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Two Insiders Uncover the Not-so-real Faces of Death

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First, a confession: I never saw any of the Faces of Death movies, 7th grade peer-pressure notwithstanding. But that didn’t keep me from being traumatized by the descriptions of the film’s rumored contents — real footage of actual deaths — which were passed by word-of-mouth on the school-bus, reducing wimpier kids like myself to puddles of pale dread.

I thought it was all behind me, but last week’s reports of a DVD delivered two serious jolts: First, that JT Petty, the director of the much-anticipated The Burrowers, would be adapting FOD into a proper horror film spin-off; and second, that several special effects artists would be featured on the re-release of the original FOD, finally receiving full credit for their work on the film.

Special effects? Wait — it was fake?? My childhood agonizing over Satanic murder-rituals and monkey brain appetizers was all in vain?

When it comes to settling decades-old scores, I don’t mess around, so I got on the phone with special effects and makeup guru Allan A. Apone. He gladly shared memories of his glory days as a young artist, such as the recipe for monkey brains. “It’s cauliflower, with green food coloring and gelatin,” he revealed. “That’s a sculpture of the monkey’s head, and when they hit him on the head and pulled the skin back to break the skull — which is a plaster cap – people went ‘AAAUGH!’

Apone says FOD‘s more notorious
moments — about 40% of the film — were the result of creative low-budget wizardry. “We totally tried to preserve the reality of it,” he says. “All of us
who worked on it were very close friends, and we just loved the fact
that people thought it was real.” By the mid-1980s, these sequences had
become the stuff of urban legend. “Everyone [who had seen it] wanted to
be a part of it, or know something about it,” Apone recalls. “I
remember the very first time I heard people talking about it: ‘Did you
see the occult sequence? What’s so weird is that my girlfriend’s
friend’s boyfriend knows two of those people, and it really happened!’
And we would just laugh. No one ever piped up and said, ‘Oh, that never
happened, I did that sequence!'”

The Internet has made it hard to keep secrets, however, no matter
how tight the inner circle has stayed over the years. “I never even
told my kids about it until a few years ago,” Apone says, “My son came home with his
friends and said, ‘Dad, do you know about this movie Faces of Death?’
and I said, ‘Oh yeah… I did that.'” Apone screened it for his
skeptical son, and when “I showed him myself in the movie, and they
thought it was the funniest thing in the world,” he remembers.

Filmmker JT Petty watched Apone’s work from behind his own fingers
when he was 12; having watched it again recently, Petty finds his
childhood reaction to it amusing. “When you’re 12, you’re like, ‘Oh my
god, I just saw these people die!’ but now it’s goofy as hell,” he
says. He admits that it’s too early to say much about his new take on
the material, but his excitement is palpable. “It’s a fictional
narrative,” he confirmed, “I want to involve some real footage, and I
want to play with not knowing what’s fake and what’s real… when you
don’t know what’s real and what’s not, how you’re allowed to enjoy it
becomes really complicated, and ultimately, frightening.”

Part of Petty’s fascination with the cult classic is that it would
be impossible to make and sell today. “If a kid wants to watch somebody
die, they just go online and watch Saddam Hussein die. You actually get
to see real, honest-to-god murder anytime you want to. So figuring out
how to make Faces of Death scary again seems like an interesting challenge because we are competing with real death.” Faces and his  Old West monster movie, The Burrowers,
are part of his resolution to provide horror fans with truly fresh
nightmares. “People think that because it’s a Hollywood movie that it’s
going to be safe,” says Petty, “But then every once in a while,
Cronenberg sneaks The Fly through the system and you find yourself in the theater saying ‘Motherf–r, what just happened to me?'”

What indeed? Perhaps
Apone and Petty’s testimonials will rinse away the grimy stain that Faces of Death left on other once-innocent souls. Consider us all wiser, and less traumatized!

Well, 40% less anyway.

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