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John Alan Schwartz: From Faces of Death to reviewing movies on YouTube
February 6, 2012 11:06 AM   Subscribe

"I said before the film has historical importance (and it does), but it's relevance was more recognized in 1978 than the present day. The YouTube generation will be unable to comprehend what purpose the film served thirty years ago, and thus it's difficult to ignore how hopelessly dated Faces Of Death really is." It's relevance may have faded, but the intrigue remains. Deadspin recently interviewed the writer and producer of four compilations of death and gore, John Alan Schwartz. And of course, they discuss the fake gore in the monkey scene (interview clip with special make-up effects creators Allan Apone and Douglas White, with the memorable scene). And what is Schwarts up to today? He and his wife post videos of their movie reviews on YouTube (Tumblr, YouTube profile page, their website).
posted by filthy light thief (53 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Does Faces Of Death show gruesome images just for the sake of grossing out its audience? Yes, but it's all merely a hook, as the film also wants us to think about our own mortality, our relationship with death and why it's continuously avoided."

Welp, in 7th grade it was definitely valued among my classmates far more for "gruesome images just for the sake of grossing out its audience" than for provoking any sort of edifiying introspection.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:31 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


...more for "gruesome images just for the sake of grossing out its audience" than for provoking any sort of edifiying introspection

I had the opposite reaction. When I learned that this video existed, I was semi-obsessed. On the one hand, I could hardly think of anything else. On the other, I knew I never wanted to see it.
posted by DU at 11:35 AM on February 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Faces of Death was a bit beyond gross-out for me whether it was intended to be or not. As a teenager, knowing that some of what we were seeing was real definitely gave is some weight and solemnity to the thing even if it was in poor taste.

For some reason I particularly remember a scene with some sheriff trying to catch an alligator and getting mauled. I have no idea if it was real or not.
posted by Hoopo at 11:43 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


no no no, don't describe scenes because then I'll have to find text descriptions to fill out the missing parts and that's just as bad as watching
posted by DU at 11:52 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


DU: All I'll say is 'Pop Tart'
posted by shakespeherian at 11:53 AM on February 6, 2012


must. not. google.
posted by DU at 11:56 AM on February 6, 2012


In the video store this video was always located on the shelves closest to the cowboy doors.
posted by furtive at 12:06 PM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Don't forget the knock-off / competitor series, Traces of Death - which was even more over-the-top and contained much more in the way of actual footage (vs. make up & FX).
posted by FatherDagon at 12:12 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid this was one of those defining moments for me, when I was not with the crowd. I remember everyone talking about it, saying you have to see it, and me saying "why would I want to see that?" I still haven’t found a satisfactory answer for me.
posted by bongo_x at 12:18 PM on February 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


hoo boy just got home for lunch and watched the alligator scene on youtube. Yeah false alarm, I would bet large sums of money that it was faked, and not very well either. The shots and editing are all wrong for a news broadcast, and people don't really seem as freaked out as you'd think they would be in those circumstances. The version I saw was about an 8th generation VHS tape, so I'm going to blame it on that rather than naivete to save face.
posted by Hoopo at 12:19 PM on February 6, 2012


Man, does this bring back memories of working in a video store 20 years ago - a video store in a bohemian neighborhood, to boot, and that meant a sizable "cult classics" section. This movie freaked me out once I finally worked up the courage to watch it. Never did work up the courage to watch some of the more hardcore stuff in that section, like "Der Todesking" or "Bloodsucking Freaks."
posted by jbickers at 12:19 PM on February 6, 2012


furtiveIn the video store this video was always located on the shelves closest to the cowboy doors.

Leading to the porn saloon...

Kids today will never know the fleshtone glow of the porn section now that porn is practically a public utility. They'll know nothing of diversionary rentals that pads the bottom line of the owner but does nothing to distract the clerk from noticing that copy of Blacks on Blondes #46 sandwiched between Logans Run and Dunston Checks In.
posted by dr_dank at 12:20 PM on February 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


We were all fascinated by this movie in high school, when copies made it to our little isolated town. At first it was all real to us, but slowly we began to wonder how they managed so many camera angles on these supposedly documentary, on-scene incidents.

Some of them stick with me to this day, in different ways. The robber who accidentally locks himself in the bank vault and goes into an oxygen-deprived dementia, throwing money about and laughing as he realizes what the end will be, I still find oddly moving in a way. On the other hand, I still laugh when I think of the scene of the parachute competition that happened to be near an alligator farm: the way the narration set it up was hilarious.
posted by Palindromedary at 12:20 PM on February 6, 2012


DU: must. not. google.

