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Faces Of Death (1978)

DVD Cover (Gorgon 30th Anniversary Edition)
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5.8
 / 10
7 votes
Genres:
Culture & Society, Documentary, Shockumentary
Director:
John Alan Schwartz John Alan Schwartz
Starring:
Michael Carr Michael Carr
Samuel Berkowitz Samuel Berkowitz
Mary Ellen Brighton Mary Ellen Brighton
Thomas Noguchi Thomas Noguchi
Adolf Hitler Adolf Hitler
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Review by Chad
Added: May 14, 2008
When I was a kid, my parents had no problems with me watching violent horror films, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I remember Friday nights being the night that we'd all go to the video store, and every week, I'd head over to the horror section and find something to bring home. When you consider that my parents and my brother all headed to the same section more often than not, I think that it should go without saying that I saw more than my fair share of on-screen violence as a kid. However, while my parents had no problems with me watching gruesome zombie flicks, sleazy slashers, Naziploitation, and all other sorts of depravity, they put their foot down on the Faces of Death series which led me to want to see them even more. Finally, I convinced a friend of mine to rent the film and make me a copy, and from that moment on, I was hooked.

As a kid, I didn't know that this stuff was mostly staged, and the thought of seeing "the real deal" led to me getting copies of the various sequels and the countless imitators, but after a while, I sort of grew out of that stage. These days, one only has to go to YouTube or Ogrish to see things that make these videos look absolutely tame by comparison, but with the recent announcements of both a remake and a reissue of the film on DVD, I thought it'd be nice to take a step back in time to my childhood to see how the film held up.

I'd imagine that most of you know what the deal is with this "documentary", but since it has been out of the spotlight for quite some time now, I suppose a brief synopsis is in order. The film is basically a collection of footage dealing with death, made for those of us who have ever slowed down beside an accident in the hope that we might see a body or a patch of blood. We've got assassinations, animal slaughter (from farmers, slaughterhouses, and African tribes), animal attacks, the aftermath of a plane crash, crime scenes, autopsies, and of course, the cannibal cult who kills and eats a man before moving on to a blood orgy.

As you probably know by now, some of the footage in the film is real while some of it is fake (or "reenacted", as the film puts it in the credits). I'm not going to run down the list of what's real and what's not as there are plenty of sites with that information readily available, but what I can say is that even most of the fake footage is pretty gruesome and would be hard to label as "fake" if you didn't know better. Sure, there are some exceptions to be made; some of the scenes are extremely unconvincing (the crocodile attack) while others are hard to believe (the cult killing), but each of these are entertaining in their own right regardless of their authenticity. As a kid, I believed that every last bit of the footage was legit, and as an adult, it's sort of fun to pick apart the scenes looking for the tell-tale signs of what's real and what's not.

Naturally, one has to have a pretty strong stomach to watch some of this stuff (the slaughterhouse footage is particularly nasty) and psychologists would probably have a field day with anyone who thinks that watching ninety minutes of murder, suicide, and fatal accidents is a good way to spend an evening. It's certainly not for everyone and it's about as far from a "documentary" as can be regardless of what the filmmakers try to pass it off as, but for those of you with a morbid curiosity, it does stand the test of time to a certain degree.

With that said, I believe that this film and the genre of mondo films as a whole has a wider appeal than most would like to admit - why else would traffic in the lane beside an accident almost always slow to a crawl, and what else could explain the inevitable mob of spectators that always shows up when a fight breaks out? It's in our blood to be curious about death and violence, and Faces of Death allows us to explore that from the comfort of our living room.

If you haven't seen it and you're interested in the morbid side of human nature, give it a shot when it comes out on DVD later this year. It may be thirty years old and it may not be the most grotesque thing available in this day and age, but it still packs one hell of a punch. The quality level fell with every sequel and every imitator, but the original is still fairly solid. 7/10.
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grain of sand #1: grain of sand - added 05/15/2008, 02:25 AM
Wow, so glad you chose to do this Chad.. I've seen faces of death 1-5, mostly before I was 17 and I loved those things.. cute little huskie puppys being eaten by phillipinos, satanic cults eating dicks, a dude trying to bungie jump off the top of a college, an inmate stabbing a nurse in the neck with a scredriver.. I could go on for days... FOD has made me what I am today and I love this shit.. I hope you continue with the series and remake and blah blah blah
Chad #2: Chad - added 05/15/2008, 02:33 AM
I remember the puppy scene, but I just found out (courtesy of the "Fact or Fiction?" documentary) that that was faked - they used a teddy bear stuffed with liver to do the effect. It looked damned real to me, but that's straight from the filmmakers.

Anywho, I'm debating that box set, but $65 for four movies is a bit steep (me being a cheap bastard and all).
grain of sand #3: grain of sand - added 05/15/2008, 02:48 AM
Dude.. I saw the puppy scene my junior year and it looked so real to my eyes, they yelped and everything.. damn. Send these fuckers an email and link to this site, sure they'd be more than happy to send you atleast the VHS boxset.. :)
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