Published: Beeld, 18 October 2003
Raped, mutilated, murdered. And filmed – for a snuff movie. That may have been the fate of a young Johannesburg woman. But the shadowy world of pornographic murder films is full of questions. Martina Lees seeks answers
First he cuts off her fingers, then her nipples.
“You like it, don’t you, you whore. You want it,” he gasps while he rapes her. Again and again.
Finally, the climax: he butchers her belly and rips out her intestines and wave them above his head with an animal cry.
That is what you see in a snuff movie, says Dr. Pixie du Toit, forensic criminologist and head of the Sinoville crisis centre in Pretoria.
After her “death-rattle” this “victim” could indeed wipe up her “blood”. It was all acted. But the rape and murder of Ms Tanya Flowerday (18), a naive young woman from Johannesburg, was everything but acted.
Her parents found her body, severely mutilated around her genitals, in the Hillbrow morgue five days after her disappearance on 13 June.
They made a snuff movie about it, her drug addict friend told the police after his arrest on counts of murder and rape. Allegedly he was first, then the two foreigners. In front of a video camera in a deserted house in Randburg.
But the video is still lost.
Power, sex and blood
A death robe of secrecy hangs around snuff films. Enter snuff movie in the Internet search engine Google, and you get 145,000 pornographic web pages advertising it as the real McCoy.
“They scream in horror and cream in anticipation,” one claims. “The best extreme non-consensual, non-censored and forced sex available on the net today.”
In between you find some sceptical sites, like www.snopes.com and www.straightdope.com, which shoot down snuff movies as a myth and a marketing ploy. The cyber magazine Sceptical Enquirer reports: “Over the course of nearly a quarter century, the snuff film has transformed from grade-Z slasher film to hoax to anti-pornographers’ straw man to urban legend, and shows no sign of slowing down.”
Trustworthy information is rare. One criminologist after the other says they have never come across the real McCoy in research. Neither has the South African police, says Supt. Martin Aylward, spokesperson for the unit against domestic violence, child abuse and sexual offences.
The snuff genre was born in 1975, amidst rumours that the New York police found underground films in which women are really raped and murdered. The women were killed or “snuffed out” as soon as the rapist reached a climax, writes Prof. Linda Williams, lecturer in film studies at the University of California, Berkeley, in her book Hard core: Power, pleasure and the ‘frenzy of the visible’.
The sex movie producer Alan Shackleton did not wait. In 1976 he released Slaughter, a low budget, flopped slasher film made five years before, under a new name: Snuff.
According to Williams, Slaughter is a blood bath in which cult leader Charles Manson and his henchmen butcher the producers of a sex movie during their orgy.
Shackleton added an epilogue. After the carnage, the camera pulls back to show the team who filmed it. A sex scene between a female extra and the director turns ugly as he rapes, mutilates and kills her. At the climax, the film conveniently runs out. Only panicked voices can be heard.
“Did you get all of it?” asks the director.
“Yes, we did. Let’s get out of here…”
In a sick way
In his marketing campaign Shackleton suggested that the horror was real. The result? Despite protests and bomb threats, more tickets for Snuff were sold in its first three weeks than for box office hits such as One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
In truth the whole film was absolute nonsense. The epilogue was shot in a single day for a mere $10,000 in an apartment in Manhattan, New York. And weeks later The New York Times interviewed the murdered extra.
Sceptics says films such as Mute witness (1994) and 8 mm (1999), in which Nicolas Cage plays a detective who traces the producer of a snuff video, strengthens the myth. “There are more films about snuff films than there are actual snuff films in existence,” writes the Sceptical Enquirer.
Yes, says Du Toit, you find many acted snuff films, especially on the internet. You can recognise them from their third rate special effects. Still, they look like poor commercial thrillers.
But the real thing “definitely” exists: amateur home videos of sex predators and their victims – mostly prostitutes.
For her doctoral research in the USA on pornography and violence, Du Toit got such films from the Cleveland police. Although paedophiles often distributed it on the black market, Du Toit never saw real snuff movies that were commercially produced in the underworld.
True or false, these movies disturb you. The last spasms of death replace the spasms of sexual pleasure in a sick way, says Williams.
Snuff is the climax of the evolution of pornography, says Du Toit. Some users get addicted to it. Like drugs, they have to use harder and harder pornography more and more often to satisfy themselves sexually. “Eventually nothing else remains.”
Six mutilated female corpses
The small minority that turns to snuff is “sick in the head”. The general public “can even watch hard pornography, but not this gross, gross stuff”.
Not everyone is affected this way. For her research, Du Toit looked at “thousands” of books, films, child pornography and even live shows of hetero- and homosexual sex. “But it doesn’t motivate me to have kinky sex.”
Should South African parents worry about the murder on Flowerday? “I don’t think we should jump the gun and think every second child who goes out with a guy will be abducted, raped and filmed for snuff,” Du Toit believes. “But we also shouldn’t be naive.”
Perhaps Flowerday was not the first South African victim. At the end of last year the police found six mutilated female corpses close to highways in Pretoria, she adds.
“Who says it wasn’t filmed?”
This porn ‘deadens and incites’
From her interviews with sex predators in jail, forensic criminologist Dr Pixie du Toit found that violent pornography deadens and incites especially anti-social males who are prone to aggression.
Later they can believe the myth that women want to be raped. Eventually they can even copy the behaviour they see in pornography.
In 1984 researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, spoke to a prostitute who was raped by a man like that.
“You were in that movie,” the rapist told her. “You want me to kill you after the rape, just like the movie.”
He broke various bones in her body, pushed a gun into her anus and threatened to shoot her in her vagina – just like the movie.
At her practice at the Sinoville crisis centre in Pretoria, Du Toit definitely sees a link between pornography and sexual offences. Offenders usually watch pornography. Often they show it to their victims, especially children, to make them believe there is nothing wrong with such conduct.
Also, there is a link between snuff films and the occult, reckons Prof. Linda Williams, lecturer in film studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She believes deeds in these films often resemble Satanist orgies and rituals.
Teenagers easily get involved in the occult and often like explicit violence. She asks: “How will snuff films and orgies affect their beliefs about right and wrong, sex and the female body?”
Originally published in Afrikaans and translated by the author.