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Film / Faces of Death

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Faces of Death is a series of "shockumentaries" made by John Alan Schwartz, credited under the names "Conan le Cilaire" (for his directing credits) and "Alan Black" (for his writing credits), beginning in 1978.

The whole gimmick of the series is to showcase various ways and events involving death, with actual stock footage of real deaths and injury spliced alongside staged footage. Initially hosted by Dr. Francis B. Gross (actually played by actor Michael Carr), who was later succeeded by Dr. Louis Flellis (played by Schwartz's brother James B. Schwartz), these films were ostensibly vehicles for their hosts to ponder the meaning of life and death, which were illustrated by "real life" footage, though in reality they were vehicles for all sorts of gore effects and footage of actual accidents.

The films include:

  • Faces of Death (1978)
  • Faces of Death II (1981)
  • Faces of Death III (1985)
  • The Worst of Faces of Death (1987) — A Clip Show made up of footage from the prior films, albeit with new narrator Dr. Louis Flellis.
  • Faces of Death IV (1990) — Another instalment hosted by Dr. Flellis
  • Faces of Death V (1995) — Another Clip Show, this time not even bothering with adding any new footage.
  • Faces of Death VI (1996) — See above.
  • Faces of Death: Fact or Fiction? (1999) — A documentary about the series, featuring interviews with "le Cilaire" and "Flellis."
  • In Germany, there were three unofficial sequels in the "Gesichter des Todes" series which lifts footage from earlier instalments of Faces of Death as well as other "Shockumentary" series such as "Death Scenes" and "Inhumanities" to name a few.

See also the Traces of Death series, which is very similar to Faces of Death except that it features fewer staged incidents and focuses more on actual footage of real death and injury.

Tropes include:

  • Art Shift: By the time the third and fourth films were made, portable VHS camcorders were more commonplace, leading to both video and film being used in an attempt to help sell the idea of the footage being real.
  • Badass Biker: Surprisingly enough, Dr. Gross in the second film. Naturally, this sets up a sequence of vehicular accidents.
  • Captain Obvious: In the first film, a lot of Dr. Gross's narration consists of telling the viewers what they can easily see for themselves on the screen. The following films weren't as bad in this regard, mostly having Gross (and later, Dr. Flellis) providing background information and letting the clips speak for themselves.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: The song over the end credits of the fourth film was written by James B. Schwartz, with John Alan Schwartz as the lead vocalist.
  • Documentary of Lies: Discussed by "Conan le Cilaire" in Fact or Fiction?, where he angrily denies making anything up in the films and states that everything that appears was based on at least one real-life event. However, he admits that since a lot of the incidents either weren't filmed at all, or the footage that did exist was of too poor quality to be used, he had to recreate them himself.
  • Gorn: Along with the Italian-produced "cannibal" films that were popular around the same time, the first film was one of the Trope Codifiers for cinema where gore was the main draw factor.
  • Lighter and Softer: The fourth film (and Worst of...) takes on a noticeably more tongue in cheek tone, thanks to Dr. Flellis being a far more sardonic narrator than his predecessor was.
  • Medal of Dishonor: The VHS and DVD releases of each film take pleasure in announcing how many countries they're currently banned in.
  • Retcon: Dr. Gross's death is explained away as the result of botched surgery by Dr. Flellis in Worst of..., but then changed by the fourth film to him being Driven to Suicide as a result of witnessing so much death.
  • Stock Footage: The second film is almost entirely made up of real footage, and the other films also generally use some too.