On Violence, Snuff Films, and Morbid Curiosity, by Andrew Jason Jacono

Riggwelter would like to preface this work with a strong content warning. If you are in any way sensitive to graphic discussions or depictions of violence, gore and/or sexual content, this is not the essay for you.


 

Contrary to what action films would have you believe, a body doesn’t stay erect for a few seconds after a bullet burrows into its head. Blood doesn’t spray from the entry wound in a sickening scarlet geyser, nor does the corpse fall evenly on its back like some elegant marble sculpture. The reality is almost comically unceremonious; the bullet bursts through the skull at a speed faster than the brain’s neuroelectric wiring can process pain[1] and the body begins a vertical descent to its knees, which, thanks to the hundred-plus pounds of freefalling heft collapsing on them, buckle under themselves in much the way a crash test dummy’s might. Depending on the angle, the upper half will either fall face-first, bounce off the ground, and strike a final pose in the position of an ostrich burying its head in a pile of sand, or jolt backward and hit the rear of the cranium with a hard, resounding crack. Only then is there blood, pooling out in the wiry tendrils of a spiderweb wherever gravity pulls it.

There’s something about the lack of drama in this particular death that makes it hard not to be disturbed by. Here, a moment before the fateful shot, stood a living being with complex aspirations, an intricate network of relationships, and a whole storyboard of fears and lesser apprehensions, and now in that same space lies the carapace of some unfortunate animal that might not have even existed to begin with. There are no frills, there’s no well-meaning goodbye, and there’s no time for a reaction, let alone a final Wilhelm scream.

I’m not a doctor. I’m not a killer. I’m not a soldier, and I’m not some suave secret agent. So how do I know what it looks like to get shot in the head?

Let’s backtrack eight years to the heyday of the early internet: a haven for cat videos, viral clips, shock films, and all stripes of porn. It wasn’t uncommon for the average teenager to begin an internet marathon with a viewing of “Nyan Cat” or “Charlie Bit My Finger” and finish it with a midnight screening of “1 Guy, 1 Jar” flanked by a group of similarly disgusted companions. Nor was it rare for friends to dub each other pussies if one of them had any more negative of a reaction than a sarcastic cringe.

Meet one of my closest high school friends—let’s call him Ryan. A true internaut, he prided himself on vetting the most disturbing videos on the web. To him, “2 Girls, 1 Cup,” a notorious scatological porn trailer in which two women eat their own shit and vomit discolored bile into each other’s mouth, was banal, entry-level; the real thrill lay in videos like “2 Guys, 1 Horse,” in which a man has violent anal sex with, you guessed it, a horse (he later died of a perforated colon)[2], or a surprisingly untitled video in which a masked member of the Sinaloa Cartel beheads two snitches, one with a chainsaw and the other with a dull hunting knife.

Ryan, like many of my peers, not only enjoyed these videos, but wore them like badges of honor; they epitomized his betrayal of conventional morality and his sense of unfaltering masculinity. A horrified or otherwise sympathetic response was histrionic, an indicator not only of a weak stomach, but of a feeble spirit, and the more people he recruited as fellow watchers, the better a chance he had to stake his superiority. He, a few mutual friends, and I would visit each other’s places and watch dozens of horrific videos, most of us only backing out when Ryan pulled up something distastefully violent. Unfailingly, Ryan would denigrate our manhood and assert that the video in question “wasn’t even that bad.”

So, I was understandably surprised when, during one of our common lunch periods, he reported having seen a new video that shook him.

“These three dudes in the Ukraine,” he explained, “they kidnapped this old guy and they tortured him to death with a hammer and a screwdriver, and they filmed it all. Worst shit I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t even finish it. Don’t ever watch it. I couldn’t sleep for two days.”

