Some men get erotic thrills from seeing nude young women shot, stabbed, pierced by spears and arrows, or killed in a variety of other ways. And a remarkably large Internet industry has arisen to serve this craving.
Scores of websites feature thousands of professional-grade videos and pictures of attractive women gunned down in showers, stabbed in knife fights, hanged from rafters, run through in sword duels, strangled in bed, shot by snipers while sunbathing, impaled on stakes, machine-gunned in groups, sacrificed on altars, electrocuted by wires to nipples, harpooned by spear guns, executed by firing squads, bayoneted as POWs — you name it. Computer-generated special effects make the action realistic. Cartoons, sketches and especially digital art scenes augment this "snuff" fantasy.
The woman-killing array is disseminated through sites with names like DeadSkirts, FemmeGore, FemmeFatalities, NecroBabes, Cuddly NecroBabes, Dead Sexy Women, Fatal Fantasies, KillHer Productions, Gladiatrix, Crucified Women, Psycho Thrillers, ChokeChamber, Dark Fetish Network, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Bang Bang Babes, and so forth. Others have generic names like Progressive Art Project, Eyewitness Production, PKF Studios, Alpha 7 Productions and Jafa Entertainment. (If you really want to see this crap, you can Google those names; we're not going to link.)
DeadSkirts calls itself "Your Fantasy Female Death Fetish Site." ChokeChamber boasts: "Where her pain is your pleasure." Dark Fetish advertises: "The best in horror erotic movies — over 18,000 hours of content." CineDeath is subtitled "Home of Movie and TV Female Demise." A few sites mix X-rated copulation with the murder, but killing women is the essential point. Most display free samples and previews. Some videos are recopied onto YouTube.
The volume is amazing. PKF boasts more than 800 digital videos filmed since 2006, plus a backlog of earlier works. Catharsis Video offers 698 short movies plus 746 "photo play" layouts. Gabrielle's Fighting Girls has 168 videos and 89 photo plays. Both Wicked Works Productions and Annabelle's Fantasy have 158 films. Stranglenail has 151. Bodybag Necromedia has too many to count. DeadSkirts has 28,000 registered discussion board members, many of whom send each other links to their favorite scenes.
Enormous time, effort and expense are invested in the industry. Great numbers of young female performers "play dead" before cameras. Countless artist-hours are spent creating hundreds of death drawings and computer-generated slaughter scenes. Profits evidently roll in from men who pay to see women killed. There's even a Snuffie Awards competition, in which 300 different producers enter their best gore for judging in various categories. The trophy, naturally, displays a nude woman with an arrow entering her.
I discovered this realm by accident. I'm an old newspaper editor who has written nine books, including a novel about the legendary Amazons of Ancient Greece. While promoting it, I found sites named Amazon-Warriors.com, Deadly Amazons, Sexy Amazons, Sexy Latin Amazon, etc. — all selling brief movies of half-nude Amazons killing each other, with great attention paid to their arrow-riddled, sprawled, convulsing bodies. In Ancient Greek sculptures and ceramics, and later in Renaissance paintings, Amazons always were portrayed fighting Greek soldiers — but this new genre shows Amazons killing Amazons.
The Amazon sites led me to other woman-killing outlets. None of the little movies has much plot. They're just five- or ten-minute scenes of attractive young women, usually undressed, dying violently. Overwhelmingly, the imagery displays young women as sexual objects for male entertainment — not as individuals with personalities. Obviously, there's a commercial market for this material, presumably among men who derive pleasure from watching females die (or pretend to die).
One producer of these films has been the center of Canada's longest-running obscenity trial. Donald Smith, who calls himself "Dr. Don," created death movies of his wife. Then he advertised for models in Winnipeg newspapers. He made many quickie films and posted them for sale on a Web site which said its purpose was "to show beautiful women getting killed."
Canadian police investigated in 2000. Smith and his wife were charged with obscenity. When the case came to trial in 2002, counts against the wife were dropped. The defense contended that the movies didn't fit the legal definition of obscenity because no sex occurred in them.
The defense presented an expert witness, film professor Barry Grant of Brock University, who declared that Dr. Don's videos were little different from horror scenes in modern "slasher" movies shown in theaters and sold in video stores. Dr. Grant testified that grotesque killing has been part of cinema since silent days.
Despite the professor's testimony, a jury convicted Smith. He was sentenced to probation, banned from the Internet, and fined $100,000.
The sentencing judge, Helen Pierce of Ontario Superior Court of Justice, wrote that Dr. Don's videos had "the potential to change attitudes toward women, cause psychological harm to anyone who had previously been a victim of sexual violence, and could do serious psychological harm to adolescents." She said his films imply that an attacker "can silence women with his violence, leave them on sexual display, and walk away without consequence."
Judge Pierce also noted that Dr. Don made plenty of money from his "poison." He had no occupation, yet his family lived in a lavish home and enjoyed a yacht. Testimony indicated that 2,000 people (presumably all men) paid $30 each for passwords to his Web site within a 15-month period. Many sites require recurring monthly fees.
Dr. Don appealed the conviction, and a higher court ordered a new trial. He was convicted again in 2008, appealed again, and the interminable case seems to have no end.
Britain's Parliament also made an attempt to outlaw snuff films. An "extreme pornography" amendment banned depictions of "injury to genitals or breast, or death." But in the law's first test in 2011, prosecution of a Staffordshire man who downloaded woman-killing videos from Drop Dead Gorgeous fizzled when a jury ruled him innocent.
Both the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization define "sexual sadism" as a mental disorder, and the Journal of Sexual Aggression publishes specialized research on the topic. But specialists focus almost entirely on violent criminals who attack women and children — not on voyeurs who relish watching make-believe enactments.
Various scholars, such as Dr. Grant, have written about female victims in horror films. But their analyses address only full-length features presented through public theaters, television movie channels and video stores — long stories with elaborate plots and many characters. Despite concerns like Judge Pierce's, snuff sites remain largely unexamined — and legal. Fetishists can access this disturbing fringe of the internet with impunity, and the images Pierce feared could twist viewers' attitudes toward women are widely available for anyone to find.
Haught is editor of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine. Email him or visit his website.