The generally agreed definition of a snuff film is a real (not staged) filmed murder. In some cases, it is viewed for the purpose of arousal. However, this is somewhat incorrect, as by this definition, any video depicting the death of a person, purposeful or accidental, can fall under this moniker depending on the viewer. The term, in fact, was originally much narrower in scale than what is unilaterally agreed upon now, only encompassing media depicting purposeful torture and death to be sold for profit—to which, there has been incredibly little evidence to support. What little information can be found is scrutable at best, ranging from “trust me, bro” sources found on message boards to the witnessing of a believable fake, there are only a few notable cases from people considered (somewhat) reliable discussing their experience with this abhorrent media.
One such case is an interview with Academy Award-winning film producer Mark L. Rosen, who has worked on films such as Caged Heat (1983), Blackula (1972), and Kita-kitsune Monogatari (1978). In an interview, he talks of his experience in the adult film industry where he met with some representatives of a Filipino company who wanted to sell an adult film that Rosen swears was a real-life snuff tape. The explicit details inscrutably described by the producer, along with his emotional response to recalling such a traumatic experience certainly displayed a strong level of believability about his story. However, there are still inconsistencies to his anecdote, as well as his actions (or lack thereof) taken after this encounter that do not quite add up and cast a shadow of doubt on the narrative.
With horror directors utilising the public’s newfound interest in this morbid cinematic display, the phenomenon has become what French philosopher Jean Baudrillard refers to as simulacrum—a copy of an original that doesn’t exist, becoming its own creator. As such, its depiction in film, from exploring the concept to recreating it, has caused the entomology of the term to slowly evolve into what is generally settled on by the public. It now encompasses other subgenres into the mix such as faux home footage from serial killers, whose style would suggest found footage rather than sold for profit, yet still fit the general aspects of what is considered snuff. With that out of the way, we have made a list of (what we consider to be) the best films based on snuff.
[Note – order does not signify rankings]
- 8MM (1999)
- Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh and Blood (1985)
- August Underground trilogy (2001-07)
- Muzan-E (1999)
- A Serbian Film (2010)
- Evil Dead Trap (1988)
- American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore
- The Butcher (2007)
- Making Off (2012)
- Celluloid Nightmares (1988)
- Videodrome (1983)
- Tumbling Doll of Flesh (1998)
- The Degenerates (2021)
- Sadi-Scream (2007)
- S&Man (2006)
- Special Mentions
8MM is a 1999 American crime drama, written by Andrew Kevin Walker and directed by Joel Schumacher. A small, seemingly innocuous plastic reel of film leads surveillance specialist Tom Welles (Nicholas Cage) down an increasingly dark and frightening path. With the help of the streetwise Max (Joaquin Phoenix), he relentlessly follows a bizarre trail of evidence to determine the fate of a complete stranger. As his work spirals into obsession, he drifts further and further away from his wife, family, and simple life as a small-town Private Investigator.
Whilst not a horror film per se, it would be undutiful to not include the film on a list about Snuff (especially as it was the film that introduced the concept to Little Jim, watching at far too young of an age). 8MM plays on all the hallmarks of what snuff is by definition, a rich individual’s sick curiosity, those blinded by greed, and the innocence that is destroyed in the process. Featuring an excellent performance from Nic Cage, and a star-studded cast, the film successfully drags the audience down a rabbit hole of the seedy underworld of back alley adult stores and illicit tape swaps, weaving a captivating tale of sleaze and filth that can leave a more mainstream audience feeling slightly unclean at points. The deep exploration of different paraphilia outside of the generally accepted norm for the time was something seldom seen in Hollywood and certainly adds to the seedy nature portrayed in the film.
Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh and Blood (1985)
Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood is a 1984 Japanese exploitation splatter horror film, written and directed by popular horror mangaka Hedeshi Hino. Whilst walking home late at night, a young woman (Kirara Yugao) is attacked by an unknown assailant who knocks her out with chloroform. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself tied to a bed in a blood-spattered dungeon, at the mercy of a white-faced man in a samurai helmet (Hiroshi Tamura) who wants to turn her into a “flower of blood and flesh.” He then proceeds to slowly dismember and disembowel her as the camera records it all.
A go-to example of snuff-based cinema, Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood is a classic representation of Japanese splatter films and pseudo-snuff alike. Based on a snuff film Hino is said to have allegedly been sent in the mail, the film features some incredibly graphic depictions of body mutilation, brought to life by the astonishingly technical special effects implemented for the time. Although the film is a cult classic, it was brought to the mainstream’s eye when, while on a multiple-day drug bender, actor Charlie Sheen mistook the work of fiction as a real murder being distributed as entertainment and sent his copy to the authorities. After opening an investigation, the documentary Making of Guinea Pig (1986) was shown to the FBI and the case was subsequently closed. Despite this, Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood is still a brutally realistic depiction of mutilation and murder captured on camera, even 38 years later.
