Great review! My commendation!
I WISH I had seen FOD theatrically, asw ell I wish I would have been able to see several other shockumentaries theatrically but never have, alas!
Personally, I feel that FACES OF DEATH is the greatest ever and most lurid exploitation film achievement to date relative to its marketing campaign and deployment as a theatrical feature but, particularly, what a phenomenon developed via its home video distribution campaigns and that evolution, the subsequent media furor and VERY well publicized mainstream media controversy in the 1980's revolving around FACES OF DEATH film epitomizes what exploitation aspires towards and this film, in terms of its actualization as well as the singular gut punch tonality and impact of its content, is unparalleled.
Are there better shockumentaries? It's all a matter of subjectivity. There are several shockumentaries I think are absolute masterpieces and are amongst, for me, the greatest and most powerful films ever made. FACES OF DEATH is uniquely singular and occupies its own strata within that pantheon.
FACES OF DEATH more than adequately satisfies expectations and actualizes what it sets out to, even the docu-dramatized "fake" footage is often exceptionally well perpetrated and as well and most critically, the fabricated footage is consistent in tonality with the authentic and maintains the oppressive, depressive, harrowing, atmospheric, and morbid tonality that the film effectively embodies. The film really is one-of-a-kind and uncanny.
Then the strategic, highly profitable marketing campaign converging itself with the new and burgeoning home video rental phenomena and the subsequent media circus and controversy all comprise exploitation legendary status actuation and deserve merit based upon such alone!
Ultimately, it is a very skillfully made documentary/shockumentary film that ensconces an emotional experiential dynamic intrinsic to these types of bodycentric/body i.d. fixated death phobia excursions that manifest in various ways, is often tapped into and used by mass and control media to manipulate mass sensibilities and behavior as well.
FACES OF DEATH really works in its own right as a straight horror film, its tonality of lugubrious moribund atmosphere is very well sustained and it often feels like a morbid, charnel house version/extension of certain episodes of the great Alan Landsburg 70's cult speculative documentary tv series IN SEARCH OF, which was hosted by Leonard Nimoy.
The 6 minute L.A. County Coroner's office visit is breathtaking and singularly harrowing, elegiac and even beautiful, though disquieting as it is meant to be........
I understand that these types of films, even if in some instances certain footage is clearly staged/fraudulent, within their obsessive focus upon morbidity and mortality, make them difficult and problematic entertainment experiences for many and very negative emotional reactions at this primal level often significantly but unduly tinge and affect critical assay of the films.
The original (and often ironically cruel in counterpoint to the images it underscores) musical score by Gene Kauer deserves mention and is fantastic!
Wish I still had the old original issue GORGON vhs with its first art work, another thing lost over the years, like many other vhs I owned....lol.....That lurid illustration collage of images from the film was always my favorite!