Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Michael Carr
Directed by Conan Le Cilaire
Released by Gorgon Video
Upon sitting down with Faces of Death again all these years later, like most I first saw it when I was way too young on a crappy VHS tape, it’s really hard to believe that people actually thought any of this was real. I mean, seriously, the monkey brains? The electrocution? The man eaten by an alligator?
For those of you who haven’t born witness to this 1979 faux-documentary, allow me to lay out the “plot”; Michael Carr stars as Dr. Francis B. Gross, a man who claims to be so fascinated with our final moments that he decided to travel the world with a camera to try and capture as many different varieties, or “faces”, of death as he possible could. The resulting footage he then edited together, along with voiceovers to convey his thoughts on what was going on at the time he was shooting.
What we actually have is a collection of stock footage shot for news shows that have been edited together with footage shot specifically for the film to give it all a far more ghastly, but far more controlled, feel. Some of the tell-tales signs of this footage are the horrible “acting”, the creative cutaways and questionable makeup effects. Faces of Death is not a movie that stands the test of time by any stretch of the imagination, but if you can put yourself in the mindset that these filmmakers and the film’s audience were in when it was first put together, you can begin to understand why it became the phenomenon that it did.
In 1979, nothing like this had ever been seen before. Nowadays we’re inundated with both faux and real “found footage”, as it were, so much so that most people need to be convinced that the real stuff is actually real and not fake. Back when Faces of Death was released, however, you would have a much harder time convincing people that this stuff wasn’t real, because nothing like this had ever been attempted before.
For that reason Faces of Death serves as a product of its time, a look back at a moment in horror history when some guys with a relatively crazy idea succeeded in creating something that would be talked about for decades to come. In that sense, Faces of Death is an important film, but it does beg the question; does it really need a Blu-ray release?
Short answer yes with a “but”, long answer no with a “however”… Gorgon did a great job getting a lot of good stuff on this disc, but the clean-up on the movie itself only serves to point out it’s flaws more clearly, which is not something I’m sure those who worked so hard making it look as realistic as they could would see as a good thing.
The extras do make it a worthwhile venture, though. The commentary by director Conan Le Cilaire is informative and entertaining, though not quit as enlightening as the chat with the editor or the special effects creators.
The “Choice Cuts” featurette is probably the most revealing, as editor Glenn Turner explains how the original concept for the film was to just use stock footage, of which they had in surplus thanks to the filmmaking teams’ daytime jobs, but were told by some Japanese investors that the random scenes of death and violence needed to have more plot. That’s when they got the idea to shoot all new footage to mix in with the stock, meticulously re-creating the settings and film type to make it as seamless as possible. In this respect they did do a great job, as you can see the difference even in the hi-def version.
“The Death Makers” featurettes is a chat with the men behind the FX, Alan A. Apone and Douglas J. White, which is especially interesting when they discuss some of the more memorable moments, like the monkey brain dining or the cult of strange hippies who feast on the dead (probably some of the worst acting in the whole film, but it does has some great boobs).
Wrapping up things on the feature front is one deleted scene of a man getting the gas chamber, which was on the VHS version but not the theatrical print, a trailer, and some not-so-funny outtakes.
As a curiosity piece, Faces of Death is well worth a look, especially if you’ve not seen it in a very long time. As for its place in horror cinema history, well, that remains to be seen. As I said it’s not a film that holds up very well at all, but considering how groundbreaking it was for its time, I doubt anyone will ever forget it. And while it is nice to have all of the myths about Faces finally addressed by the people who created it, it also takes some of the fun out if it, too.
Oh, and one other thing I need to point out; most of the interviews on this DVD were again shot by our man Andrew Kasch! Great work, man!
3 out of 5
4 out of 5
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