August Underground trilogy (2001-07)
The August Underground trilogy is a three-part series of American found footage horror films, written and directed by Fred Vogal with additional work from Allen Peters, Jerami Cruise, Killjoy, Michael Todd Schneider, and Cristie Whiles. Imagine walking down the street and finding an unmarked VHS tape. Curiosity piqued, you take it home and pop it in. What follows is a character study in the sick, an amoral putrid fantasy. The footage documents the extremely deviant sexuality, torture, and murders committed by a group of deranged serial killers engaging in their day-to-day lives.
An incredibly kinetic piece of found footage filth, August Underground is an incredibly powerful depiction of torment, mutilation, and murder at the hands of a group of cold-blooded serial killers who take pride in documenting their sadistic deeds on camera. Due to its gritty aesthetics, detailed special effects, and intense performances, the films certainly carry a weight of authenticity to them and could easily be mistaken as real to those unaware of their notoriety.
Muzan-E is a 1999 Japanese pseudo-documentary, written and directed by Daisuke Yamanouchi. An investigative reporter researching the disappearance of AV star Mai Tsurumi, exploring the seedy world of fetish adult videos in search of information. During this investigation, the reporter uncovers a rumour that the unfortunate girl may have been abducted and used as the victim of an alleged snuff film.
One of the more uninhibited entries to the list, Muzan-E seems to derive most of its shock value from its graphic exploration of the use of Menophilia and Hematolagnia in adult videos. Featuring multiple unadulterated scenes in (what I hope is) simulated menstruation erotica, referred to as “menstruation madness”, the film isn’t afraid to get down and dirty with its X-rated content. However, as the narrative progresses and takes a stronger focus on the snuff elements, the film delivers an incredibly realistic representation of a murder perpetrated on camera. Additionally, with the film’s twist ending, Muzan-E is an exceptional piece of cinema that, whilst not to everyone’s taste, is certainly a film worthy of more exploration.
A Serbian Film (2010)
A Serbian Film is a 2010 Serbian extreme exploitation, written and directed by Srđan Spasojević in his feature directorial debut, with additional writing from Aleksandar Radivojević. An aging adult film star (Srdjan Todorovic) agrees to participate in an “art film” in order to make a clean break from the business, only to discover that he has been drafted into the creation of a snuff film.
An incredibly notorious entry to extreme cinema, A Serbian Film made a name for itself by pushing the boundaries of the depravity that can be displayed to an audience. Banned in at least 46 countries, the film has an intense focus on paraphilia considered illegal in the majority of the world, such as necrophilia, Biastophilia, Erotophonophilia, as well as many more unmentionable acts of debauchery, and is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste. However, for those with a stomach for it, the film is an erratic descent into a world of torture and murder on video with the intent to distribute to those with enough money and twisted sensibilities.
Evil Dead Trap (1988)
Evil Dead Trap is a 1988 Japanese slasher horror, written by Takashi Ishii and directed by Toshiharu Ikeda. A late-night TV host is sent a video of a young woman being tortured and killed. Believing it to be a real snuff film, the host and her crew investigate the suspected location where the video was recorded. However, as they explore this abandoned building, she and her colleagues find themselves trapped in a nightmare scenario of death.
Whilst only appearing at the beginning of the film, the snuff film featured in Evil Dead Trap is an incredibly vivid depiction of murder on camera that shows little restraint. Although only a few minutes in length, the video displays a savage attack of a young woman being stabbed and slashed until death—including a detailed eye impalement. The short severity of the scene is certainly a strong opening, leaving a lasting impression on the audience. Past this, the film is a thrilling slasher horror, chock-full of tense moments, and uninhibited violence that’s sure to keep you hooked until the last moment.
American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore is a 2014 American pseudo-snuff film, written and directed by Stephen Biro. An unfortunate mother and daughter are abducted and taken to an undisclosed location, where they are bound, drugged, and tortured to death – all whilst a group of budding filmmakers captures the onslaught for their mysterious benefactors.
