The Greatest American Snuff Film

The Greatest American Snuff Film (2010): United States – directed by Sean Tretta

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some violence, disturbing content, sexual themes, brief nudity

Note: The Greatest American Snuff Film will appeal primarily to fans of horror movies, and as such this review touches on a few unseemly subjects.  Reader discretion is advised.

Back in 2003 a few guys got together to make a small movie.  Director Sean Tretta rounded up a little money, about $3,000, and crafted a story of a serial killer who enjoyed making films.  The man, named William Allen Grones (Mike Marsh), fancied himself a director, setting up scenarios where he could document the kidnapping and imprisonment of two young ladies before killing them on camera.

The Great American Snuff Film purports to be the true story of Grones’ crimes, reenacted and dramatized.  Then, the story goes, new interview footage surfaced of Grones before his execution.  Tretta evidently cut this new footage into the old film, making it five minutes longer, and has now released it as The Greatest American Snuff Film.  The movie’s strongest selling point is that the filmmakers have created a fiction surrounding Grones, calling him one of the worst serial killers to never get any publicity.  Better yet, they claim to have the actual footage of his crimes, shown at the end of the film with an additional “Viewer Discretion Advised” warning.

There has been a long tradition in showmanship when it comes to exploitation films.  As far back as the 1950’s, and probably before, hucksters would warn audiences of outrageous content, offering sick bags and nurses outside the theater, and making audiences sign liability waivers.  The trend hit a new high when Cannibal Holocaust was released, alleging it was actual footage of horrific deeds in the Amazon, being so real as to have director Ruggero Deodato investigated by the police.  When The Blair Witch Project was released as found footage of youngsters in the woods, audiences ate it up.  Similarly, Paranormal Activity [review here] purported to be the story of two youngsters caught in an evil house who had not been seen since.

But, just like Fargo’s “based on a true story” tag, the whole thing is a crock, and fascinating marketing.  Unfortunately, the backstory is the most interesting part of The Greatest American Snuff Film.  On one hand, it is impressive to see a few young people go out and make a film, and actually have it distributed on video with almost no budget.  It gives hope and inspiration to anyone who has ever wanted to make a movie.  And when the movie is this bad, every would-be director knows that he or she can certainly do better.

The movie follows Grones and his pal, Roy (Ryan Hutman), as they commit a few atrocities.  Roy kills a guy with a van, which the pair then use to kidnap a couple young ladies.  They tie the two women up in a small building on their junkyard lot out in the country, and have a video camera set up to ensure they don’t escape.  The women spend the majority of the film writhing around on the floor in their low-cut tanktops, but never actually say or do anything of interest.

Grones wants a fitting ending to the film, and makes himself wait to either kill or rape the women.  He sees it as good self-control, and good for his film if he doesn’t prematurely end things.  Along the way there are some flashbacks to Grones’ younger days explaining why he is the way he is.  These, like the rest of the film, are overly narrated, destroying any subtlety or meaning that might have been created by looking into a serial killer’s mind.  There is no suspense as the film nears the ending, as the beginning “interviews” with Grones explain that he is to be executed for the murder of the two women.

The production looks rather poor, as one would expect for a no-budget film.  The acting is not good, the dialogue either inane or stupid, and the special effects look home-made.  All of this is okay in a production that didn’t have any money, but lack of funds does not excuse the embarrassing soundtrack.  Heavy metal and electronic dance tunes bombard certain sequences, such as when Roy breaks out the whips to intimidate the young ladies.  If the film were actually based on real events, such cheesy glamorization of the killers would be an abomination.  As the film is fake, the soundtrack feels inappropriately jarring and distracting, destroying any ideas that what Roy and Grones are doing is disturbing.

The last couple minutes, the footage of Grones’ pre-execution interview, is genuinely creepy.  Aside from the investigator’s unconvincing voiceover, having an actor portray the “real” Grones is unsettling.  If Grones were real and the footage were real, this would be almost unwatchably disturbing.  Unfortunately, the rest of the film does not fulfill its expectations.  Audiences hoping for an exploitation film will be sorely disappointed, as there is little violence and almost no nudity.  The actors treat the young ladies with an unexpected restraint and respect, which is exactly how they should not be treated in a film about repugnant serial killers.  Add to that the fact that neither victim is sexually abused (there is an intimation of abuse, involving a body double, but this one scene is unconvincing), and even the most depraved exploitation-seeker will be disappointed.

The Greatest American Snuff Film fails on a variety of levels.  Some of them, such as the inferior production, can be explained by a lack of money.  Others, such as the near-absence of any promised exploitative elements and a terrible soundtrack, can’t be explained by having no money.  Still, it is encouraging to see young filmmakers succeed at making a film for $3,000, then having it picked up for distribution.  It is still a little odd that this is a repackaged version of The Great American Snuff Film, and even IMDb has two separate entries even though this one is basically an extended directors cut.  In spite of the admirable effort on the part of the cast and crew, I’m afraid I can’t recommend this film to anyone but those hoping to gain inspiration and hope by watching low-budget movies.

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