EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: FACES OF THE RIDICULOUS

If you are a fan of mondo, exploitation or horror, you’ve heard of the “Faces of Death” movies. You’ve probably even seen them. When I was in high school, these films were like our Holy Grail. None of the video stores in our area carried them, though, and none of us were wise enough to actually even think about ordering them through the mail. All of us wanted to see them, however, for whatever sick reason.

My sick reason was actually pretty tame: I was curious. My father knew I was interested in the films, too, so he made me a very happy son when he brought the first one home from a video store near his job. I couldn’t believe my luck, and I had to watch it right away, so as dad made hamburgers for dinner, I popped the video into the ol’ trusty VCR.

I think that was the last time my father ever brought home a movie I wanted to see.

As we ate our hamburgers, we watched scene after scene of carnage, my brother and father eating a little more slowly every minute. I continued to chow down, though, because one thing was painfully obvious to me: A lot of the footage, like the Satanic ritual, was fake.

The disappointment I felt was huge, though I think wanting to watch real executions and whatnot is probably a far bigger problem. But it was the hype that did it. I wanted the film to live up to its press. Banned in over forty countries! Parents and teachers appalled! Atrocious scenes like you can’t believe (and I didn’t)! It was a disappointment, and not a very interesting one either.

The “Faces of Death” series is an urban legend put to film, and the people who are too dumb to know that much of it is fake, spread the disinformation with all the proper embellishments. Those who don’t want to see it, but have heard about it, are happy to pass on the scenes as if they are fact, too. “Yeah, they actually show a plane crashing and bodies flying everywhere!” I’ve even encountered some people who have claimed some of the scenes in the film, most notably the monkey brain eating segment, have happened to a friend of a friend. (It’s fake, people.) Granted, it makes for a good urban myth, but as a film … it sucks.

You have to wonder why people still believe in it even after they’ve seen it. It’s like those people who claim “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (the original, not the inferior remake) is one of the bloodiest movies ever made — whether they’ve seen it or not. Those who have seen it know there’s very little blood or gore in the picture, but for some the myth persists. Do the people who believe in “Faces of Death” want it to be true? Yeah, they do.

Life seems a little more exciting when you think there is a video out there that actually shows such “real” horror … and that it can be rented at your local video store. It’s a modern day bogeyman story — a tale used to scare children and simple adults. The forbidden becomes desirable, and people like to feel like they are part of it by keeping the story alive. It reaffirms their humanity and exemplifies the decline of culture that people feel is constantly happening no matter the era.

The truth of the matter is that “Faces of Death” is a piss poor film. It can’t be taken seriously by anyone with even half a brain, and those who keep the rumors alive and add to them are dupes who are excellent salesmen and nothing else. The narrator and his dialogue, the music, the “real” scenes, the stock footage – it’s all one poorly executed joke of a movie where its reputation is stronger than its bite.

You want to see something horrifying and real? Go rent “The Blair Witch Project.” That shit will keep you awake at night, and I know it’s real. How? I saw it on the Internet.

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Posted on October 21, 2004 in Features by

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