I was a tough kid to spook. Perhaps it was my subscriptions to FANGORIA, STARLOG and parents who unknowingly thought HEAVY METAL was just a comic about rock music (now who could have told them that?). Sure, I fell victim to the jump scare at the end of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH with its lulling, swelling “everything’s peachy” score before Jason jettisons from the water and helps ADRIENNE KING perform an Eskimo Roll on the canoe. I was creeped out by those aforementioned beady little Jodie the Pig eyes that blinked outside the window of a house in Amityville and was scared to death of all things Bigfoot, be they confrontations with the Bionic Man Steve Austin, or even when he landed a Saturday morning TV gig with some WILLIE AAMES-like fella named Wild Boy). But with a childhood spent gorging on gore, I was particularly jaded, as I was more interested in “just how” they made THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN actually melt (since it predated the “bonus features” days of the DVD, I was forced to actually “read” about it in the pages of FANGORIA.
I needed something more genuine in order to burn its place into my pre-pubescent brain.
Enter the friendly neighborhood pot-head who manned the counter at the local video store who happily handed over a copy of FACES OF DEATH to a child who did not even reach the double digits in age. “All of this is real, man,” I distinctly remember him whispering as he slipped it into the bag, along with TAPS, the fall guy if my parents decided to ask what I had rented. TIMOTHY HUTTON was such a nice young man and the TOM CRUISE fellow could be going places! After a few phone calls to neighborhood reprobates, we found the perfect screening room, as one friend’s parents were leaving him in the care of his older brother (15) who was as equally as interested in the copius and gratuitous gore we had our hands on.
As a child coming of age in the 80s, FACES OF DEATH represented the Holy Grail of Horror for us. It was one where there were no special effects. No actors, no Karo syrup and food coloring. It was all real. For the VHS box told us so.
As an animal lover, I had to turn away from all the actual killings of our furry and feathered friends. I would later do the same during CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, which used the same techniques for shock. Killing slow-moving, defenseless sea turtles, as done in HOLOCAUST, does not impress nor frighten me.
It opened with a heart transplant that is as common today as anything you’d see on the Discovery Health Channel, but that was enough to whet our appetite for destruction. Of all the images of bear maulings, monkey-brain eating and alligator tussles, the one image that haunted me was the image of a body washed ashore on the beach. Perhaps because I live in a coastal community, or maybe it was just he after-effects of seeing JAWS one too many times, it was something that would remain with me years after all the other hoaxes in the film became prevalent to me. It played with some rather bizarre carnival music that made it all the more awkward. (After a subsequent viewing trying to pinpoint all the fake footage, I realized that this, too, was faked).
The one that really gave me a chuckle watching as an adult, was one that featured “footage from two tourists who were visiting a national park” (in typical generic fact-giving commentary). In it two moronic tools pull up in a station wagon and proceed to empty a loaf of bread to a passing bear. The male “tourist” apparently gets out (apparently dedicated to his craft and seeking better lighting). When the bear decides that he would like a little meat with his Wonder bread, he supposedly turns on the cameraman. What was notably obvious was the shot that showed both the man with the video camera and the bear in full frame. Just where did that shot come from?
Nonetheless, for years I would carry with me the images of FACES OF DEATH feeling as though I had somehow crossed the line of innocence, into the world of adulthood. And it was one I was not ready to visit again when FACES OF DEATH 2 hit the shelves the following year.
UNK SEZ: Thanks Rob for venturing into places your Unkle Lancifer can never go! As big of a gore fan as I am, and trust me too much is never enough, I turn all kinds of yellow at the thought of FACES OF DEATH. I remember my older brother renting the first one and as soon as I realized what they were about to do to that chicken, I went chicken myself and was right out the door! Sure, if I see an axe planted into someone’s face in a FRIDAY THE 13TH flick I stop just short of cheering, but if I’m flipping channels and come across a real operation I quickly flip right on by (I might even cross myself). One thing I do appreciate about the FACES OF DEATH series is the consistently uniform lowbrow box art. Anytime I see those crude, smiling, skull faces staring at me, I know I’m in over my head!
NOTE: For all you kids who like to wax nostalgic about the films of your youth, Rob’s website NATSUKASHI was built in your honor (The name means “place of fond memories”). Taking a new look at films watched long ago, he pays special and specific attention to how perceptions change over time. Take off your shoes and step into NATSUKASHI !
NOTE: I can’t take credit for that swell FACES OF DEATH lunchbox. That image was swiped from the FACES OF DEATH Myspace page.