TRACES OF DEATH III
Pros: Soundtrack ain’t bad
Cons: Disgusting and repulsive to the extreme
NOTE: Traces of Death is a shock video series, containing actual documentary and newsreel footage of human carnage and destruction. It would not be suitable for many (or perhaps, any) viewers. Please don’t read my review if this subject matter would be upsetting to you.
The third volume of Traces of Death, the self-proclaimed “first true shockumentary series” which claims to provide the “reality death enthusiast” with the hardest and most extreme batch of actual footage related to death, destruction, and mutilation ever assembled, is easily the most tasteless of a series that never so much as attempted to give itself even a bit of class. Lazily constructed on a VCR simply by playing a game of slice and dice with older, previous “mondo” documentaries and so-called “shockumentaries,” Traces of Death III goes out of its way to disgust the viewer – but not in the way one might expect. Most death videos tend to seek out explicitly graphic scenes overflowing with gore and human annihilation, but this volume highlights a few scenes that are so downright reprehensible that it’s frankly astonishing that any cameraman would simply sit there and film them (mind you – none of the graphic footage seen in Traces of Death III was actually filmed specifically for this program). What we’re dealing with, then, is the low point of a series that was genuinely abhorrent to begin with.
As with previous volumes in the Traces of Death series, the third entry is a no-budget, homemade compilation of footage pulled from other sources only this time, there’s an actual onscreen introduction from narrator “Brain Damage,” his back turned towards the camera so to obscure his identity. After providing the viewer with just a hint of what’s to come in the video (and hawking the fact that Relapse Records is providing the soundtrack of snarling death metal music), the carnage begins with scenes detailing the aftermaths of terrorist attacks. A mortar explosion in Sarajevo; a group of children bombed in the middle east; a South African victim of the “burning necktie,” where the victim has a burning tire placed around his neck. Scenes are lifted intact from various Italian-made supposed documentaries of the ‘60s and ‘70s – I recognized footage from such (somewhat more worthwhile) films as Africa Addio, Mondo Magic, Shocking Africa, and Savage Man, Savage Beast. As was the case with previous films in the Traces series, this has good and bad ramifications since the Italian mondo films were notorious for including faked footage.
One of the more eye-opening segments from Traces III is a pretty obvious hoax. Taking place apparently in the South American jungle, the scene follows a group of commandos attacking and decimating a native village. Filmed with disorienting, shaky camera work, the scene ends with the mutilation of several native persons, but it should be pretty obvious (particularly to anyone familiar with such films as Cannibal Holocaust or Emanuelle in America) that this footage is a clever reconstruction of what actual “snuff footage” might look like. Slick camera cuts and editing are used to conceal the special effects work, and the camera often finds itself pointing away from the action at opportune moments. This isn’t the only footage here that seems pretty suspect with regard to authenticity however: witness the almost laughable scene where a hunter on horseback finds himself being attacked by a wild boar. The obviously choreographed camerawork gives this footage away as a simulation and I’m also rather unconvinced by some footage of soldiers nonchalantly executing a few enemies by gunfire.
Compared with some similar death videos and shock films, Traces III in some ways seems pretty tame. This may be due to the focus on scenes of dead bodies being removed from rubble after some catastrophic event already happened – typically, the more shocking footage actually shows the catastrophic event itself taking place. While footage here detailing the efficiency of the El Salvador “death squad” or showing piles of severed hands collected during the height of political unrest in Africa is genuinely distressing, the producers (as has been the case with previous volumes in this video series) also give us an extended, rather pathetic montage of motorcycle, drag, and stock car racing accidents that don’t look to be especially fatal. It’s kind of ridiculous that every Traces film includes this sequence: for a video that claims to show “the worst of the worst,” scenes of motorcyclists falling off their bikes and suffering a rough landing simply don’t cut it. Hanging around on motor racing internet forums has shown me a lot worse than anything seen in the Traces of Death series…
Since it doesn’t include much in the line of actual, newsreel footage of graphic death taking place, Traces of Death III decides to go the extra effort to gross out the viewer with medical footage and animal slaughter. Yes, it’s once again our friends in the animal kingdom who (perhaps, depending on your perspective) suffer the most during this program. Not only do we get footage of dog and cock fights, but the camera also ventures inside an abattoir for a delightful sequence in which cattle are slaughtered – watch as various persons present decide to drink a healthy (or is it?) glass of very fresh blood taken from the animals. Next, we have a positively despicable scene in which hundreds of dolphins are sliced apart as they wallow in shallow water. I’m not sure of the backstory on this footage (though I’ve heard stories about similar “whale roundups”), but it’s pretty upsetting to watch these helpless creatures being hacked apart.
