Faces of Death

Year: 1978
Studio: F.O.D. Productions
Director: John Allan Schwartz
Writer: John Allan Schwartz
Cast: Michael Carr

Knowing what we know now about the way these exploitation video nasty shockfests were put together, it's very easy to see how faked most of this film is even without all the making-of stories you can read about it online, but I like to think it would have been just as obvious it was all carefully (actually, not very carefully) constructed artifice back then.

The first clue is in the lead character and erstwhile narrator, Michael Carr as Francis Gross, a doctor who's become fascinated with the cultural, organic and social conventions and process of death. If it's not the crooked glasses or the way it looks like the hair, make-up or prop people were drunk when they got him ready, it's the way he casually steps out of surgery and throws bloodied rags into domestic household trash cans, making it obvious they shot it at writer/director John Alan Schwartz's film school or a buddy's holiday house one night.

Gross explains how his fasciantion with death leads him on a global odyssey to see how different people deal with it in its many forms, but it's pretty obvious to the modern viewer it's just the late 70s equivalent of a gruesome YouTube compliation of gore and mayhem, the progenitor to Rotten.com.

The only question left is whether it's as vile, depraved and unwatchable as its reputation says, and as you suspect for a 40 year old video nasty, the most unwatchable thing about it is the production values. How they spent $450,000 in 1978 dollars is a complete mystery.

The entire thing is a bit of a whistle stop tour of episodic chapters covering stuff Schwartz probably thought was interesting and/or shocking enough that certainly involve death but seem picked out of a hat, considering everything the film could cover.

Plenty of the scenes are obviously fake, like the San Francisco cult cannibal orgy, the serial killer execution and Gross investigating the macabre scene after a killer has stood off with a SWAT team and stabbed his family to death inside. But there's plenty of footage and imagery from real incidents as well, like the 1978 collision between a commercial flight and a Cessna in midair over San Diego and some awful news footage of a cyclist who's come off second best underneath a truck.

Other scenes are more circumspect, like the dodgy French assassin and mummified corpses in Mexico, and for a supposed shock doc, there's only one scene that will make you want to fast forward (in case they really do it) in the monkey decapitation, a grotesque sequence of adventure diners on their regular outing enjoying the world's most unusual meals.

It's a statement about the cultural zetigeist of the time more than a worthy pice of cinema.

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