Famous Snuff Films: Faces of Death
When Faces of Death was released in theaters in November 1978, moviegoers and censors didn’t know what to make of it. Inspired by the pseudo-documentary films of the mondo horror sub-genre, it had fake pathologist Francis B. Gross present the viewer with footage of animal killings, accident, and murder scenes.
It earned a whopping $35 million at the U.S. box office and became so infamous that its 1983 VHS release changed policy in the U.K. Under Mary Whitehouse’s direction, England’s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association banned the movie, seeing it colloquially known as a “video nasty” — a forbidden fruit of horror.
“I’ve always had an interest in horror films,” said Michael Felsher, producer of a documentary accompanying the Faces of Death Blu-ray release. “Faces of Death had this legend about it. It was this forbidden thing. People were talking about it and how it was all real; you got to see people actually killed on screen.”
The advent of VCRs had seen horror obsessives rush to underground stores to purchase the ominous film and witness it for themselves. Head of media and film at the University of Bradford Mark Goodall said it even garnered “an underground currency” with the punk culture and anyone seeking out “extreme films.”
With a skull and numerous warnings about its content on the cover, the film had the fictionalized pathologist present various ways to die. Director John Alan Schwartz had approached news stations to buy footage that had been too gruesome for them to use, filmed fictional scenes himself — even one that included a corpse.
“They were down there filming something else but they got a report of a body on the beach and happened to be there to film it,” said Felsher. “It was some guy who got high on LSD and had fallen into the water and drowned.”
Schwartz edited two dogs playing to make it look like they were killing each other. He used wet cauliflower to depict monkey brains being eaten onscreen. With archival footage and one drowned body taking care of the rest, Faces of Death seemed so real that it was banned in 46 countries — with many still convinced it was real.