That's the fascinating thing: once requiring physical access to a VHS tape, or a copy (of a copy of a copy) of a tape, the clips (and worse) can be seen online, if you know what to look for or where to look. And to be honest, I've never seen the tape (or DVD). Seeing the monkey clip for the first time, the cut open monkey looks quite fake, if nothing for the plastic appearance of the monkey's face. But I remember people talking about that clip in high school, and being freaked out.


FatherDagon: Don't forget the knock-off / competitor series, Traces of Death

From Wikipedia: Beginning with Traces of Death II, the films feature the use of death metal and grindcore music to accompany the footage, occasionally giving it a surreal and bizarre feel. The original feature mostly used spooky keyboard music.

Nothing more hardcore than spooky keyboard music.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:24 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, 12 year-old me had an old dub of this and was quite obsessed with it.
It took a year or two to really realize that some of it might be fake (given the edits that occur), but some of it seemed very real in that pre-youtube era of 1991.
I remember there being one long tracking scene, maybe in a morgue? That always seemed to give weight to it all.
The narration was the highlight of the film.
posted by Theta States at 12:25 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nothing more hardcore than spooky keyboard music.

When I want to get into a tr00 morose stupor, I naturally leave "The Crying Orc" on infinite repeat.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:29 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


One of the memories that stands out most to me from school is the time I spent in a 5th (6th?) grade chemistry class. I was otherwise homeschooled so I didn't know any of the other students, but the teacher was a relatively young guy in his twenties or thirties that I thought seemed cool.

After class, a couple of the students stayed behind and were talking amongst themselves about the "awesome, sick" video they'd gotten their hands on: Faces of Death. Maybe they hadn't even seen it, just heard stories; either way they were particularly obsessed with a scene that involved a monkey being clubbed to death.

The teacher overheard, and to his credit didn't try to pull rank or lecture anyone about it. He just looked thoughtful for a moment and noted that one of the things he always respected about Judaism is the attention and care paid to the ritual slaughter of food animals, and how it demonstrated respect and care rather than gratuitous enjoyment of the slaughter itself.

Whether I agree with his take on Kosher slaughter or not, I've always had a lot of respect for the fact that he basically engaged a couple of snickering junior-high guys and treated the movie as worth engaging with, conceptually and philosophically.
posted by verb at 12:31 PM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


... as the film also wants us to think about our own mortality, our relationship with death and why it's continuously avoided.

I saw the first FoD at thirteen, and only the Bud Dwyer footage really shocked or stuck with me - "A Certain Kind of Death", though? Watching that on the cusp of middle age made me think very hard about mortality, my priorities, and some of the decisions that I've made.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:42 PM on February 6, 2012


Actually, I guess it was a later FoD that included the Dwyer footage - not sure which of the sequels we were watching ~1986.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:44 PM on February 6, 2012


*takes off parachute*
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:53 PM on February 6, 2012


A friend brought this to a party once at my house while my parents were gone. I remember nothing of the human stuff, fake or not no clue even, but the slaughterhouse stuff changed me dramatically, especially the rabbits being killed and skinned and the chicken stuff. Before anyone pulls the "just because they are cute" or "care more for animals than humans", let me just say that humans can at least have a hope of fighting back, comprehending what is going on and why they are going to die or suffer, and you would never see footage of even a fraction of what happens to them for "entertainment".

I have a friend who bragged about watching this and the footage of Daniel Pearl being beheaded, but then says watching shows like Law and Order is sick because of the crime. O_o I get the curiosity, but also have been through enough and seen enough in real life to not have the urge to seek out what could be real footage of people and animals in pain and suffering. I will watch movies like Saw though because they are more cartoonish violence and you know no one really got hurt.
posted by usagizero at 12:56 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't been into this stuff for a long time but recall that the first FoD is pretty much all fake, while the second one is slightly more real? I think that's how it goes. There's dozens of these films now and of course there's varying degrees of real footage versus faked. See also the earlier mondo movies craze. The monkey head and the alligator attack in FoD were fake though, yeah.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:57 PM on February 6, 2012


I've heard about that monkey scene for nearly 30 years. It has entered the public conciousness as a horrible terrible messed up thing. To tell you the truth, even if it had been real, it wasn't that gruesome. It had taken on mythical proportions shomehow, because it was pretty much inaccessible.

