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MPI Home Video presents
Faces of Death III: Scenes from the Underground (1985)

"Certain scenes in this motion picture have been recreated to depict factual events."
- Disclaimer from closing credits

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: November 30, 2001

Director: Conan Le Cilaire

Manufacturer: Zomax
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (graphic violence, language, some nudity)
Run Time: 01h:25m:41s
Release Date: October 30, 2001
UPC: 030306220222
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
D- DD-C- D

DVD Review

When the original Faces of Death made its debut on home video in the early 1980s, it rapidly became the stuff of schoolyard legend. Purporting to depict actual human deaths in graphic detail, the original film spawned five direct-to-video sequels and several imitators. The series also pioneered exploitation filmmaking for the home video market—few people were willing to own these films, but many were willing to ante up the cost of a rental to satisfy their morbid curiosity. Word of mouth soon spread about the films' supposed content, and kids traded gory secondhand stories about the horrors they claimed to have seen.

Of course, exploitation marketing always sells the sizzle, not the steak, and those who dared to expose themselves to the Faces of Death usually ended up feeling like they'd paid three dollars to see the "6 Foot Man Eating Chicken" at a carnival sideshow. Faces of Death III: Scenes from the Underground is no exception—with the (possible) exception of accident footage on the Autobahn and a disturbing slaughterhouse sequence, the film's "death" scenes are obviously staged, usually in the hokiest fashion imaginable. The film is hosted by a "Dr. Francis B. Gross," who introduces and narrates each segment. "Dr. Gross" moralizes on the carelessness and dangers of modern society, serving the same function as the costumed doctors and nurses on hand to "protect" the audience in the Kroger Babb roadshow exploitation era.

Many of the incidents depicted here stretch credibility even before the shoddy execution runs its course onscreen—a nest of diamondback rattlesnakes is discovered in a family's kitchen, for example, and a skydiver drifts off course and lands in a crocodile pit. A bigger part of the problem, viewing this 1985 film today, is that so many of the segments in this volume focus on criminal circumstances—drug dealers are taken down, serial killers' handiwork is investigated, and a PCP addict is hogtied and subdued. In this age of "reality TV" shows, the acting, costuming, and procedures depicted are glaringly inauthentic. The PCP-addled "violent drug addict" isn't nearly as out-of-control as the average arrestee on COPS, and the staging of most sequences looks like anything but live, on-the-spot reporting. There's always a cutaway before bullets rip into a body, or a man jumps from a building, or a torture victim is hanged. And the film's low budget doesn't allow creation of the intended effects with much success—a falling body is obviously a stiff, unmoving dummy, "mutilated" corpses are visibly intact but coated with fake blood, and a prop sign erroneously reads No Unauthurized Personnel. The illusion is constantly undermined by poor production values—there's nothing here that would convince most observers that they've seen actual events of any sort, let alone a genuine human death on film.

There is one truly disturbing sequence in Faces of Death III, set in a slaughterhouse, where live rabbits and chickens are efficiently and graphically killed, skinned, plucked, gutted and dismembered. I have mixed feelings about this footage—while these are real animals that are obviously being harmed, it is happening in a slaughterhouse. That's what happens between the barnyard and the table. It's not pleasant to watch, by any means, but the butchering is not carried out solely for our "amusement," and anyone who eats meat should at least be cognizant of the fact that animals don't arrange themselves in convenient styro-polyethylene packaging of their own accord.

I'm a longtime fan of exploitation films—the promotion, execution and general incompetence surrounding most such efforts always makes for entertaining viewing. But I'm not nearly so sanguine about the Faces of Death series, even though its fake-documentary approach follows in the footsteps of Mondo Cane and other such productions. Ultimately, what's most offensive about Faces of Death III and its brethren is the series' marketing approach. These productions advertise themselves as the pornography of death, "snuff" movies for the masses. The fact that most of the footage is faked, and badly so, tends to make the films themselves laughable and almost quaint. It's a put-on. But I'm not sure this sort of thing should be encouraged.

Rating for Style: D-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: MPI and Gorgon Video present Faces of Death III in its original made-for-video 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. Most of the material was shot on grainy 16mm film, with a few videotaped segments featuring narrator "Dr. Francis B. Gross" pontificating and filling screen time. The transfer is drawn from a videotape master, with poor shadow detail, heavy edge enhancement, dull color and a generally soft and smeary look. In this case, the filmmakers weren't aiming for high quality imagery, but the intended fake-documentary look isn't well captured by the DVD, and the presentation is not up to current standards.

Image Transfer Grade: D-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Faces of Death III retains its original low budget monaural soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 format for ProLogic decoding to the center channel. As one would expect, dynamic and frequency range are extremely limited, and most of the audio sounds like it was recorded in a closet (even the narration and voices added in post-production). Gene Kauer's score is so poorly recorded it sounds like stock music, and there's no bass activity to speak of. The audio is probably appropriate given the film's budget and pseudo-documentary approach, but the quality is very poor by current standards.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Faces of Death
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Promotional Material
Extras Review: The Faces of Death III disc features 20 full-motion chapter stops, some nicely-designed horrific menus, and optional English and Spanish subtitles. Extras include mono, full-frame Trailers for Faces of Death III, a simple one-minute video trailer displaying clips from the film over generic death-metal music, and for the original Faces of Death, a two-and-a-half-minute theatrical trailer with an entertaining, old-fashioned exploitation voice-over. There's also a single screen page of honestly labeled Promotional Material, displaying Gorgon Video's DVD covers for the previous chapters in the series. Not much to see here, though the English subtitles are nicely rendered in a "typewriter" font that matches the main attraction's intended feel.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Faces of Death III: Scenes from the Underground is neither as deeply offensive nor as morbidly entertaining as it purports to be, but that doesn't make it a watchable movie. MPI's DVD release features a middling transfer and few supplements. Definitely NOT recommended.


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