Origin of the Term:
Unbelievably, the term was coined during the furor arising from the Manson Family murders of 1969.
. . .
Numerous books were written about the Family, their practices, and the murders they took part in. The best known is Vincent Bugliosi's 1974 Helter Skelter
. However, it is towards Ed Sanders' 1971 The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion
to which we turn. In it, Sanders relates that the Family may have been involved in the making of "brutality" (or as he later terms them, "snuff") films. This was the first recorded use of the term.
Pausing for a moment to deal with the rumor raised about Manson and snuff films, Family members stole an NBC-TV truck loaded with film equipment sometime during the summer of 1969. The truck was later dumped and most of the film given away, but Manson kept one of the NBC cameras. The Family were also said to be in possession of three Super-8 cameras and to have used them to make homegrown porn films. The snuff film allegation comes from Sander's interview with an anonymous one-time member of the Family in which Sanders hears about a "short movie depicting a female victim dead on a beach."
ANON: I, I, I knew, I know, I only know about one snuff movie. I, uh, you know -
SANDERS: Which snuff movie do you know about?
ANON: I just know like a young chick maybe about 27, short hair... yeah... and chopped her head off, that was . . .
SANDERS: What did the girl look like? What was the scenario?
ANON: What was what?
SANDERS: What was the scenario? Was she tied up? Did she look willing?
ANON: She was dead. She was just lying there
SANDERS: She was already dead?
ANON: Yeah. Legs spread, uh. She was nude but nobody was fucking her. They said her head was just chopped off and she was just laying there.
(At this point the interviewee acknowledged he hadn't actually seen the film himself but was instead relating a story he'd heard.)
From this fanciful beginning, the term "snuff" came to be used to identify films of this nature.