For those who may not remember this exploitation landmark, “Faces of Death” is less a documentary than a compilation of authentic news footage too grisly for broadcast and reenacted (and faked) scenes of death and mayhem. The film didn’t make much of an impact in the United States until it was released on video during the mid-1980s. Due to its then wide release, it was the subject of news stories, editorials, and the kind of hysterical overreaction normally associated with so-called “moral panics.” To judge whether this film is “good” or “bad” is futile. It’s a freak show. And a freak show’s ultimate success is not based on your judgment, but whether or not the producers got your attention, and ultimately, your money.
Being a teenager and a film fanatic at the time of its stateside video debut (especially of “controversial” films), I was anxious to see it and finally did, when a friend of my brother’s rented the video. The film did everything it was intended to do: it shocked me, appalled me, and grossed me out. It especially helped that I was too dim to see that the film’s grisliest scenes were faked. Given the fact that I was on a speech team at school at the time the film was gaining notoriety, I saw an opportunity to use my viewing of the film as the subject of an indignant diatribe against sadistic violence in film that I hoped would win me some recognition.
Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll realize how patently ridiculous this stance is … and was. Like most moral crusaders, I went into explicit … and titillating … detail about the content of “Faces of Death” as well as other controversial epics of the day (“Silent Night, Deadly Night,” “Body Double”) to make a point about … I mean, I was trying to get people to … OK, for the life of me, I can’t remember what my conclusion was. I don’t think I called for banning the films and I don’t think I advocated broadcasting them on the Disney Channel. If memory serves … there was literally no point to the speech at all, except to describe in explicit detail the sexual and violent content of these films. The speech was as much of a freak show as the films I discussed and of course had a tone of “These movies didn’t warp me because I’m smart … but not-so-smart people may do harmful things if they see them, so look out!”
I remember practicing this speech in front of my older brother. He listened patiently and when I finished, he told me in the kind of tone reserved for a doctor telling a patient they have a terminal illness said “Dave, you need to get laid.” Needless to say, given the lack of point and the endless variety of atrocities I described, the judges saw through my ruse immediately and the speech was, alas, not a success.
Seeing the writing on the wall, I abandoned being a moral crusader. Not only was I not good at it and full of s–t, I realized that moral crusaders frequently don’t live up to their highfalutin’ pronouncements and often find themselves being referred to as “Client 9” in indictments. More importantly, my peers of the fairer sex generally don’t find uptight, strident, self-righteous prigs that attractive. Besides, in subsequent months, I had discovered an awesome way to simulate someone’s hand being blown apart (ala “Taxi Driver”) which I used in my own sleazy Paul Schrader-inspired short film that I made for an arts program the following summer. I should point out that the graphic hand mutilation was ABSOLUTELY essential to the plot.
I’ve included the ending of “Faces of Death IV”. As much as the narrator looks like Larry David, I don’t believe it’s him (though, God, I wish it were). Anyway, after the success of the first three “Faces of Death” films, it looks like they had enough money to finally compose a song based on the film series. The song has to be heard to be believed. I will warn you that the footage over the end credits is fairly gruesome and not safe for work, but if you’re a sicko like me, the theme song will have you dying in hysterics. Enjoy!