Faces of Death was specifically designed to be the most shocking and disgusting film series of all time, but how do the gruesome movies stack up, from worst to best? Debuting in 1978, the first movie was an instant point of controversy, and its claims of depicting real scenes of violence made it the original dare film. It was a critical bomb but a commercial success, and though no actual box office figures were reported, it had audience members curious enough to return again and again. The videotape boom of the 1980s gave Faces of Death a new home, and it blossomed into a full-fledged horror franchise.
All told, there were six original numbered films in the series, though a documentary and a “worst of” compilation were also assembled to take advantage of the craze along with several unofficial movies released online. Considering their purported content, the Faces of Death movies were controversial and were the subject of bans all around the globe. Also, they drew ire for the insensitive way that actual scenes of tragedy were exploited for money. Though the Faces of Death concept has been made unnecessary by the rise of the internet, the film series helped kick off the Mondo horror genre, and they remain the ultimate cult classics.
6 Faces Of Death VI (1996)
Faces of Death VI was released in the dying days of the videotape boom, and it offers little substance compared to its predecessors, making it the worst of the series. Pulling footage largely from the first and fourth movies in the series, Faces of Death VI recycled moments that had even been reused in 1995’s Faces of Death V. Unlike the previous installment, which was also a highlight reel, the sixth Faces of Death movie recalls a bevy of faked sequences that had become incredibly stale and cheesy by the mid-’90s. Faces of Death VI was an obvious cash grab that even reused the closing credits from the first movie.
5 Faces Of Death V (1995)
The only thing that boosts 1995’s Faces of Death above the installment that followed is that it was the first of the unabashed compilation tapes. This sequel features nothing new at all; it’s just a clip show of some of the series’ most infamous moments from parts one and four. Fortunately, Faces of Death V culled the best of what the earlier movies had to offer and is therefore at least entertaining for a viewer who hasn’t seen any of the previous installments. The popularity of Mondo-style horror films was slipping by the mid-’90s, and the rise of the internet would soon make Faces of Death obsolete.
4 Faces Of Death III (1985)
The rise of video in the 1980s gave Faces of Death a new platform to turn stomachs, and 1985’s Faces of Death III marked the series at the height of its cultural power and mystique. Focusing on serial killers, the film features lengthy courtroom reenactments and accounts from a supposed killer about his crimes. While the typical news footage is sprinkled in for added effect, Faces of Death III suffers from overly long — and clearly fake — reenactments that pale in comparison to the frightening sequences in the previous two Faces of Death movies. Regardless, some effort was put into the production, which made it better than many of the compilation tapes that followed.
3 Faces Of Death IV (1990)
By design, Faces of Death was a horror movie meant to be mistaken for a documentary, and Faces of Death IV was a return to the series’ gruesome roots. Culling largely from news footage and with a smattering of somewhat convincing reenactments, the movie is a straightforward Mondo horror film that hearkens back to the first and second installments. Though keen-eyed viewers can spot much of the movie’s obvious fakery, the editing of the piece bounds from segment to segment in a way that makes sussing out the phonies quite difficult.
None of the sequences go on for too long, and this allows for more pure terror as the audience isn’t bored by scenes that are added only to pad out the running time. Also, Faces of Death IV continues the overarching storyline of the series as the familiar narrator, Dr. Gross, is replaced by Dr. Flellis, who took over after the former’s untimely death. As a final true installment, Faces of Death IV is the perfect way for the cult classic series to go out, and many of its most memorable moments would be edited into Faces of Death V and Faces of DeathVI.
2 Faces Of Death II (1981)
It took several years for a sequel to Faces of Death to materialize, but when Faces of Death II did finally arrive, it packed a serious punch that made the original look like child’s play. Faces of Death II is a compilation of real-life footage that depicts various scenes of actual tragedy and violence. Though the original movie had gained a reputation as a grueling cinematic nightmare, many who actually saw it weren’t fooled by the sequences that were faked. Keeping that critique in mind, Faces of Death II was almost entirely real, which makes it the most unpleasant entry in the series.
Many critics judged the Faces of Death movies on their cinematic merit, but Faces of Death II is perhaps the most effective entry despite it lacking much in the way of filmmaking. The narrator, Dr. Gross, returns from the first movie and offers bookends to the segments, but the true star of Faces of Death II is the various scenes of real-life footage. Like its predecessor, the sequel tries to justify itself through the scientific curiosity embodied by Dr. Gross, but it’s clearly all an excuse to present the horrors of the world on screen.
1 Faces Of Death (1978)
The best horror movies of the 1970s pushed the genre to its absolute limits and reflected the real-life terror of events like the Vietnam War. Faces of Death took advantage of that craze while also pushing the envelope even further than any Hollywood production was willing to go. Presented in documentary format with Dr. Gross as host, the movie attempts to show death in its various forms through the use of supposedly real footage. Like the spectacle films of old, Faces of Death drew in audiences with the promise of showing them something they couldn’t see anywhere else, and it mostly kept that promise.
While certain sequences were obviously fake by even the standards of the ’70s, other parts had viewers guessing, which added to the film’s reputation. Faces of Death does include actual gruesome footage juxtaposed with the fake scenes, and that makes it all seem much more real. As with earlier films, like The Exorcist, that had practically dared the audience to come to see them, Faces of Death was the ultimate dare film, and its horrific aura has had curious viewers seeking it out for decades. Despite being almost entirely debunked as fake, the first — and always best — Faces of Death movie became more famous because of its controversy.