Once again we join death obsessed pundit, Francis B. Gross (Michael Carr) in his relentless quest to educate the public by means of a familiar mixture of largely faked, mondo-style atrocity footage, overdubbed with his curiously inappropriate brand of irreverence. This is the third in the Faces of Death series and the last to be directed by its original creator, John Alan Schwarz. By this stage, the format appears to have settled into a comfortable routine. The question is: in these days of wall-to-wall reality TV and twenty-four hour on-the-spot news coverage, is there really anything left to get "excited" about in relation to the series which anticipated much of today's "reality" obsessed media?
The first thing to confront the viewer is a montage title sequence composed of close-ups of various peoples' eyes staring, wide-eyed, out of the screen. Maybe Schwarz is making a rye comment on the perverse attractions of his own film by, cheekily, turning the objectifying gaze of the filmmaker back on the voyeurism of the film's own, goggle-eyed viewer-ship. On the other hand, he might just have happened to have seen Michael Powell's seminal "Peeping Tom" while editing the film, and copied a neat trick! Either way, it creates the impression that Schwarz is well aware of what he's doing by this stage in the game.
Next up, we get a by now, expected collection of automobile accident footage accompanied by Gross's "philosophizing" on society's contemporary obsession with the car. It's not clear whether this stuff is real or faked, it's possibly a mixture of both, but there certainly isn't anything particularly disturbing in this segment. Car safety campaigns now regularly use such footage to shock us into wearing seat-belts and avoiding drunk driving. This is just the first of many examples which remind us how many of the taboos which "Faces Of Death" first confronted (or exploited, depending on where you stand) have now practically vanished.
Gross still maintains the chilled-out vibe he started in the second film in the series -- casual summer clothes and dark shades -- but it's unclear what his relationship is supposed to be in regard to the film's footage this time out. To recap, readers should be aware that the first Faces Of Death film was premised on the claim that Francis B. Gross (in reality an actor called Michael Carr) was a researcher who had become fascinated by the subject of death and had travelled the world filming the world's various death rituals; the killing of animals in slaughterhouses; autopsies and deaths through accident and misadventure; even, occasionally, happening to be in the right place at the right time to capture a suicide in progress! In reality the film was a cleverly executed fabrication, combining real footage with completely faked set-pieces so expertly that it was sometimes almost impossible to tell where reality ended and fantasy began -- except in the cases where Schwarz, unwisely allowed the friends, acquaintances and family members who play out many of the scenarios, to "act" too much, thereby spoiling the documentary vibe!
With this third film though, there seems no doubt that, pretty much, the entire film is faked (or "reconstructed" as the end credits coyly put it), and Gross never even claims to be responsible for any of the footage. The irony is that, even if someone were to watch this film believing everything that passed in front of their eyes to be true documentary footage, they probably still wouldn't be all that freaked out or disturbed by it; anyone who has ever watched the news in the last few years, would frequently have seen a lot worse! This has to be qualified though by the fact that this installment's most infamous sequence has been almost completely cut due to the BBFC's policy on sexual violence, but more on that later.
The clever combination of real and doctored footage in the first film is completely missing here. For nearly the whole of the running time we are treated to a series of reconstructions of alleged real-life incidents which are clearly entirely fictional. One sequence is supposed to be footage shot by a film crew following the police as they investigate the crimes of a serial killer. We see assorted murder victims and the dismembered remains of a victim left in a street skip. The effects are actually quite realistic, and it appears that Schwarz was working with a much bigger budget this time around. The problem is that the wooden acting and bad writing make its scripted nature completely transparent to all but the densest of viewers. I wouldn't be surprised if Schwarz actually meant this to be a tongue-in-cheek spoof (not that the original was ever that serious) judging by some of the lines of dialogue a few of the interviewees come out with: The police film crew interview the best friend of the guy who got chopped up and dumped in the skip about his feelings towards the killer, and he comes out with the priceless line: "Well... I just hope he's proud of himself!" As though he were chiding a small child for stealing from his mother's coat pocket! One particularly daft scene involves a parachutist who gets blown off course by a gust of wind and ends up landing in a croc-pit! Over footage of lumps of meat being chewed by the hungry crocs, we hear a bystander shout, "Oh my God, Look what they've done to him!"
In the first film, one of the most infamous scenes involves some footage of a real suicide, taken from a distance as a woman throws herself from the top of a building which is then combined with a fake close-up of her crushed body on the pavement below. Here, Schwarz attempts to top himself (so to speak!) with a similar sequence of a man throwing himself from a building after the police fail to coax him to come down. A crowd of extras are pictured below him encouraging him to jump, and the cameraman follows as the police take his wife up to try and talk him down. No one is going to be fooled by this sequence though: the body that we see falling is clearly a dummy and there are so many cuts in the editing that a full multi-camera film crew would have been needed to film it. (There is another amusing piece of dialogue here though, when a bystander describes the sound that was made by the guy's brains splatting on the pavement as being like: "a lemon hitting the floor when you drop it.")
More unconvincing footage follows: the torture of a political prisoner in El Salvador; a man getting his leg bitten off by a shark (a nice effect though); a man torn apart by guard dogs, and a bomb disposal expert getting blown up while trying to defuse a bomb (while the cameraman and his equipment remain completely unharmed by the blast)! There is nothing here which really encourages that frisson of disgust one experiences from taboos being challenged, and there is an awful lot of padding with irrelevant material to draw-out the running time. The only reality footage the film contains is more slaughterhouse material: this time featuring chickens and rabbits being hung on hooks and plucked & skinned, etc. The footage of chickens having their heads lopped off is inter-cut with close ups of smiling teens biting on their Kentucky Fried Chicken nuggets!
It seems that the film intends to trade off an infamous sequence which purports to be video footage of a murderer raping one of his victims. Despite its fraudulent nature, the BBFC have pretty much cut the whole sequence from this new U.K. DVD on the grounds that it will encourage viewers to copy it. Instead, all we see are reaction shots from people viewing the footage in the courtroom where the murderer is standing trial. Without this bad taste sequence, there is not really that much else here to interest fans of this series. One gets the impression that John Alan Schwarz was also losing interest in the project, which may be why the series was handed over to others from the next film on.
The DVD from Screen Entertainment features a full screen print which is of about the same quality as the other entries in the series and features a clear, if unremarkable, mono audio track (well, you don't really need 5.1 DTS and Divimax image quality with this do you?) The special edition (available from Virgin Stores) also contains some extras in the form of a text-based interview with John Alan Schwarz taken from DVD World. Schwarz talks a good talk and makes the, rather unfeasible, claim that Belinda Carlisle and David Hasselhoff are big fans of the "Faces Of Death" series! The Wilson Brothers provide an article which seems to be based on the Darwin Awards, which features descriptions of the deaths of people who have died in peculiar circumstances (usually because of their own stupidity!) and a Director filmography and a collection of Hard Gore trailers round of the edition.
In these times, where we've grown almost accustomed to seeing both real and faked footage of war prisoners being abused, hostages being executed and the mass murder of school children by terrorists, the Faces of Death series is, sadly, already beginning to look almost quaint.