The video was aptly titled “3 Guys, 1 Hammer,” and according to Ryan it was easy to find—just type the name into Google and it would pop up as the first or second search result.[3]

It might have been Ryan’s nauseated reaction—a chink in his otherwise flawless armor of insouciance—that attracted me far more to this video’s mythos than any of the others we’d discussed. As weak as was my desire to actually watch it, I began to consider pulling it up, even if only for a few seconds, to prove that I was just as brave as Ryan, and, if I somehow made it through the whole thing, to replace him as the undisputed patron saint of shock.

After a few days of passive thought followed by two weeks of serious deliberation, I finally decided to buck up and watch. As I locked my bedroom door and clacked the title into the keyboard, my hands tingled and somewhat shook, sure signs that I wasn’t ready, but I ignored these warnings and clicked on the first link, which brought me to a threadbare website with only the promised video as content. I clicked the play button.

Out of respect for the victim—a 48-year-old Ukrainian man named Sergei Yatzenko—I won’t go into the video’s specifics. Rest assured that Ryan wasn’t lying, and that the acts the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs (who were found guilty of another twenty sometimes-filmed murders committed between June and July 2007[4]) carried out on their victim fully delivered in their unique depravity. Still, I pushed through the whole video. And though it’s difficult to remember what my immediate reaction was, I do recall, after the fact, that I felt as though I’d been as intrepid as a mustachioed naval admiral.

In hindsight, I do regret watching. Not just because I’ve routinely used the video to corroborate my creeping suspicion that humanity is, at worst, hell-bent on mutual destruction, and, at best, self-effacing enough to let evil prevail, but also because that ten-minute gore extravaganza led me into a sewer of some of the foulest URLs on the surface web.

See, when I told Ryan that I hadn’t only watched the entirety of “3 Guys,” but hadn’t felt nearly as sickened as he had, he was astonished. He did laugh, and he even congratulated me, but his eyes were full of distrust, and his voice was noticeably frightened. I can’t say that I didn’t understand the reaction—after all, if I was just as unfazed watching as the killers were doing, what was preventing me from carrying out an act just as sinister?

So to reassure myself that I wasn’t becoming a serial murderer (and to hopefully get back in touch with a healthy sense of disgust), I sought out more shock videos and snuff films—because, obviously, the only way to reinstall revulsion in something is to expose yourself to it as gratuitously as possible. Unsurprisingly, I made little progress on my hopes and wound up on what, for me, would become a gamechanger of a website: Bestgore.com.

Proudly offering thousands of extremely graphic gore and snuff videos to over ten million monthly visitors, Bestgore.com was founded by Edmonton, Alberta’s Mark Marek in April 2008.[5] The site has since come under heavy media fire, which reached its apogee in 2012, when Marek was arrested for (and later charged with) “corrupting public morals” under Canadian obscenity law.[6] While Bestgore.com’s staunch supporters and equally fervent critics share little in common insofar as their conceptions of what comprises good content, they can at least agree that the gallery has acted as a rallying point for a broader anti-censorship agenda. This overarching mission is perhaps best exemplified by the website’s home-screen banner—an image of a nude, bloodied woman roasting on a spit—and its opening warning page, divided into three sections, two of which are respectively titled: Why This Website Is Important[7] and Why It Is Important to Communicate Uncensored Information Published on Best Gore to the Public.[8]

Despite facing a wide stream of obstacles in its twelve-year history, Bestgore.com is still live and successful, offering thirty-nine different categories, or “topics”, of grisly content, ranging from “Suicide” and “Stoning” to “Sexual Disaster” and “Lynching.”  The three most popular topics? “Murder (3,718 entries),” “Road Accidents (2,736 entries),” and “Bloody Injuries (1,324 entries),” followed closely by “Torture (932 entries),” “Beheading (818 entries),” and, for aspiring physicians, “Medical (679 entries).”[9] In 2011 or 2012, when I first visited, there must have been only fifteen topics, though there was plenty to sort through: desert decapitations; skinned, stabbed, mutilated corpses; and brains leaking from the skulls of gunshot victims. Needless to say, Bestgore.com does not believe in jump-cuts or tasteful camera cutaways.

