If you're like me, you've been hearing about the mysterious Faces of Death - a film supposedly banned in 43 countries, a film so depraved and disgusting that one could barely stand to finish it. The following comments are my reactions to the film as a fan of exploitation cinema, and cultural extremes in general.
Faces of Death has quite a reputation, but it seems that very few people have actually seen it. Needless to say, there's no way the film will live up to its own hype. 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 positive side, I'm sure the film has never looked better. The original footage that makes up the majority of the film is about as clean and clear as one can expect with a cheap film like this. The audio is not great, but I'm sure the original recordings weren't great either. I have to wonder if the video quality colored my experience. I can imagine watching it on a third-generation dubbed VHS tape with severely degraded pictures giving the film a gritty realism - a realism that hides its obviously staged footage.
There are some interesting bonus features, which probably justify purchasing the 30th Anniversary Edition. The commentary track is moderately interesting, as is the featurette with the FX team - the team that managed to fool hundreds of thousands of teens over the last 30 years. There are some outtakes and deleted scenes that are similarly decent. Again though, I have to wonder if all this exposure will ruin the mystique. Once we can go buy the DVD at Best Buy, it's no longer an obscure item of obscene curiosity. Are the horrors less scary with the lights on, so to speak?