"La sainte de l’abîme est plus sainte à mes yeux!"
Gérard de Nerval, Artémis
From this interview with Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth (conducted probably shortly after Per Yngve Ohlin's suicide on April 8th, 1991):
"And now over to something more humouristic...yes... snuff-movies. Who had been the perfect actor for a snuff-movie, and why the hell aren't they legalized? Don't you think that every video-store should have its own section with snuff-movies?
EURO: Actually I think it's great that movies like that are forbidden. If they were legal and easily accessible, all the small trend children would be watching them, and then it would not be something extreme anymore. It's just the same what happened to death metal it became something everyone could buy in every store, something normal and accessible for everyone. All the mystic and evil atmosphere is GONE. I do not think snuff-movies are funny, I think they are DARK. I've seen people laugh at them, but that's probably because they will not be themselves. That is the best way to watch such a movie to try to FEEL the actual pain of the victims. It becomes much more gruesome then, and that's great. One must be alone in the darkness and suffer with the victims. If you watch it with other people, they will often talk, laugh and so on, and then you get more distanced from it. It's not supposed to be funny (death to fun), it's much better when it's depressive."
In the early nineties, the Norwegian state practiced a severe system of censorship. Horror films were either heavily cut or banned outright. Even relatively innocuous British horror films such as British horror films such as House of Whipcord and Twins of Evil were forbidden.
In all probability, Aarseth was bluffing when he claimed he had seen snuff movies. Snuff movies, films which depict the actual killing of a human being, are nothing more than an urban legend. In the (thoroughly researched) 1994 book "Killing For Culture. An Illustrated History of Death Film from Mondo to Snuff" film journalists David Kerekes and David Slater concluded that no such films have existed anywhere, at any time. Probably, Aarseth made the common error of mistaking notorious gore films such as Man Behind The Sun, Cannibal Holocaust and Guinea Pig 2: Flowers of Flesh and Blood for actual snuff movies; another possibility is that Aarseth categorized films from the Faces of Death series as snuff films.
Kerekes and Slater made some useful observations with regards to the social function of the myth of the snuff movie:
"Snuff is the ultimate debase, a monster that must exist because it cannot be proven not to exist. As such it is exploited by campaigners fighting 'Satanism', pornography and 'video nasties'. For bureaucrats seeking publicity and missionaries seeking funds, it is a tool - the demonized apotheosis that necessitates their crusade. It is what the public must fear and what these bodies will serve to protect the public from (and in recognizing it, will themselves remain untouched and immune). For the 'transgressives', on the other hand, it is the next inevitable step down the slippery slope - like all marijuana smokers will become crack addicts; like all beer drinkers will turn to hard spirits; like all porn viewers will resort to sex crime."
The myth of the snuff film, constructed by ".. bureaucrats seeking publicity and missionaries seeking funds..." was appropriated and used by Aarseth. This imaginary terror, this demented obsession of modern-day inquisitors, inspired Aarseth to wrest the demonic power of the snuff movie from his contemporary media landscape to cast that image back at Norwegian society. By publicly, ostentatiously claiming to consume snuff movies, Aarseth desired to become Norwegian society's "...ultimate debase...".
"Actually I think it's great that movies like that are forbidden." Aarseth's words illustrate the observation that transgression is a 'dual operation', an interplay between interdiction and transgression. Neither transgression nor interdiction can take place or have meaning without the other. Transgression does not deny the interdiction: on the contrary, it reaffirms the interdiction. For Aarseth, if snuff movies wouldn't be forbidden, if they would be legal and easily accessible, they would be meaningless. Aarseth needed his bureaucrats, missionaries and inquisitors. Aarseth was not only an artist who desperately desired to ruin that staid Christian society of which he was a part; he also was an artist who longed for a society that would deny his right to exist.
Where (inquisitorial?) criticism and theory regard the consumer of horror films to be in a sadistic-voyeuristic collusion with the camera, Aarseth "...suffer[ed] with the victims", as if he attempted to open up the boundary of the silver screen to feel "...the actual pain of the victims." Rather than assaultive, Aarseth's gaze is receptive, introjective, opening up to the pain of the victims. Carol Clover's classic 1992 book Men, Women and Chain Saws. Gender in the Modern Horror Film suggests that Aarseth's reception of snuff films is structured similarly to the reception of horror films:
"The evidence suggests that the first and central aim of horror cinema is to play to masochistic fears and desires in its audiences - fears and desires that are repeatedly figured as 'feminine.' It may play on other fears and desires too, but dealing out pain is its defining characteristic; sadism, by definition, plays at best a supporting role. To the extent that a movie succeeds in 'hurting' its viewers in this way, it is horror; to the extent that it does not try, it is not horror but something else."
Even if Clover is wrong to simply identify the consumption of horror films with sadomasochistic practices, she is right in the sense that both masochism and the consumption of horror films foreground an intimate sensation of corporeal suffering. With Karmen MacKendrick, both masochism and the consumption of horror films can be described as a 'counterpleasure', which are "...pleasures which queer our notion of pleasure, consisting in or coming through pain, frustration, refusal. (...) They are pleasures that refuse the sturdy subjective center, defying one's own survival, promising the death not of the body but, for an impossible moment, of the subject..." (sourced here).
Aarseth's approach to the consumption of snuff movies was solitary and contemplative: "One must be alone in the darkness and suffer with the victims. If you watch it with other people, they will often talk, laugh and so on, and then you get more distanced from it." Rather than consuming these films in a gregarious manner, Aarseth experienced the agony of the victims in solitude. For Aarseth, the consumption of these films must take place outside the banalities of ordinary life, cut off from the normal communication of emotions.
In the citation above, Aarseth expressly linked his ideal way of consuming these film to the experience of a "mystic and evil atmosphere": i.e. to mysticism and the left-handed sacred. This is particularly interesting in connection to the consumption of horror films as a counterpleasure which threatens the death of the subject. It would seem that the experience of corporeal suffering through the contemplative consumption of horror films is not only close to eroticism, but also to (left-handed) sanctity. Bataille: "The Saint is not after efficiency. He is prompted by desire and desire alone and in this resembles the erotic man." (sourced here).
In the white light of the desert, Christian hermit Saints identied ecstatically with a tortured and crucified Christ. In the pit-like darkness of his room, illuminated only by the somber blue light of the cathode tube, an enraptured Aarseth identified with the tortured and murdered victims of snuff films.