Faces of Death (1978)

I’ve discussed the video store of my youth often, but no movie in Prime Time Video inspired such dread as Faces of Death, its gigantic clamshell package covered with a note scrawled in sharpie: YOU MUST BE 18 TO RENT.

This feels like a movie made from VHS, as where were people going to see this in 1978?

Written and directed by John Alan Schwartz (using the name Alan Black for the screenplay and Conan LeCilaire for directing, as well as Johnny Getyerkokov for second unit and appearing with no screen name for his role as the leader of the cannibal cult), this film made $35 million at the box office, despite being outlawed in the UK and made a video nasty. It was not banned in forty countries, no matter what the box art may scream at you, and it really doesn’t contain all that much real death either.

Try telling that to the kids in my hometown in the mid-80s.

They believed that pathologist Francis B. Gröss — actually portrayed by Michael Carr — was a real doctor who was using video to explore the phenomena of death itself. They spoke breathlessly of the moments in this movie and it was another torture test film, one people bragged about surviving.

As this was a non-union film, there weren’t many credits, so it could have seemed real. But today, so many people have come forward discussing how they were involved in the movie. Estimates are that 40% of the film is fake, but the death scene of the female cyclist is real and the alligator scene also shows up in Naked and Cruel.

In today’s world, we have the internet, which has non-stop access to the kind of footage that Faces of Death could only dream of having access to getting. As such, we are numb to the kind of panic and worry that one would have with this movie staring back at them from the shelves of a mom and pop video store.

Is it any wonder that Legendary is rebooting this film series but making it friendlier? Here’s the logline for the film: “A female moderator of a YouTube-like website whose job is to weed out offensive and violent content and who herself is recovering from a serious trauma, who stumbles across a group that is re-creating the murders from the original film. But in the story primed for the digital age of online misinformation, the question is: Are the murders real or fake?”

Nobody is going to have nightmares about that movie.

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