Frances B. Gross,
Frances B. Gross
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: Gorgon Video
: Documentary, Mondo/Shockumentaries, Erotica
: 105 min.
: English, Spanish
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Possibly one of the most talked about series of all time, Faces of Death examines the many guises of death in the extreme close-up. Sure to shock, horrify and even repulse, these brutal films are not meant for the faint of heart. Volume I features a vicious pit bull fight, the clubbing of baby seals, monkey brains, a man setting himself on fire, an electrocution, San Francisco cultists dining on human organs, a suicidal jumper taking his final leap, a visit to a slaughterhouse, an alligator attack and a visit to an autopsy room. Volume II shows guerilla death squads in El Salvador, Napalm bombings in Vietnam, the drugging of a monkey, a dolphin slaughter, lots more.
|IF YOU DON'T WANT THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS FILM, DON'T READ THIS REVIEW.
May 21, 2004 - 10:43 PM PDT
17 out of 19 members found this review helpful
|It was the Summer of 1986 and video was booming. We had an eclectic choice of video stores in our neighborhood and the selections were awesome. There weren't any limits, if they put it out there than chances are you were going to see it. Unfortunately that freedom would end around 1988. The first "Blockbuster Video" opened up right next door to my favorite Mom and Pop shop, (they held on until the early nineties and closed their doors without even a simple goodbye) "Video Wizard". My dad hadn't even purchased a VCR yet but that didn't stop me. I walked into "Video Wizard" the day it opened and would salivate at all the movies locked behind glass display cases.
I spent most of the summer of 86' with my friend Greg. A few blocks away from him was "Queens Video". That was even cooler because they had some of the strangest horror movies. I was 12 years old and on a mission. I wanted to see every dam genre film I could get my hand's on.
My parents had gone away for a week and left me at me at Greg's house. We pitched a tent in his backyard and did the thing 12 year olds do when you get two months away from school, not much. That particular summer there was a weird fad with BMX bicycles and everyone wanted one. I had a ten speed. I guess I was lame. Frankly, I could care less, all I wanted to do was sit in front of the television and rent movies all summer (my dad finally caved in and bought us a top loading VCR made by the fine people at Sears around 1983) keep your bicycles, I'm gonna be a filmmaker when I grow up!
During the video rental revolution you rarely got asked your age when you rented a flick, unless it was porn, so everything was up for grabs. "Queens Video" was the only store in town that had a copy of "Faces Of Death" and I had to see it. So my mission began...
I somehow convinced (or was it more of a con?) Greg's little sister to go over and rent it. She managed to get a copy and we watched it that faithful night. It was the second film in my young life that scared the living hell out of me (the first being "My Bloody Valentine". What do you expect? I was only eight at the time!). I remember Greg and I deciding not to sleep in the tent that night, instead we opted for his bedroom. I guess my evil manipulating towards his sister came back to haunt me. I was the only one that couldn't sleep. I couldn't get those graphic images out of my head. In particular one scene that resonated in my cerebellum.
A weird cult is shown performing a "sacrifice" by cutting open a human being. They eventually start to eat the person's organs and which than transpired into a sex orgy, smearing the blood and guts all over each other's body. I could not believe what I had just seen. I was terrified, I mean FACES OF DEATH IS REAL!! Isn't it?
Well, I decided to visit this piece of trash as an adult. One with a trained eye for the cinema. I know all the gimmicks and I studied all the bullshit. I defy anyone to pull a fast one on me this time around. So I hereby decree this review my revenge..
Let's start with the "FACT OR FICTION?" documentary on the disc. The key reason I rented this thing in the first place was to see what I was expecting, a factual account on the "myth and the legend" that scared me those many years ago. That roll of celluloid grossing $30 million dollars with a budget of $450,000.. I'll get to that information in a minute..
"FACT OR FICTION?" created a very bad taste in my mouth the moment the credits stopped rolling. It takes place in what looks like a make shift place a bootlegger would make videos in (the "interview" was shot in 1999 and the equipment is evidently dated) an interviewer with a fake name (I could swear I saw this woman in a porno) sits in front of director "Conan Le Cilaire". His voice is digitized so we can't recognize who it's supposed to be. We're also treated to another sideshow, an interview with "Dr. Louis Flellis". Allegedly "Dr. Flellis" is suffering from some sort of disease and ironically, he's dying. He's required to sit in a wheel chair with some sort of oxygen mask. The oxygen mask isn't connected to anything, it's merely a prop. "Dr. Flellis" is not a real doctor nor is that his real name. His actual name is James B. Schwartz (director of "Faces of Death IV) and you will not learn this on the "FACT OR FICTION" documentary.
