Faces of Death 4 Review

When the first Faces of Death was discharged from the bowels of Conan Le Cilaire (aka John Alan Schwartz) in 1981, having sat on a shelf for three years, it became something of a talking point in America amongst people who don’t normally watch exploitation movies. You could argue that this has something to do with exorcising fears about our own mortality but I’d suggest that it’s got more to do with the ‘slowing down to watch a car crash’ impulse to which most of us would shame-facedly admit. Faces of Death 4 could be described as the fag-end of the series had it not been for the existence of parts 5 and 6, made in Germany and seemingly unavailable on DVD.

I will start with the big question. I don’t mean the big question which the egregious narrator Dr Francis B. Gross (not a qualified GP) went on about to the point of inducing narcolepsy in the viewer during earlier entries in this series. I mean, the question which everyone watching one of these movies wants answered, namely is it real???. The answer is generally a qualified ‘no’. Some of the film of accident victims is real and some of the stock footage is historically verifiable. But most of the film is made up of scenes “re-enacted from actual events” as the credits put it. This is a typical trick in the mondo genre and goes back to the days of Farewell Uncle Tom - although the re-enactments there were a bit more convincing and the intentions were rather more rabble-rousing.

Dr Francis B. Gross having, apparently, gone insane from over-exposure to endless
footage of deaths being cheaply faked, this instalment of the never-popular Faces of Death series is presented by Dr Louis Flellis. Yup, that’s right, Flellis. I imagine the ‘filmmakers’ thought that a ludicrous name adds a certain edge of veracity – you can imagine them protesting “Would we make up a name as daft as that?” In the circumstances, the decision to credit an actor – James B. Schwartz – as playing the somewhat ex-opthalmic medic was probably a bad decision. Dr Flellis spends much of his time assuring us of the horrid reality of death and, in a series of asides, presenting a series of opinions which are so reactionary they make George W. Bush look like a bleeding-heart liberal. Mr Schwartz has to be given credit for bringing such dedicated creepiness to the character and his little bits of filler in between the gory clips are the most enjoyable parts of the film.

Sadly, the rest of the ninety minutes are taken up with footage which is variously tedious, blatantly fake, disrespectful to the dead, offensively badly acted and just plain silly. This won’t be a surprise to anyone who has been keeping up with the Faces of Death series, although the animal cruelty is thankfully kept to a minimum this time. Occasionally, the silliness is quite engaging. I particularly enjoyed the giant leech which overacts almost as wildly as Dr Flellis and would, in a just society, be presenting a mondo movie of its own. There’s also a quite amusing bit involving a hammy magician who has a bit of bad luck with a safety cable.

I don’t have any particular moral axe to grind here. The animal cruelty is some earlier films was, in the opinion of this reviewer, genuinely disgusting and deserved the short-shrift it got from the BBFC. Even some of that was faked, incidentally. But the small amount of ‘real’ footage included in Faces of Death IV is relatively mild and not much stronger than you’d see on a news programme. I do, however, think it’s disrespectful to the victims and their families because the tragedies are included for nothing more than cheap shock effects to turn on the audience. Whether this is necessarily any worse than what is done through the increasing tabloidisation of television news is, however, an interesting question. Faces of Death IV doesn’t make any concerted attempt to present itself as serious and necessary but television news does and you only have to look at “Tonight With Trevor McDonald” to see how we our sympathies are manipulated by ‘serious’ television into simply ‘boo/hurrah’ responses.

The Disc

If you are interested in the Faces of Death phenomenon then your best option would be to watch the original which has a certain polish which the sequels lack. There’s a well-regarded boxset available on Region 1 containing the first four film and an interesting documentary on the phenomenon. Blue Underground has also released a collection of the original mondo movies such as Africa Addio.

The region 2 release of Faces of Death IV from Screen Entertainment under review isn’t worth your time. It’s presented in a full-screen transfer which is grubby and riddled with blocky artefacts. It appears to be uncut, probably because the real footage is so mild and the faked footage is so low-budget as to be laughable when placed alongside even an amateur gore movie like Zombie Chronicles, available from the same distributors. The 2.0 Stereo soundtrack is hissy but generally acceptable. There are no extras connected to the film but the disc does contain a generous number of trailers for other delights from Screen Entertainment, some of which - The Stink of Flesh, Thirst and Patrick - are rather good.

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