This kind is shit surrounds kids these days. This morning I foolishly clicked on a picture of a guy missing half his face due to an axe wound, while frantically clicking away I accidentally saw a pic of a guy with his eye hanging down his face. I wonder what kids today will be like when they are my age. I was so sheltered. I can't help but think throughout human history kids had to deal with death and famine and war and disease as a matter of course. We had a couple generations there where we were sheltered from the gory bits.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:58 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The first three starred Carr as "Dr. Gröss", although The Worst of Faces of Death (released between installments III and IV and consisting of highlights from the first three installments) instead featured Schwartz's brother, James Schwartz, as "Dr. Louis Flellis". Flellis explains that he accidentally killed "Dr. Gröss" while operating on him the prior week. However, in Faces of Death IV, Flellis explains the absence of Dr. Gröss by stating that he had killed himself, having been driven insane as a result of witnessing so much death.

Hee hee hee. Rediculous.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:01 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


the alligator attack in FoD were fake though, yeah

Still, as I just discovered, not something you want to watch while you're microrwaving chili for lunch.
posted by Hoopo at 1:14 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a good overview of "shockumentaries". Covers most of the essentials.

Epinions Top Ten Shockumentaries.

Jack Sargeant on Faces of Death.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:20 PM on February 6, 2012


Ad hominem: We had a couple generations there where we were sheltered from the gory bits.

Some kids were sheltered. Misery, famine and death have never gone away, they've just become less visible to certain populations. And kids can still be sheltered - you only find people missing half their faces if you look for it. The internet isn't displayed at random when you turn your computer on. At the same time, it's a lot more accessible.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:24 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


usagizero: I remember nothing of the human stuff, fake or not no clue even, but the slaughterhouse stuff changed me dramatically, especially the rabbits being killed and skinned and the chicken stuff. Before anyone pulls the "just because they are cute" or "care more for animals than humans", let me just say that humans can at least have a hope of fighting back, comprehending what is going on and why they are going to die or suffer, and you would never see footage of even a fraction of what happens to them for "entertainment".

But was it slaughter house footage? If so, your (and my) squeamishness is proof that many people are not only removed from war and famine, but also how our food is prepared. Grocery stores are full of what was once cute animals, but now in the more abstract for of boneless meat, ground patties, etc.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't be the only one who as he has gotten older has gotten less and less able to even want to look at things like this, can I?

Never saw Faces of Death or any of its competitors; I prefer my gore as unrealistic and slapstick as possible -- Evil Dead II rather than Saw.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:29 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I used to consider myself a serious gorehound. I guess I still do. The last time I just shut something off out of disgust (I did eventually watch it months later) was one of the Saw movies where two people were challenged to cut x amount of their body weight off to free themselves by a machine involving a scale. It wasn't anything shown, just the idea itself I found totally awful.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:37 PM on February 6, 2012


For some reason I particularly remember a scene with some sheriff trying to catch an alligator and getting mauled. I have no idea if it was real or not.

When I was a kid, I was pretty sure it was ALL real stuff. As I grew up, I began to question certain aspects of some of the more (ahem) hard-to-swallow stuff like the monkey brains scene.

Thankfully, back when I was a regular at alt.folklore.urban someone came up with a detailed breakdown of each scene, separating the real stuff from the fake, and explaining exactly why the fake scenes had to be fake.

The a.f.u. archives are no longer available, but there's a text version of the post here.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:00 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was younger I heard about movies like Faces of Death and Signal 30. They filled me with a mixture of curiosity and fear: curious to see what all the fuss was about, fearful that they would give me (more) nightmares.

I never watched them, though, and eventually they became mere footnotes of my youth, cultural touchstones I knew by reputation, but not experience.

Then one day, decades later, someone here on Metafilter mentioned rotten.com, and I thought, "Don't skip it this time. Go see first hand what they are talking about."

Sometimes I wonder if watching FoD would have lessened that blow.

Still, at least I know now that my early instincts were right. I still prefer my horror eldritch and unknowable, not gory and visceral.
posted by mkhall at 2:00 PM on February 6, 2012


I remember staying up nights one summer to catch a repeat of the Three Stooges doing their alphabet song. And I eventually got it on a beta tape, I think. I longed for the future when I could get all the good bits from Sesame Street on tape someday, by obsessively hitting record. And now we have Youtube.

