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Faces of Death 4

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Release Date: 
Screen Entertainment
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Conan Le Cilaire
aka: John A. Schwartz
John A. Schwartz
Bottom Line: 

So here we are again: back for another helping of grainy mondo footage and an awful lot of reconstructed (ie:. faked) death scenes supposedly caught on video and gathered together with the proposed aim of educating the general public on the subject of the capricious, yet inescapable, hand of death. We start off with some unpleasant (and real) mortuary footage of dead bodies -- most of them elderly, their grotesque faces frozen in one final desperate (and unsuccessful) struggle for existence -- accompanied by doom-laden library music. As the title sequence rolls, we get to see one of the bodies bubble and crack -- dead flesh blistering and bones cracking -- as it is cremated in a furnace. It seems the series is back to its vile "best" with these spectacularly bad-taste opening images. But aside from sequences showcasing the horrific injuries of accident victims and victims of gunshots etc, this fourth entry in the series does end up relying, one again, on those reconstructions (which are always presented as actual footage of events by the film's sepulchral narrator) almost completely for its "entertainment value".

Fans of the series (or those of you who have read the previous three reviews) will remember the original narrator, Francis B. Gross (played by actor Michael Carr): supposedly a pathologist who had become obsessed with discovering the secrets of death. Well, it seems Dr. Gross finally made the ultimate sacrifice for his research and has ... er ... well ... died!! You'd think he would've recorded the event on some wobbly video footage for posterity but it appears the good doctor's demise was accorded considerably more dignity than many of the unfortunate subjects of his ongoing documentary series!

Even the death of its founder cannot keep the series from rolling on though, so step up Louis Flellis (James B. Schwartz) -- he claims to be a former student of Francis B. Gross who interrupts (presumably important) work as a neurosurgeon to continue his former mentor's lurid film career. Dr. Flellis has a somewhat different approach to the material from that of Gross: while the former narrator brought a laid back attitude and a dry sense of humour to the task in hand, Flellis looks positively deranged most of the time, with mad staring eyes & a rather unforgiving and insensitive approach to many of the purported horrors he serves up for our edification.

Most of the real footage (which only makes up about twenty per cent of the material included here) is fairly prosaic stuff and of a type we have seen in of all the other Faces of Death films: stunts gone wrong; bodies being extracted from wreaked cars or crashed planes etc; police and army brutality from around the world caught on film. The most novel piece of footage depicts a bicyclist being run down by an ambulance ... which then backs up to take him to hospital! Even some of the real documentary footage has often had sound effects added to make it even more gruesome: a policeman, shot in the head and killed, is seen being examined by one of his colleagues with loud squelching noises added to the soundtrack as his splattered brains are collected from the back of his head!

But most of the film is taken up with faked material which looks a lot more elaborate and outrageous than that of the earlier films -- although this only makes it easier to identify as fake, since it's shot much more expertly than the surrounding brief sequences culled from TV footage or documentaries. The first such reconstruction purports to be film of a siege at a hospital, caught on film by a TV news camera which just happened to be there on an unrelated story. Strange then, that we repeatedly see the cameraman and reporter in the same shot (maybe there was also a documentary crew shooting a film about the news crew at the same time)! The footage captured depicts a nurse being held hostage by a schizophrenic patient who has run amok after becoming unhappy with his treatment! This must have been pretty crummy treatment since, eventually, he murders the nurse on camera by piercing her neck with a screwdriver! Although obviously fake, this scene does demonstrate the film makers' increased skill in orchestrating some fairly gory footage; in fact, it is so well done that it won't fool even the most gullible -- it is almost too cinematic! This problem gets even more acute later, in a prison electrocution sequence that is shot more like a Gothic horror film than a piece of authentic mondo footage!

It soon becomes apparent that the makers of the Faces of Death series are no longer worried about trying to fool the audience into thinking everything here actually happened. The repeated claims of authenticity are really just an in-joke by this stage and if one isn't made aware of this by the tongue-in-cheek nature of the material, then one will soon get the message after being exposed to the ridiculously camp performance of James B. Schwartz as Dr. Flellis! He even performs a self-penned song, "Faces of Death", as the closing credits roll! The staged sequences become more and more bizarre as the film progresses; and it seems a bigger budget has been made available for this entry in the series since the gore effects are often really well done -- especially a foot severed in a wrecking yard accident and an outlandish fake magic-trick-gone-wrong stunt in which a magician's head is pierced by spikes live on stage in front of an audience! The dangers of topless water-skiing are demonstrated in a sequence where a naked woman is cut up by the propellers of a passing motor boat; and an environmental message is contained in the piece of film that depicts a woman killed by a giant leech while swimming in a lake polluted by leech-mutating chemicals! We also see an over-enthusiastic zoo keeper getting his arm ripped off by a tiger!

By far the most infamous sequence in the history of "Faces of Death" was the monkey brain bashing sequence from "Faces of Death 1". With this sequel, the makers have tried to go one better with the mistreatment-of-defenseless-animals angle: in an utterly preposterous (but hugely funny) scene, a family of Vietnamese immigrants are shown preparing a traditional Vietnamese meal. Managing to combine racism with animal cruelty, the sequence shows them selecting a small puppy with plenty of meat on his bones and then cuts to the creature being placed on a chopping board in the family kitchen, while the mother takes up a sharp butcher's knife! The sequence then cuts to a shot of what is, very obviously, a cuddly toy filled with fake blood and offal being poked with a knife while the sounds of a puppy's pathetic whimpering play over the soundtrack! Just to make sure any especially gullible animal rights activists are incensed, Flellis claims to have been present at the ensuing family meal and relates how he had no qualms about chomping on fresh puppy meat -- but complains that he wasn't given enough bread to mop up his gravy!

This fourth entry is given an adequate, bare-bones release from Screen Entertainment and is apparently presented uncut! If you're a fan of the series, then this is probably the best of the sequels so far. If not, then you're unlikely to be converted by the sick humour and cynical attitude on display here!

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