As a misguided fourteen-year-old wishing to reestablish contact with the humanity I was convinced I’d lost, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The first video I watched showed an Iranian man having his head sawed off with a combat knife, blood gurgling in his severed windpipe. The second video was of something similar, as was the third, and as was the fourth. One notable photo album showed the pulpy remains of a woman who had been ejected from a motorcycle and skidded a hundred miles an hour across a battered asphalt highway somewhere in South America, and another displayed a pale, bloated man hanging in a dimly-lit closet, flies picking at his skin and maggots squirming out of his eyes.

The good news is that I was shocked. Very, very much so. But that wasn’t enough to stop me from continuing. In fact, the nausea only spurred me to click faster in what I can only now rationalize as a morbid, almost ritualistic fascination. The closest thing to which I can compare scrolling through Bestgore.com is idly browsing YouTube; a new video with an attention-grabbing title will appear in your feed—take “Man Playing Pool Assassinated by Trio of Hitmen in Brazil”[10]—and you’ll ask yourself: well, what’s this about? Then curiosity does the clicking for you.

I visited Bestgore.com nearly nightly for months. Desensitization set in quickly, beginning with a general feeling of déjà-vu as cloaked men put blades to screaming throats and advancing to total indifference as I watched putrefying bodies burst open at their distended seams. As with anything else, there existed a certain routine in death; get beheaded this or that way, have your limbs blown off by this high-caliber bullet or that dusty grenade launcher, splatter on the ground like a watermelon after leaping from a building—the blood ran the same way, the organs spilled and squelched the same way, the bodies tensed up and then went limp the same way. The way you died didn’t matter because the result was that you were dead.

The fatalism didn’t arrive as quickly as did the desensitization, but it struck with the force of a sledgehammer. Humans, I decided, were little more than meat pillows brought into consciousness by pure happenstance and destined to fizzle out like every other extant and long-dead lifeform, and trying to find any meaning within their bizarre dealings was about as futile as trying to save the life of a man whose body has been quartered with an axe.[11]

At the time, I didn’t think that having a worldview so atypical of the normal teenager was something to be remedied as much as something to be lauded. I had finally grown up, I thought. But I knew I couldn’t share my thoughts with anybody else. If I did, I’d be forever regarded as a social and moral pariah. Not because the ideas themselves were too gloomy or untrue, but because they would be considered radical in a society of optimists and do-gooders.

These beliefs, however, couldn’t prevent my behavior from hinting at a deeper inner turmoil in ways I couldn’t detect, let alone reconcile, at fifteen. Outings with friends? I would rather have played video games than put my energy into relationships that would inevitably die. Family gatherings? Love and communication wouldn’t matter in the end, so why would I have wasted my time seeking them out? My primary motivators, then, became escapist thrills (television, video games, occasionally even suicidal ideation, though only in passing and never seriously enough to attempt) and sex (well, porn; I didn’t lose my virginity until college. In high school, asking a girl out seemed too complicated and uncertain, and I wasn’t going to waste my time trying when I could have an orgasm at will).

In theory, if I was doing what I really wanted—that is, not much of anything—I should have been content. But few things brought long-term satisfaction, and nothing truly fed me aside from writing, which, most of the time, I couldn’t even motivate myself to do. Worse, however much I refused to admit it, I was lonely. Scrolling through photos of grinning friends and peers on social media brought the kind of jealousy that makes you want to either scream in the shower or punch a hole in a wall. With some effort, I probably could have prevented the effective standstill of my social life, but the thought to try didn’t even occur to me.

Until the spring of my junior year. One weekend, per my mother’s request, I hung out with some acquaintances I’d met in school, and I enjoyed their company enough to give them another chance the next weekend, and the weekend after, and the weekend after that. By the time a year had passed, not a single weekend of which I wasn’t shopping-cart-jousting in empty parking lots or speeding down the highway at four o’clock in the morning, I had not only made up for the many hours I’d sacrificed to the gore-net, but cut the late-night viewings out of my life completely. (Though I never quite lost my strong stomach for violence, and still haven’t.)

