do exist, the FBI doesn't consider them snuff films because they either have a different motive (i.e. films of executions by terrorists which were distributed to sow fear rather than make money) or were not intended for distribution (i.e. a murderer makes a tape of his crimes for personal use and it leaks out after his capture). Then again, as long as creators have a message to make about sex and violence, the snuff film will exist as a model for what happens when things go too, too far.
To reiterate, snuff films exist in the realm of myth and legend. While many petty criminals have been known to film their own crimes, none have been so foolish as to film a crime for which they could be executed only for the purpose to film and distribute it (save for a possible exception), and no such film has ever been commercially distributed.note
Snuff Films that depict this stuff happening to animals rather than humans are called Crush Films, because the animal is typically shown being crushed to death.
When a filmed death is an accident as opposed to a murder, see Fatal Method Acting.
- DEAD Tube: A variant on the concept, but at its core it's still people making money from homemade videos of sex and murder.
- Hellsing: The plot of "Innocent As a Human" revolves around these being distributed on the internet — the fact that they involving filming humans being eaten by vampires is what gets Hellsing involved.
- Back to Brooklyn: Paul makes these with young boys which are recorded by Penny.
- Judge Dredd: Some gangs in Mega City One kidnap people off the streets so they can record how they torture them to death and then sell the stuff as holographic "VI-Zines".
- Modesty Blaise: Modesty and Willie bust up a snuff film ring in "Milord".
- 8mm: A private investigator is hired by a rich widow and her attorney to find out whether an apparent snuff film discovered in her late husband's safe is the real thing. Welles can find no proof that snuff films are anything other than an Urban Legend. It turned out that Longsdale discovered this, too, so he hired Velvet to create one.
- Carver: Bobby Shaw's passion, though he is also fine with killing people sans camera.
- Cold in July: Freddy, who's under a Witness Protection program, films himself killing illegal immigrant prostitutes and sell the tapes with such labels as ''Batting Practice''.
- The Den: The ultimate goal of the killers is to create snuff films, which they sell online.
- Detention: Principal Verge refers to the tape from the party as this, given how it caught Billy's death at the hands of Cinderhella.
"Who taught you how to make a snuff porno? Lady Gaga?"
- Hardcore: Jake has to look through one to see whether or not the victim in the video is his daughter. It isn't, thankfully.
- The Hills Run Red: The killings shown in Concannon's movie are discovered to be real.
- Home Movie: The kids probably recorded themselves murdering their parents, even if we don't see them do so.
- Laid to Rest: ChromeSkull records the murders he commits with a shoulder-mounted video camera.
- Marebito: Masuoka kills two women while recording with his camera.
- The Poughkeepsie Tapes: It's about a prolific serial killer who recorded every single one of his murders, acquiring a collection of over 800 tapes.
- Sabotage: Breacher gets one - of his family being tortured and killed by a cartel thug.
- Showdown in Little Tokyo: The Yakuza bad guy captured his decapitation by katana of a woman on camera, then later shows it to one of her friends as a threat of what he might do to her.
- Snuff 102: The film critic states that it is highly improbably that there is a secret market dedicated to snuff, but it is entirely possible that an isolated individual could produce his own films, and share them.
- Strange Days: "Blackjack" vids, in which the user jacked in actually experiences the SQUID wearer's death. Lenny has a marked distaste for them and refuses to deal in them. The movie opens with him being annoyed at Tick for bringing him a tape of a robbery that ended with the robber's death, because he's going to have to edit the last bit out.
- Shark Night: The main villains are making these by feeding people to sharks with Frickin' Video Cameras strapped to them.
- Videodrome: Videodrome is snuff television. When Max starts watching it, having hacked into the Videodrome signal, he initially thinks that it's faked, but none of the "participants" who are tortured onscreen ever return. Or that's how it appears at first... the twist is that the Moral Guardians are actually responsible for it.
- American Psycho: Patrick sometimes films himself torturing women to death. He once shows one of these videos to a woman before killing her.
- Anita Blake: Anita investigates weres making these.
- The Dalziel and Pascoe novel A Pinch of Snuff has the characters investigating a violent porn film that a doctor who watched it thought looked too realistic to be faked.
- Distant Star: A weird non-film example. Wieder kills people and uses them as "inspiration" for his art. At one time he even organizes an photography exposition; all the photographs are of some of his victims.