A continuation of the Japanese splatter series that acts as a prequel, (and said to act as a reimagining of the snuff film Hideshi Hino received that inspired the entire Guinea Pig series), American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore is a quintessential entry into the pseudo-snuff subgenre of extreme cinema. Shot on a mixture of 8mm film and VHS tape, the film has an incredibly grungy aesthetic overall. The blend of the low-definition film with the increased quality of the VHS footage intentionally breaks the immersion of a filmed performance and delivers an air of realism to the butchery on display. Additionally, with little dialog other than commands barked at the actor by the crew members, and with no sounds being emitted by the victims; the film is full of periods of silent ambiance that further pushes forth a sense of uncomfortable realism.
The Butcher (2007)
The Butcher is a 2007 South Korean found footage pseudo-snuff film, written and directed by Kim Jin-won. Deep in an abandoned abattoir, a trio of sadistic killers decides to create a snuff film starring their latest victims. However, unlike the standard production of death on film, the group of creators has the ingenious idea of capturing the acts through the implementation of POV cinematography from both the killers and their victim’s perspectives.
An incredibly visceral piece of extreme cinema, The Butcher‘s creation was inspired by the notoriously influential CAT III films from Hong Kong and the intense violence that is associated with the classification. Although the theme of snuff films hasn’t been explored in South Korea to the extent other countries have, The Butcher still delivers a brutally sufficient display of gruesome torture and death. However, the film does feature some narrative outside of these bloody acts, as one of the victims manages to make an escape attempt whilst still being filmed—delivering some tense moments that would otherwise be missing.
Making Off (2012)
Making Off is a 2012 French extreme found footage film, written and directed by Cédric Dupuis in his feature-length directorial debut. Cédric Dupuis (Olivier Bureau), a fledgling independent filmmaker, has set out to create the most terrifying horror film of all time. By shooting without any budget to speak of and with a cast of his friends, Cédric soon realises the frustration of indie film-making. The only way for Cédric to attain the realism he wants is to actually murder his cast on camera. This is his documentary of the events that unfolded during the making of his opus.
Framed as a behind-the-scenes documentary, Making Off could be considered one of the more lighthearted entries to this list. The film’s approach to the viciously violent and abhorrently carnal aspects of its narrative borders on satirical in nature, being so over-the-top in nature that it is difficult to be taken seriously at points. Despite this, the film is still masterfully executed with an entirely serious tone to deliver some truly disturbing moments. The film is driven by the amazing performance from Olivier Bureau, delivering a charismatic yet chilling rendition that carries the production as a whole.
Celluloid Nightmares (1988)
Celluloid Nightmares is a 1988 Japanese pinku horror film, written by Shirô Yumeno and directed by Hisayasu Satô. A disturbingly graphic snuff video depicting a woman tortured, killed, and dismembered is found inside a sex booth. After taking the tape home to watch, a young man working at the establishment becomes obsessed with the tape believing it to be real. Upon investigating its validity, the man crosses paths with a reporter interested in UVF (Underground Video Film) who helps in the search for the creators of the tape.
Somewhat of an homage to British psychological horror Peeping Tom (1960), Celluloid Nightmares (1988), not to be confused with Muzan-E, also called Celluloid Nightmares (1999), is a film unafraid to explore voyeurism and its place in the underground adult video scene. Whilst Celluloid Nightmares is primarily a soft-core pinku film, featuring many unrelated scenes of extended simulated copulation, the film’s dark themes and horror aesthetic still dominate throughout. The assailant’s chosen weapon—a knife—concealed within a camera, certainly represents the audience’s lust for violence.
Videodrome is a 1983 Canadian sci-fi body horror, written and directed by the great David Cronenberg. As the president of a trashy TV channel, Max Renn is desperate for new programming to attract viewers. When he happens upon “Videodrome,” a TV show dedicated to gratuitous torture and punishment, Max sees a potential hit and broadcasts the show on his channel. However, after his girlfriend auditions for the show and never returns, Max investigates the truth behind “Videodrome” and discovers that the graphic violence may not be as fake as he thought.
A classic from the king of body horror, David Cronenberg successfully infuses his unique style of science fiction and grotesque special effects into the territory of snuff films to create an incredibly alluring piece of cinema. Whilst these scenes are certainly not the main focus of the film, it instead chooses to focus on the investigation of the murder for entertainment show and the conspiracy behind it. However, Max’s obsession with this media and his desensitisation is embodied through the inhuman changes he begins to undergo and culminates in one of the bleakest endings in sci-fi horror.
Tumbling Doll of Flesh (1998)
Tumbling Doll of Flesh is a 1998 pseudo-snuff film, written and directed by Tamakichi Anaru. An adult video star arrives at a hotel room to shoot a custom film. However, as what seems like a typical shoot becomes more depraved, the actress protests and tries to leave. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of her own personal hell as she is restrained and mutilated until she is nothing more than a meat doll.
