One of the most notorious exploitation films goes mainstream
Jan 24, 2009
Most fans of horror and exploitation film know of "Faces of Death," at least by title. A remarkably small number of those fans have actually seen the film due to its limited availability. Now that the film has been remastered and released, how does it hold up to the expectations of a exploitation film fanatic who thinks he has seen everything? That's a difficult question, which I will attempt to answer in the space below.
The narration is predictable, all the scenes involving human death are faked, and the final twenty minutes are basically newsreel footage, which we've all seen elsewhere. The film runs around 105 minutes, which is way too long for something of this nature. If the film was cut to 68-80 minutes, as most exploitation films are, all we would lose is some bland narration and a lot of World War 2 footage.
However, the film is now a cultural artifact and it's most definitely worth seeing, provided you're a fan of horror movies, exploitation films, or bizarre fringe relics. Even though it isn't really a strong film itself, its influence makes it worth viewing. I image that your viewing experience will greatly effect your reaction to the film. If you're in high school and you're sneaking this movie into a slumber party, I'm sure it's amazing. It's not that I expect a film like this to be high quality - that would be silly. I just want to help prospective viewers manage their expectations.
The only real death you see is in the beginning where we see all sorts of animals slaughtered. It's not as bad as it sounds though. The animals weren't killed for the film, but rather as part of the routine slaughtering that happens everyday. I realize that this doesn't make much difference to some people, but at least the killing was nothing out of the ordinary.
On the plus side, the film probably looks better than ever. The original film elements were undoubtedly cheap, the skill of the production crew was questionable at best, and there was probably a lot of deterioration while the film sat on a shelf somewhere. Pristine image quality is not what we're after here anyway. I was amused to find that the new edition includes a 5.1 audio track. How exactly did a mono recording become a 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track? Who knows. The bulk of the movie takes place in the center channel anyway. "Faces of Death" was also released on BluRay, which blows my mind. Of all the titles not yet available on BluRay, how did this one get selected?
Here is my main issue: I strongly believe the film's restoration colored my experience with it. I can imagine finding a tired old VHS tape of this with my friends back in my high school days, watching it and actually being fooled. A deteriorated tape will hide a lot and will contribute to a film's mystique, as if it was some forbidden document of atrocities that somehow landed in my video rental store. Poor quality would only contribute to the illusion of authenticity. Does the fact that my mother could go to the local Best Buy and pick this up make it less obscure and therefore less interesting? I think it does.
The absolute worst thing that can happen to something as allegedly subversive as "Faces of Death" is for it to be legitimized by a commercial entity. Wouldn't we like to think that if the film was as disgusting as we hoped, that Best Buy would refuse to sell it? Instead, it's been thoroughly approved for mass consumption by the studio, the retailers, by THX, and everybody in between.
Sadly, someone has turned on the lights and revealed "Faces of Death" to be not the stuff of legend, but something tedious and almost banal.
I'm an electronic music composer and student of aesthetics and critical theory. I specialize in film and 20th century art music (especially the avant garde), but I also enjoy a good exploitation film … more
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This is a recently remastered version of the classic exploitation film, "Faces of Death," directed by Conan LeCilaire. It features a new 5.1 audio track, feature-length director commentary, trailers, outtakes, deleted scenes, and two featurettes.