But Faces of Death? That was pure Videodrome, man. Just having that cassette in the room, you could feel it's malevolent breathing. You put it in and it was still a reeling shock with each scene. It was the evil end of what you could have on tape; it left you ill.
posted by Catblack at 2:18 PM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Goatse is bad enough. Why the fuck would anyone choose to watch stuff like FoD?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 2:27 PM on February 6, 2012


FoD seems almost quaint in a world where you have not only rotten dot com but twenty different cellphone vids online of every auto accident, riot, and police brutality victim. It's no longer underground; it's on the 6 PM news with the gore tastefully blurred out so you'll know what to look for if you want to see the online version that isn't blurred.

About slaughterhouses: I have actually worked (as a contractor, for a few days at a time) in these establishments. 25 years ago, the first time I entered a beef processing plant, it was over a month before I could eat a hamburger again -- and this was a place with no kill floor; they just took in sides of beef and ground them up to make hamburger patties for a fast food chain.

Later, though, I had no problem spending the day in a much dirty plant where the floor ran in rivulets of blood mixed with tiny organs and lengths of intestine, as the animals were systematically butchered on multiple production lines all around me, and having a nice dinner at the local steakhouse. Humans can get used to damn near anything.
posted by localroger at 2:27 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Goatse is bad enough. Why the fuck would anyone choose to watch stuff like FoD?

Goatse is indeed bad enough. But FoD predates Goatse by probably 20 years or so, and to my knowledge there was no venue like the internet over which you could trick someone into watching FoD. FoD was sought out due to its reputation and mystique. Goatse is inflicted on you by pranksters.
posted by Hoopo at 2:36 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why the fuck would anyone choose to watch stuff like FoD?

"hrm, I wonder what all the fuss is.....OHMYGODCANNOTUNSEEE!!!!"

i.e. human curiosity.
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2012


I can't be the only one who as he has gotten older has gotten less and less able to even want to look at things like this, can I?

Never saw Faces of Death or any of its competitors; I prefer my gore as unrealistic and slapstick as possible -- Evil Dead II rather than Saw.


I could have written this. I even find LOTR difficult to watch because I feel bad for the poor Orcs!
posted by KokuRyu at 3:19 PM on February 6, 2012


This kind is shit surrounds kids these days. This morning I foolishly clicked on a picture of a guy missing half his face due to an axe wound, while frantically clicking away I accidentally saw a pic of a guy with his eye hanging down his face. I wonder what kids today will be like when they are my age. I was so sheltered. I can't help but think throughout human history kids had to deal with death and famine and war and disease as a matter of course. We had a couple generations there where we were sheltered from the gory bits.

It makes you wonder how many people were afflicted with PTSD back in the old days, and how that would have affected society as a whole.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:20 PM on February 6, 2012


Why the fuck would anyone choose to watch stuff like FoD?

I think there's a very human reaction when you're told you can't or shouldn't see something, to ask why. Pre-Internet at least, Sex and Death were the big twin mysteries, and - as a then-teenager, in particular - anything that promised to enlightened you in these areas was coveted and sought out.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:28 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The way we are shielded from death and all the other gruesome ways your life can go horribly wrong; the titillation from watching Faces of Death is the obvious corollary to two unhealthy extremes. They feed each other, not so far removed from gawking at sideshow freaks. And it's not only video nasties, the sensationalism to goes with the bloodiest anti drunk driving campaigns or workplace safety videos is cut from the same cloth; it makes actual death seem surreal, almost tame (I doubt I'm the only one who thought the footage from 9/11 looked like a movie).

The torture porn, where endless buckets of blood and entrails are thrown at the face of the viewer, where we marvel at the the ingenuity and craftsmanship displayed by the millions of ways we can be cruel to each other, the shocking news exposés detailing every excruciating debasement and sordid sexual act...

It's just becoming too much. It's either rainbows and ponies, or being clubbed to death with your dismembered arm.
posted by quintessencesluglord at 3:31 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Rainbows and ponies, or being clubbed to death with your dismembered arm.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:02 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Goatse is bad enough. Why the fuck would anyone choose to watch stuff like FoD?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 2:27 PM on February 6 [+] [!]


If you don't watch the violence, how can you be desensitized to it?




Simpsons quote
posted by kanemano at 4:03 PM on February 6, 2012


Some kids were sheltered. Misery, famine and death have never gone away

Very true, For those of us that were sheltered, we had to seek it out. Some people, it seeks them out.

I think I just became very much more anti-war than I was before.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:05 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't be the only one who as he has gotten older has gotten less and less able to even want to look at things like this, can I?

No, not at all. The older I get the more I marvel at how callous and shallow I really was when younger. The attitudes that I thought were indicative of my maturity were actually rooted in a kind of narcissism and of course bourgeois rebellion. (Dude, I bet Mr Winkledown hasn't even heard of Reservoir Dogs!) No doubt future me will have similar feelings about current me.