Although censored due to Japan’s obscenity laws, Tumbling Doll of Flesh is, foremost, a hardcore fetishism. Over half of the film’s 69-minute run time is filled with graphic adult scenes, progressively becoming more extreme in nature until the actress finally decides enough is enough. Only then, does Tumbling Doll of Flesh finally progress into the realms of debauchery this film is notorious for. Like other films such as Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood, the special effects implemented during these scenes of torture are amazingly realistic (surprisingly uncensored, despite Japan’s obscenity laws)—still holding up 25 years later. However, what sets the film aside from its well-known counterparts is its inclusion of real intercourse during scenes of dismemberment and abuse, undoubtedly increasing the level of uncomfortability when viewing. The juxtaposition of fake violence with explicit intercourse exponentially intensifies the believability in such a way that this film will not be to everyone’s taste.
The Degenerates (2021)
Erotic Grotesque Nonsense 2: The Degenerates is a 2021 American extreme horror film, written and directed by Jonathan Doe. What seems like a candid home video of a couple in love (Jonathan Doe and Felicia Fisher) soon deteriorates into a twisted frenzy of drugs, sex, and mutilation, as the pair use the body of their recently deceased friend to spice up their honeymoon festivities.
Inspired by the 1982 Robert Beckowitz murder case, The Degenerates is an astonishingly graphic pseudo-snuff film presented in a found footage style that holds an uncomfortable authenticity throughout its runtime. Although no actual murder takes place on screen, only alluding to this act through discussion, The Degenerates is still an incredibly brutal depiction of the aftermath of a visceral murder at the hands of two deranged psychopaths. Made by those unafraid to deliver untold levels of sadism for their own amusement, as well as the enjoyment of others through their amateur-produced snuff.
Sadi-scream Vol 1. is the first in a series of five Japanese pseudo-snuff/extreme erotica films all created in 2007, directed by Masayoshi Shiki, Tôru Sakata, Unazuki, Yatsuki Bijogiya, and Schwarzen III respectively. A young reporter and her camera crew dedicate themselves to investigating an illegal organ trafficking ring. Whilst interviewing a suspected member of this group of criminals, the reporters are abducted and taken back to a body chop shop. Wherein, the young journalists are subjected to torture, death, and much worse.
Once again delving into the realms of hardcore adult content, Sadi-Scream Vol 1., whilst not as explicit as Tumbling Doll of Flesh, still contains its fair share of explicit scenes of real erotic acts performed by the lead actress. Moreover, the scenes of torture and maltreatment deliver feel somewhat sedated compared to previous entries. Despite this, the film Sadi-Scream Vol 1. is still a callous piece of fetish cinema, sure to satiate those with the curiosity and the stomach.
S&Man (pronounced Sand Man) is a 2006 pseudo-documentary on extreme cinema, written and directed by J.T. Petty. After being turned down by his intended interviewee, a man who was suspected of peeping into his window as a child, J.T. Petty instead takes to the independent extreme cinema scene to question a whole host of directors on their thoughts of Voyeurism and how they have explored this aspect in their films.
Starring some of the most notorious directors of extreme cinema (and also Bill Zebub), S&Man takes the audience on an exploration of Voyeurism’s place in the genre and its audience. However, as the documentary progresses, one director, Eric Rost, seems to have an unorthodox creative process when making his S&Man series and creates, what are suspected to be real snuff films. Although these films aren’t the main focus of the documentary, their slight inclusion certainly aids in their believability overall. Being rather amateur in style and featuring a very grungy aesthetic, this series of films certainly boasts some impressive effects and adds some believability to the documentary.
What should be laughable is actually rather shocking and uncomfortable to watch at times.
Folie à deux (2021)
Featured at Japan Film Fest Hamburg 2022, the short is well-paced for its fleeting runtime and features an interesting twist on the home invasion snuff film. Yet, its shoestring budget does let it down at times.
Classic gritty 70s exploitation film, with some amazing effects performed by Tom Savini.
Mai-chan’s Daily Life (2014)
They basically do everything imaginable AND film it.
Bottled Vulva Trilogy (1998)
Tapes of Death Collection
With over 289 minutes of unbridled chaos, the Tapes of Death Collection is an amazing compendium of films that, whilst unrelated, all share a fascination with death in all forms.
Hey there, I’m Jim and I’m located in London, UK. I am a Writer and Managing Director here at Grimoire of Horror. A lifelong love of horror and writing has led me down this rabbit hole, allowing me to meet many amazing people and experience some truly original artwork. I specialise in world cinema, manga/graphic novels, and video games but will sometime traverse into the unknown in search of adventure.