"Conan Le Cilaire" is actually John Alan Schwartz, the man behind the phenomena of "Faces Of Death". John actually went on to write for a handful of television shows, notably "Knight Rider", "The Fall Guy" and my personal favorite "AutoMan" (he's resume is rather impressive). But that's not all I dug up about John, he started as an editor for the creepy 70's series "In Search Of..." Do we see any connection going on here?
"FACT OR FICTION" is obviously tongue in cheek (the actress playing the reporter is SO VERY bad) with a few exceptions.. Many of the scenes from the entire FACES series are exposed. I've personally seen up to part II or III.
He reveals a sequence from Part IV (which he didn't direct but claims to) that was faked because of "legal issues". It was a scene depicting Asian people buying dogs and eating them for dinner. He than explains "we hired a very, very expensive F/X crew to do the effects but it looked too fake. Eventually, I had sent one of my crew out to a toy store and what you're watching is a spray painted teddy bear filled with liver at close up" as we watch the family dine on what's obviously chicken.
But what about "FACES OF DEATH?" What's real and what's not? As it turns out what you're watching (and you will not get this from the DVD'S "documentary" on the film) is stock footage and tons of it. That scene where the woman commits suicide? That's real but the results of the body were simply inserts created by the Schwartz crew.
The infamous dining on a monkey sequence, fake, "Conan", admits in "FACT OR FICTION?" that it was a rubber head with jello, red dye and cauliflower. There was a staff of animal control people to protect the real monkey so when it came time for feeding the depravity and repulsion would have us believe it's a real "treat". "Conan" claims that it was offensive to whatever culture it is that actually eats monkey brains because they believe it gets them closer to God so it became a legal issue. Hence, a reenactment.
He also hints that he can be seen "through out the film" but you'll have to "look carefully" to find him. Guess we're you'll find him?
According to a 2000 interview from the Florida newspaper "The St. Petersburg Times***" John describes where he can be found. "I was the leader of the flesh eating cult" Schwartz admits "I had scenes in each of these movies...I'm the crazy, drugged-out killer..I play the freaky rapist in the courtroom scene, and, they show the rape on the video, and it just so happens that the girl (in the rape scene) was this girl I was dating at the time"
The execution was guess what.. FAKE! Schwartz explains (from the newspaper article) "We built a cell in a friend's loft, and we lined the guy's mouth with toothpaste" he further explains in the article "My research material for that: I happened to pick up "Hustler" magazine and there was this great article about electrocution that really detailed how a person is executed......And that's what I used as my basis"
That big "cult orgy" that kept me up all nigh when I was a kid? It was the director playing the leader and having a laugh on my naive little mind.
You will learn very little from the 56 minute documentary and frankly, if you've seen this film once, you've seen it enough. The filmmaker never "traveled around the world" to get this footage. They went to a bunch of libraries to see what they could find. Quite an illusion they played on our generation when we were kids huh?
"FACES OF DEATH" was originally made for the Japanese market and somehow it made it's way over here. The budget was $450,000 and the most recent information I could derive was that it has since grossed $30 million. Director Schwartz had no idea the film was keeping kids up all night until he saw a report on CBS. That's how the big bucks started rolling in and I'm sure it's made more since with it's ridiculous amount of sequels that re-used footage from it's previous films.
It's distributer "Gorgon Video" seems to be doing quite well with this title as well as it's sequels. There have been thousands of direct to video rip-offs with more authentic stock footage (i.e. "Traces Of Death"). It's not fair to the "mondo" community for having this piece of trash on their queue all these years. I think it's about time "FACES OF DEATH" gets excommunicated.
I can now sleep peacefully at night though. Even if I can't stop dreaming about the day the dead will walk the earth.
John Schwartz was doing college appearances about the film in 2000 on Halloween Night. He now produces reality shows for networks like ABC, I wonder if there really, real though? I'd rather watch his episodes of "The Fall Guy" on re-runs.
**The newspaper article citied in this review was written by Michael Patrick Welch for the St. Petersburg Times, published October 26th, 2000.
Further information on the director was compiled from The Internet Movie Data Base.
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