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Snuff Tapes: Torture-Porn Through Porn-Torture

Whenever someone offers me a screener, I feel a heavy obligation to check it out—knowing that someone put in the time, energy, and effort to create a film and then asked for my opinion. To me, that’s a bit of an honor. I can’t always get to everything with schedule conflicts and planning, but I try my best to give whatever’s offered a fair shot. That being said, I may have gotten a bit over my head when I agreed to review Vito García Viedma’s Snuff Tapes.  

Poster for the film Snuff Tapes, showing a woman bent over in the fetal position depicted on a black and white television
Poster Image courtesy of Jinga Films

I’ll preamble my reasoning with how much I love South American horror films and believe that some of the best genre filmmaking is being exported from that part of the world. Christian Ponce’s History of the Occult and Shudder’s just released Virus: 32 are just some of the movies I love telling our Horror Obsessive readers about. So, when a Chilean film, and Dark Veins Horror Fest winner for Best Film 2019, crossed my desk, I may have leaped before I looked, not considering the title, the content, or what my reactions to it would likely be. I quickly read the brief description about a woman seeking revenge for past abuse by exploring tapes with explicit footage on them and went with it.

For anyone unaware, a snuff film is a violent depiction of sexual assault caught on film, typically ending with the murder of the victim. The first time I had heard the term was during Joel Schumacher’s 1999 neo-noir thriller 8mm, which sees Nicholas Cage navigate a shady underground of pornography to discover if a film kept by a wealthy philanthropist contains an actual murder. One of the myths discussed in Snuff Tapes is the validity of most snuff films, many produced with special effects and makeup like any ordinary Hollywood production. Though that may decriminalize the videos, it doesn’t make them the type of content I’d generally find myself searching for or excited to come across.  

Honestly, I thought Snuff Tapes was looking to walk a very different path. The VHS aspect of the synopsis made me consider early 2000 films like The Ring or Feardotcom. I thought maybe the plot would traverse the wide array of monsters inhabiting a dark web underground world by comparing the Saw and Hostel torture-porn genre and the world of snuff. I’ll admit it was a giant leap from the synopsis, but horror films consistently find ways to surprise me. I suppose, in a way, I was more surprised by what I got. 

Catalina sits on the floor, holding her legs as she watches television

 

Snuff Tapes starts with the stories of three women, Jesus Mayano (Camila Medina), Marcela Arkaino (Camila Carreno Arancibia), and Catalina Ibarra (Valentina Soto Albornoz). The film visits each one’s unique encounter with a psychopath (Manuel and Oscar Vergara), going exactly how you think they’d go, except that these women all survive the events. Catalina stays vigilant for ten years, collecting tapes to track down her attacker. Having amassed a selection of PAL formatted cassettes, she returns home to get the proper equipment to view them and finally pieces together how to find the sadistic bastard from all those years ago. Having studied the similar patterns of her assault throughout the years, she identifies the other surviving women and devises a plot for the group to serve some vigilante justice.  

Full confession: I am not a fan of movies that deal with rape. I can barely stomach most of them. I think somewhere in my young cinematic education, between viewings of Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange, I realized the topic just made me sick. In retrospect, I should have evaluated those feelings before accepting the film for review. Snuff Tapes also had the misfortune of being a part of a heavy-duty double feature this week with Bloody Oranges, a film containing similar subject matter. The scenes in the latter are far less aggressive than Snuff Tapes’ more brazen approach.

The rape-revenge subgenre always travels the hard road of overcoming the first part of its moniker, only considered for viewing because watching rapists get what’s coming to them is incredibly satisfying. Successful rape-revenge films like the 2020 academy award-nominated Promising Young Woman work well because they lean heavily on the revenge side of things and delicately approach the cause leading to revenge. 

That is not the case with Snuff Tapes.  

A woman in a green dress is seen through the screen on a camera in Snuff Tapes

Viedma approaches his film seemingly more interested in the pornographic aspects of the story than the arc. Nudity is rampant throughout the film, and the camera never shies away from any of the depravity. The film uses taboo movie A Serbian Film as a heavy source of its inspiration, including an actress storyline as the trap laid for one of the women used similarly to lure A Serbian Film‘s Milos into its web of debauchery. 

The first 40 minutes of the 70-minute feature contain the assaults on the three female survivors, the next 15 trip through exposition arriving at a brief 10-minute resolve. Because it’s so hasty, any effect the climax intends to have on the viewer is lost. Not only has the film subjected us to 40 minutes of despairingly sinister acts, but its characters have been afflicted with the memory of these events for 10 years. There’s no doubt in my mind that any vengeance would stem from a place of such boiling intensity that any one of these women could think of a hundred and one ways to make their attacker suffer for an extended period. Unfortunately, you can just about blink and miss the whole thing. Two of the survivors get sidelined, appearing as vigilantes for less than five minutes of the film’s total runtime. 

In the end, Snuff Tapes feels like a loose, unedited cut of what could have been a tight 20-minute short. One sequence of Catalina watching what happened to her on tape is so excessively long and gut-wrenchingly graphic that it genuinely feels sleazy—like you’re watching one of these tapes yourself. Maybe that’s the point. I just know it wasn’t an experience I enjoyed being part of. I remarked to myself early in the film that there was a particular charm in its lo-fi aesthetic, providing the immersive feeling of an old VHS recording. However, after the 40-minute torture sequences, I was less than enchanted. If Viedma is attempting to compare the horror audience to snuff viewers, I think the analogy loses a lot of steam through its overwrought depiction of violence against women and lack of equitable justice.

A chained up man hangs as a figure in a red hood approaches with a bone saw in Snuff Tapes

The only redeeming factor of Snuff Tapes is Valentina Soto Albornoz’s performance. The conviction she displays in the later scenes is the only part of the film doing any heavy lifting in what feels like a very light script. There really isn’t a lot of dialogue in the movie. A large portion of Snuff Tapes is told through voiceover monologues, catching the viewer off guard by thinking the film may follow some documentary stylings. This ends up being just a portion of a very peculiar template the film has designed for itself to tell its story, further exasperated by subtitles that aren’t always coherent.  

There were several times throughout Snuff Tapes I thought about ending the film. I don’t think there are many merits in a film specifically designed to make you hate it without evoking perspective or conversation. It felt like it never became more than its logline. The film boiled down to extended, unimaginative torture scenes that persisted far too long to avoid developing side characters or venturing out past its initial concept when the credits rolled. I’m fully aware that I’m not the target audience for this movie, and that’s on me for accepting to review a film I’d likely have predispositions against. I’m not exactly sure who the target audience for Snuff Tapes is, but all bias aside, I can’t imagine they’ll find much entertainment in the film either.

Snuff Tapes is now available to stream for free on Tubi or purchase on DVD through MVD home video. 

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Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston and loves all things horror.

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