The video box for FACES OF DEATH used to contain the warning BANNED IN 46 COUNTRIES! (A brilliant marketing ploy, that.) This post should bear the warning WILL WALLOW IN SAPPY NOSTALGIA AND ENGENDER SAME IN READERS OF A CERTAIN AGE! If you’re a Millenial or younger, you might learn something about the “way things used ta’ be.” If you’re a Gen-Xer like me, and a Horror buff—and if you aren’t the latter, why are you here?—this one will bring a warm, fuzzy feeling, a pleasant strumming of your heartstrings. Today, with the Internet providing free and easy access to any and all practicing and would-be necrophiles, the idea of a videotape being considered taboo and thus irresistible is hopelessly dated—but therein lies the charm of FACES OF DEATH. It came into being during the only time in history it COULD have come into being. It provides a perfect snapshot of zeitgeist and ortgeist. It is a sociological and cultural touchstone.
The video, for the sake of you young whippersnappers, was touted as depicting scenes of people ACTUALLY dying. It was scary. It was linked by psychologists to budding serial killers. It kept PTA parents and Sunday School teachers awake at night. It was also pure, glorious, P.T. Barnum-would-be-proud flimflam. The scenes of people dying were fake. All of them. Back in the day, we kinda suspected they were, or some of them were, at least, but we didn’t know for sure. And trying to figure out which scenes were real and which were fabricated was part of the fun.
If you want to hear the true story behind the film and learn how, exactly, they achieved the fake death scenes, check out the 30th anniversary edition on DVD. Or watch it the way I did as a kid, with a willing suspension of disbelief, in nervous, rapt attention, convinced that what you are seeing is horrifyingly REAL—and it is. It’s real good ballyhoo. It’s also, in this day and age, a throwback to more innocent times. I can’t truthfully say that FACES OF DEATH has improved with age; in all honesty, looking at it with adult eyes, it’s kinda boring. Still, the nostalgia. Oh, the nostalgia!