On the human side of the equation, we get footage of primitive dental surgery in which the front teeth are chipped down to wedges, a burn victim having dead skin peeled from his wounds, and various segments showing paramedics in action. Some of these are pretty alarming, including CPR being applied to a shooting victim with a sucking chest wound and a scene in which a man is pinned by a subway car against the platform, the metal acting as a tourniquet and effectively keeping him alive. Another of the more ghoulish scenes here shows a would-be suicide bomber whose explosive belt detonated prematurely, effectively blowing him in half while he was still alive.
By far the most abominable moment in this (or most any) shockumentary film though occurs near the end when we get a rapid-fire montage (taken from the 1982 Italian-produced Shocking Africa) of young African boys being circumcised “the old fashioned way.” And don’t think the girls get off any easier, as they wind up being mutilated by straight razor immediately afterward. This whole, rather lengthy sequence is just sickening and excessive beyond belief – do we really need to see extended scenes of children in excruciating pain after having experienced these literal hack-job operations? I can sit through most anything at this point – and this sequence is nearly impossible to watch. Even “reality death enthusiasts” don’t need to see something like this.
Per usual, film quality on this volume is very shoddy. It looks exactly like what it is: a bootleg compilation of footage dubbed over from tenth-generation VHS tapes. As is expected from this series, the narration is spotty and mostly worthless. “Brain Damage” provides occasional information about what is being shown but is generally more frustrating than illumination in his commentary. A straight-up, no-gimmick narration explaining what we’re looking at during programs like this would work wonders. I have to admit that the death/black metal soundtrack for this volume is actually pretty decent and features some bands whose name I recognize. The music is appropriately doomy and not especially overpowering – perhaps one of the few positive elements this program has going for it.
I’ve seen a lot of mondo films, shockumentaries, and “death videos” over the years, dating back to when I first saw Faces of Death as a teenager. While none of these films are acceptable by any standards of decency, some are more “worthwhile” than others and would be something that some people might want to watch for curiosity’s sake, if for no other reason. Without beating around the bush, we have to face the facts: the main thing that separates good “death videos” from bad ones is the presence of legit newsreel footage of accidents happening, people being destroyed on camera, etc. Sick (?) and/or curious people watch these videos to see something genuinely outrageous and gory, and if you don’t have a decent amount of first-hand footage of that kind, you simply don’t have a good program of this type.
Having clarified that, I can say that Traces of Death III not only has minimal value as a death video (since it has almost no interesting footage on that front), but actually is so tasteless that it seems to exist only to rot the brain of those who watch it (there’s a downright offensive sequence here which shows a group of physically handicapped men playing a game of “soccer”). I wouldn’t wish this film on anyone – some of the Traces of Death films would be recommendable for what they are, but this volume should be avoided at all costs. You’ve been warned…
From Brain Damage Films, the DVD is trash-quality (worse than typical VHS quality) and full-frame. The disc includes part three of an interview with the film’s producer: here, he discusses where he “drew the line” with regard to the inclusion of footage in this film and comments about the “public service” provided by these films. Um…what??!? The two minutes of bonus footage included is lame, focusing on still photos (thank you internets) and a horrifically disfigured woman.
17/10 : Actually less outright violent than previous Traces films, but this one is legitimately tough to sit through.
3/10 : Less commentary from the narrator than usual. Still, some moments of astonishing bad taste.
0/10 : You’re kidding, right?
10/10 : Too much for most folks to stomach.
“It amazes me just how little it takes to make some people happy…”
Due to the nature of this program, I’m not linking to any pictures or video. Proceed at your own risk…