The Greatest Marketing Campaign in the History of Horror

At some point in the last fifty years, something unexplainable happened in the world of horror. One minute everything was suspenseful with a modicum of blood; the next, full on gore became the sought after end product. There have been a few films that were so realistic in their depiction of blood and guts that the authorities felt inclined to investigate further. In fact, there is quite a list when it comes to horror films that ended up in this place; perhaps, none of them are more important than Snuff. 

In 1976, husband and wife directing duo – Michael and Roberta Findlay filmed an incredibly low budget film in Argentina. Created on a show-string budget of $30,000, the picture followed the story of a Charles Manson style cult and, at this point, held the title of Slaughter. The film was completed and handed to a low budget producer who went by the name of Allan Shackleton and that, so they thought, was were the journey ended.

In 1975, whilst reading his daily newspaper, Shackleton came across a story that covered rumours of real snuff films being made in South America – this became the start of his master plan. Shackleton organised for a new ending to be made for the film and changed the title to Snuff before it was released.

In this new ending, the supposed crew of Slaughter all rally together and murder a woman working on the set; the murdering group then precedes to pull her intestines out before the film cuts abruptly. After the woman is attacked, a clear conversation between crew members is heard; they are discussing whether the event had been captured on film.

Attempting to cash in on the rumours surrounding South America, Shackleton went as far to market the film as a ‘real life’ snuff film and used the slogan, “The film that could only be made in South America… where Life is CHEAP”.

Unsatisfied with his handy work, Shackleton was not finished with his professional marketing campaign. The producer hired fake protesters to picket the cinemas that were showing the film and all of this worked to his advantage. That was until a group called ‘Women Against Pornography’ really did picket the showings – allegedly for the films depiction of sexual violence.

In 1976 the film was outed as a hoax but still received a lot of attention from people who refused to believe that it was fake. The film was investigated by authorities but then ultimately thrown out by the District Attorney who claimed that it was “nothing more than conventional trick photography—as is evident to anyone who sees the movie”. The DA also made it clear that the ‘murdered’ actress was alive and well.

I can just see the faces of the poor Findlay’s when the news broke. Then I imagine their faces when they realise that the film that cost them $30,000 and began life as Slaughter, actually took ten times that in the first eight weeks of a limited box office run.

If there is one thing to take from this, it is the fact that Allan Shackleton is, or was, most probably, one of the greatest marketers in the world. I wonder if he’s available to promote my blog..

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