THE GREAT AMERICAN SNUFF FILM
Reviewed by: Zombie Boy
What's it about
A dramatization of the supposedly true exploits of William Allen Grone, a serial killer who liked to film the deaths of his victims.
Is it good movie?
William Allen Grone was a man handed a rough deal from life: after having been abandoned by his mother, he was relegated to a series of foster homes each more abusive than the last. The net result being that by the time he was an adult and out on his own, he had built up an insulating wall around himself from the vagaries of life matched in density only by his hatred of women. After a few small-time murders he hooks up with fellow psychopath Roy, and utilizing Roy's junkyard devises a plan to capture two women and prolong their agony for his Super 8mm camera, and ultimately shoot them in the head to complete his Great American Snuff Film.
As is wont to happen in serial killer plots, all manner of things go wrong, from the mundane (postponing the shoot due to day job commitments) to the grandiose (Roy losing his limited sense of restraint and reduced the number of victims by half) causing Grone to have to improvise. Years later he finds himself having to relive these events for an interviewer as he waits to ride the lightning, and through that and the confiscated journal entries he wrote at the time of his crimes we have the narrative meat for the movie.
I will admit right off the bat that I am not a fan of exploitation films, nor particularly ones where women are tortured, so the title and premise of this film made me cringe when it crossed my desk. I am happy to report that Sean Tretta is actually quite a skilled director, especially considering the micro-budget of the film and less than optimal shooting conditions (no running water on location!). The whole film was shot with the same DV camera, with Grone's home movies painstakingly rendered to look like old Super 8 film. The sparse, raw lighting and Tretta's interesting choices of camera angles and shot-blocking - that especially, considering all of his actors were relative novices - provide a nearly tactile sensation on the eyeball. He similarly strives for a character piece, in lieu of just showing gross things happening to innocent people.
Unfortunately, in the end there is just no new information in this film. If you are not a dyed in the wool horror fan, the events on screen might discomfit you, but if you've seen any number of exploitation or torture films nothing in Snuff will raise your stress level very much. Which is not to say that a film needs to be extreme to be effective, but while Snuff never exactly drags, neither does it seem to be in a rush to get to the point. The cast does a fine job with the material, but ultimately the film never gets inside Grone's head in any substantial way, and it never gets down on the floor, in the filth and the fear, with the captive women. Which is too bad.
I should also note that this is a rerelease of the film from 2006, with new footage, the "interview" scenes, bookending the original footage.
Video / Audio
Video: Shot on digital video; all of the grain and fuzziness, both intentional and incidental to the 2003 technology with which the film was shot, only go to enhance the retro vibe.
Audio: The stereo audio track is generally decent; Grone's narration pops and is sometimes hissy, but I assumed that was to show he was not doing a professional recording.
Director Commentary: Writer/Director Sean Tretta does a decent commentary; there are very few dry moments and he gives a lot of insight into the making of the film with a clear head about its flaws as well as its attributes.
Making of The Great American Snuff Film: This is a 20-minute piece which is mainly interviews with Tretta and star/producer Mike Marsh, with some behind the scenes stuff thrown in. It is very informative about the origins of the film, if a slightly uninspired special feature.
Fake Snuff Films: This is a collection of three of Grone's snuff films; only one of them I recognized as footage used in the film. None of of them are particularly convincing.
Flesh Music Video: I don't know if Flesh is the band, the song, or both, but it is decent techno/metal, if a little repetitive.
The Great American Snuff Film is a noble effort, given its budgetary and experiential constraints, and while it is a well-shot, visually compelling film, it straddles a cinematic middle ground between viewer provocation and deep character assessment that I found untenable. I would much rather have the latter than the former, but it needed to tip the scales one way or the other to be a complete success thematically, but never manages the trick. Watch it for the attempt, but don't expect Martyrs or Last House on the Left.