So, I suppose I just grew out of it, like some teenagers outgrow sleeping until two o’clock in the afternoon or masturbating four times a day. I don’t know what having had to outgrow a website dedicated to snuff films says about me and my development (and, frankly, I shouldn’t really care), but I often wonder if I’d still be frequenting Bestgore.com had I not heeded my mother’s advice that weekend and decided instead to stay in and watch a few dozen more beheadings. It’s a funny thing to think about.

 

Andrew Jason Jacono

 


 

Andrew Jason Jacono is a proud Manhattan native who has been writing ever since he could hold a pen. His work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine, Thin Air Magazine, Five on the Fifth, and Green Briar Review, among others. If you’d like to learn more about him, you can visit his website: www.andrewjacono.com

 


 

[1] Neural information can travel anywhere from 1-268 mph, whereas the average bullet travels at 1700 mph.

[2] This whole fiasco is informally known as the “Enumclaw Horse Sex Case,” which was not an isolated event, but a series of incidents involving, naturally, the victim, Kenneth Pinyan (better known by his stage-name “Mr. Hands”), a trucker named James Michael Tait, and a stallion. Apparently, Pinyan’s death prompted the passing of a Washington state bill outlawing sexual intercourse with animals at the penalty of up to five years in prison.

[3] Today, it appears as the third result, after a Wikipedia article about the circumstances of the murder and a “Know Your Meme” page which describes, but doesn’t show, the video itself (though it does provide a link to a YouTube video entitled “Dnepropetrovsk Maniac Tortured By Police”).

[4] Almost all victims, like Yatzenko, were bludgeoned to death, and many were mutilated postmortem. The motive behind the killing? The perpetrators—Viktor Sayenko and Alexander Hanzha, both 19 at the time—just kind of felt like doing it.

[5] This was just three years before I discovered it; it’s at once unsettling and completely unsurprising to see how quickly it grew in such a short time.

[6] While it’s probably self-explanatory, Canadian obscenity law prohibits written material, pictures, videos, and records if “a dominant characteristic of the publication is the undue exploitation of sex, or the combination of sex and at least one of crime, horror, cruelty or violence.”

[7] An excerpt: “Best Gore was founded on the fundamental principle that freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the right of the public to be informed are fundamental and necessary conditions for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability that are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of all human rights in a democratic society…” This is heavily inspired by Article 19 in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[8] Another excerpt: “By self-censoring yourself to the content on Best Gore, you are censoring yourself to the truth… By not seeing things for yourself, you are opening the door to being lied to and persuaded in one direction or the other. No matter how brutal, hard, sad, offensive, immoral, obscene or [fill in the blank] something is to look at, only by seeing it with your own eyes can you make up your own opinion on the matter and see truth.” Grammatical errors and pleonasms aside, this is a strikingly paranoid passage that unfortunately has some truth to it.

[9] Numbers have changed since the time of writing and will likely continue to change.

[10] In which the victim is indeed shown playing a casual game of billiards when three men in balaclavas rush in through an archway at the back of the room and blast the guy in the head three times. The video is accompanied by a close-up picture of the deceased splayed out on the floor, one of his eyes caved in, his blood and brains frothing around his half-deflated head. On his forearm, there is a tattoo of who I assume is his child.

[11] This is a real video, and having researched it for this essay, I anticipate some difficulty getting out of my head the hollow sound of the axe cleaving through the bones in that crooked left shoulder.

 

Sources:

“3 Guys 1 Hammer.” Know Your Meme, 24 Feb. 2020,

www.knowyourmeme.com/memes/3-guys-1-hammer.

“Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dnepropetrovsk_maniacs.

“Enumclaw Horse Sex Case.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enumclaw_horse_sex_case.

Numerous Contributors. Best Gore, www.bestgore.com/.

“Obscenity/Obscenity Law.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obscenity#Canada.

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