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Saturday, 17 May 2008

The Great American Snuff Film (2003)

Another independent horror film purporting to base itself on a true story, this one follows a serial killer named William Allen Grone, apparently convicted in 1998 of rape, torture and murder. He also apparently shot some footage of what he did with a Super 8 camera and wrote a journal. He called his footage The Great American Snuff Film, so it becomes our title too. The big selling point isn't that the film is a dramatisation of what William Allen Grone got up to, but that the two and a half minutes of his actual footage is actually included at the end of the DVD.

William Allen Grone isn't alone in his actions. He met Roy at a porn shop and the man with the widest collection of illegal material in the state and the man who shoots material of his own soon become friends and collaborators. The pair of them have a great location to use for their combined deeds, such as kidnapping, torturing and murdering a pair of young ladies and their boyfriend, as Roy runs a junkyard in the middle of the Arizona desert. They thus have plenty of time and space available and a lack of anyone to get in their way. All this sort of thing helps the independent filmmaker because he can do his thing with a tiny cast, no interference and a solid amount of control.

Of course that doesn't just apply to Super 8 filmmaker William Allen Grone, but to the director of our film, Sean Tretta. Tretta is an independent filmmaker, making his debut feature and it shows. He has some good ideas, he has some interesting shots and there are quite a few very cool touches indeed. He's made a film that he should be able to build nicely on and the female victims (Melinda Lorenz and Holi Tavernier) are very effective. However the sound is terrible, the lighting poor and the pacing inconsistent. It also generally seems as if he's trying too hard to make something deliberately hard to watch.

There's no real plot, merely a bunch of variations on a theme, the theme being power and control. The bad guys (you can't call them antiheroes) are in charge and there's nobody to stop them. Nobody stumbles onto the junkyard and hears their moans, nobody investigates their disappearance and follows their trail, there's literally nobody around for miles. The victims keep starting the process of escape, finding ways to get the duct tape off their mouths, but they never get anywhere. This is all great, for a while, as it plays with our expectations, but when we realise that it's not going to do anything else for the entire 87 minute running time it gets a little tedious. Mike Marsh's monotone narration fits the same logic: it's very apt in the short term but completely tedious in the long term.

What that boils down to is that this would have made a far better short film than a full length movie. Given that the most professional thing about the whole production is the soundtrack by Hardwire, it could even have been a long music video (Tretta's previous video for Hardwire's Flesh is included on the DVD). The reviews at IMDb are almost entirely massively negative and the film is nowhere near as bad as they'd make it. Make no mistake though, it's still a heavily flawed picture. It's merely one that has reward for those open minded enough to see it. It also has promise for the future, so I'll certainly watch any future Sean Tretta movies, of which are there are currently two: 2007's Death of a Ghost Hunter and 2008's Death Factory: Bloodletting. Both also feature Mike Marsh, who plays William Allen Grone here and co-wrote both subsequent films. It'll be interesting to see how different he appears in them.

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