- A snuff-movie racket is one of the plot elements of Joseph Wambaugh's crime novel The Glitter Dome.
- Robert Campbell's novel In La-La-Land We Trust has a private eye investigating a snuff movie operation.
- The Matthew Scudder novel A Dance at the Slaughterhouse begins with somebody discovering a video cassette showing two serial murderers torturing and killing a victim in the case of a copy of The Dirty Dozen at a video rental store. By the end of the novel, it's still unclear whether the leaking of the tape was a mistake on the part of the killers or a deliberate act of trolling by them.
- Otherland: Dread likes to record his "kills" on camera for his own private amusement. This ends up being a Chekhov's Gun.
- Red Dragon: Part of Dolarhyde's M.O. in the book. He films the deaths of his victims and films himself having sex with the woman's corpse. Later he masturbates to it and fuels his obsession with being looked at.
- Shoot to Kill: The plot is kicked off by them discovering the film reel Dan "borrowed" is actually footage of a man being tortured by gangsters. And it's one of a series...
- Being Human (UK): Some vampires create homemade pornography ending with the murder of their victims, then pass it round.
- Being Human (US): Aidan receives a DVD from Rebecca which features her having sex with a man and then killing him.
- Criminal Minds: A number of UnSubs ("Hopeless", notably) have a habit of recording their murders, sometimes for... later use. In the book Jump Cut, the UnSubs planned on making "the best horror film ever" by using real murders, and were insane enough to believe it will make them rich and famous once they show it at film festivals and the like.
- CSI: "Snuff". The CSIs investigate a snuff film featuring the murder of a young woman that was anonymously sent to a pornographic film developer.
- Dexter: The Barrel Girl Gang recorded their own rapes/murders of young women for their own viewing pleasure. Of course, this leads to a mountain of incriminating evidence for the police to sort through once their crimes are exposed.
- The Doctor Who story "Vengeance on Varos" is about a deeply messed-up space colony whose regime, among other charming habits, sells recordings of the public torture and execution of dissidents to underground perverts on other planets as snuff movies.
- In the episode "The Devil of Christmas" of Inside No. 9, a short horror film is featured, with narration by the unjustifiably proud director who is being interviewed. In the final scene of the film, the main actress is murdered, and the interview is revealed to take place in a police station following the director's arrest.
- Law & Order: "Performance". Briscoe and Logan investigate a possible snuff film, but it turns out to be faked when they find the girl on the tape is still alive. This does, however, expose an underground sex club at a prestigious high school.
- The Last Detective: The plot of "Dangerous Liasons" revolves around a 20-year-old snuff film and the murdered man who apparently recorded it.
- Masters of Horror: Kirby visits a Snuff director called Dalibor while searching for the film, while La Fin Absolue du Monde features the torture and mutilation of an angel. Dalibor explains that this was the secret to Bakovic's success — blood spilled on film grants it supernatural power and Bakovic took this to the ultimate extreme by doing so to a sacred being.
- Preacher (2016): Characters appear to be watching one in "Possibilities", and there's a glimpse of a poster for Houston's Fourth Annual Snuff Film Festival. In what can be called Snuff Audio, Odin listens to animals being slaughtered.
- Ripper Street: Sir Arthur Donaldson in "I Need Light" is attempting to create the world's first snuff film.
- Blackout: The Reveal involves finding out that the Player Character works as the Cleanup Crew for a local mob that makes these kind of films. That is the reason why there was a headless body in his apartment at the beginning of the game; he was working his macabre trade when the memory loss suddenly kicked in.
- Hitman: Absolution: Dom records himself and his cronies torturing staff members when they turn mutinous.
- Manhunt: The entire plot of the first game. Seen in the second game with the hidden cameras in the torture rooms of the sex club. Additionally at a turning point in both games the protagonist is shown a video of his family being murdered shifting their motivation from survival to revenge.
- Pillars of Eternity: You can uncover a medieval version of this: a troupe of actors performs plays where unsuspecting extras are murdered for the amusement of noble patrons.
- One Nation Under Jupiter: While not a film, Diagoras watches a play called The Death of Hercules, with the title role played by a captured member of the Sons of Horus. It ends with the prisoner being burned alive.