The fact that when I first (gleefully) read A Clockwork Orange it was the dumbed-down version with a Nadsat glossary instead of the original final chapter would strike me as patronizingly obvious symbolism if it had been used in a novel.
posted by No-sword at 4:58 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never liked that final chapter and thought the US publishers were right to omit it.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:09 PM on February 6, 2012


I'm glad that I grew up in a more innocent time, before sites like rotten dot com and their ilk came about, showing any and every kind of snuff video available. I remember being about 12 and my friend and I sat down to watch it. I was rather scared to watch it, and in fact it does contain, IIRC, some pretty gruesome stuff, but it's poor quality and not terribly hard to stomach. What broke the spell, though, was some ridiculously faked "documentary" footage of a reporter being attacked by an alligator. I guess some other alligator was attacking the cameraman at the same time, as the "attack" was a bunch of super-shaky cam quick cut with some stock footage of an alligator eating...some meat. My fear was dispelled and I quickly called out "This movie is bullshit!"

No way will I watch shit like that now. When you're young, death seems so far away, but as I approach middle age, death is very much a reality that must be reconciled. Seeing people die as a form of entertainment will give you the opposite experience. Entertainment is for pleasurable feelings; watching others die just makes you ghoulish. Can't pay me to watch that shit.
posted by zardoz at 8:15 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


How come, shakespeherian?
posted by No-sword at 10:42 PM on February 6, 2012


My stepfather used to rent these movies.

I'm not entirely sure why, and why he would pick a Saturday afternoon to sit in the living room and watch Faces of Death, but it was a great way to ensure that, although he never told us to leave the room, and was happy to have it on while we were playing in the living room, this particular 9-year-old went into her bedroom after around an hour and read books instead.

I remember someone getting mauled by a bear in a national park (due to trying to feed the bears), and another shot of a woman committing suicide by jumping off a building.

Sometimes I think about revisiting them, but I don't know...while I'd mostly go "It's a faaaaaaaaaaaake", I do think it might be a bit much.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:28 AM on February 7, 2012


My first husband and I were teenagers just about to graduate from college when we married, and we lived with his parents and brothers and assorted local kids who were like cats, in that we fed them, and they never left. My mother in law was an old flower child, all kindness and calm. Until on of the kids brought FOD in to the house and played it. She went off about the negative energy, and the evil that eminated from it, and how watching it was like intentionally polluting your soul. She then brought in this massive Indian prayer group with shamans and sage burning and chanting and what not to "cleanse" the space.

So, I've never seen FOD, or any of its analogs...I just figure anything that could freak this super calm, super accepting, always look on the bright side, person out that badly was something I didn't need in my head.
posted by dejah420 at 6:41 AM on February 7, 2012


How come, shakespeherian?

I think the last chapter (the one omitted in the early US editions) really only serves to dampen the difficult moral questions that the book forces the reader to ask. It's like twenty chapters of 'Do you really believe that free will and the ability to make one's own moral choices is the ultimate good? What about for this guy? Look how badly you feel for him. Oh, but don't forget he's a rapist and a murderer. Can you feel sympathy for him? Should you?' and then the 21st chapter is like 'Oh actually if you just leave him to his own devices he becomes good anyway, so there's not really any reason to choose between free will and imposed morality, oops!'
posted by shakespeherian at 6:48 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the reply. I can see what you mean. It doesn't affect me the same way, though. I mean, it doesn't suddenly make the society depicted in the book seem less unpleasant just because the thugs have a high turnover, and I don't think we're supposed to end up "forgiving" Alex just because he decides he doesn't have the energy to be a thug any more.

For me, the final chapter doesn't dampen the moral questions raised by the first twenty chapters so much as add a final twist to our view of what they mean as embodied by actual humans. I don't see it as a cheap cop-out any more than I see it as a cheap cop-out to have Alex's ex-friends reappear as policemen, or F. Alexander's associates turn out to be more interested in Alex as a means to an end than a fellow human being.
posted by No-sword at 8:14 AM on February 7, 2012


My friends and I watched this movie at a slumber party - we were in 8th grade, I think. The scenes I remember vividly are the execution scenes - gas chamber and electric chair. It was only recently that I realized they were staged.

Looking at the scene-by-scene list in shutterbun's link, I realized I blocked most of the other scenes out of my mind. I could never watch that today.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:10 AM on February 8, 2012


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