Pros: Better image quality; genuinely shocking and disgusting; authentic and original footage

Cons: A few sequences don’t seem to belong here

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.

While most people probably would write off the extreme documentary series Traces of Death just based on the subject matter alone, it would be pretty clear to anyone familiar with the so-called “shockumentary” genre that this series had reached a low point by its third entry. Traces of Death III was one of the most worthless pieces of garbage I’ve ever seen – stretching the limits of taste to an offensive extreme. Considering some of the other death videos out there, this is almost a feat in and of itself, but there’s a definite reason why I rated ToD III with zero stars. Of course, when you’re dealing with a popular video series that probably cost about $3.75 to make (really, the only cost involved would be for blank tapes since these videos were quite obviously made from dubbing VHS tapes back and forth), it was inevitable that producer/narrator “Brain Damage” would return for a fourth installment.

Generally speaking, the genres of the “shockumentary” exists primarily to gross out the viewer with a parade of real-life atrocity and destruction. The sole reason for watching a thing like this is to see something genuinely disgusting or honestly shocking. For the most part, all other concerns are irrelevant: it’s expected that death videos would have trash-level film production, shaky image quality, and zero creativity. As long as there’s extreme gore and carnage on display, I’d have to say that one of these films is at least moderately successful. Considering all that, Traces of Death IV stands as the best entry of the series.

As was the case in previous volumes, Brain Damage is back to provide obnoxious, intermittent, and extremely garbled commentary over 70 minutes of often-brutal home video footage. Probably the best thing about Traces IV (produced in 1996, a few years removed from the previous series entries) is that quite a bit of the footage here appears to be original: whereas many of the previous Traces copped footage from all kinds of sources (and especially from the various 1970s “mondo” documentaries that sacrificed authenticity in an attempt to provide the viewer with some eye-opening, frequently graphic footage), volume four seems to have raided the libraries of various Asian news stations in an attempt to come up with some undeniably hideous scenes. In a genre where “borrowing” and recycling footage is commonplace, the best a death video producer can do for himself is to acquire honest-to-goodness original footage and the fact that I (having seen a fair amount of the commercially available death tapes out there) couldn’t pin down where some of the scenes here came from means that Traces IV has a heads-up on its competition.

A large amount of screen time here is devoted to scenes one might find in old-time “highway scare films.” Showing the aftermaths of automobile accidents, these scenes are often extremely graphic, showing twisted bodies caught up in mangled heaps of metal and innards splayed all across stretches of freeway. The worst of the bunch are views of the victims of motorcycle accidents whose bodies literally have been torn apart by the force of the crash – or by oncoming traffic. Literally, one can taste the brain matter during this whole sequence and it’s a little disquieting to see police picking up bits of skull and brains off the cement while not wearing any gloves – after all, they do things differently in Asia. Lest we forget that this is a Traces of Death film, along with the gruesome civilian car accidents, we get the usual parade of motorcycle racing accidents, none of which appear to be fatal in the least. I’m not quite sure what the producers were going for by including these scenes: if they are in fact trying to make “the most brutal death video ever,” showcasing these lame racing and stunt crack-ups actually detracts from the program.

Getting back to the gory real deal, we get several scenes showing the tactics used by the ruthless El Salvador death squad, as well as torture victims, decomposing bodies being recovered by coroners, people hit by trains, and soldiers pinned down in enemy crossfire. In the obligatory “gross medical footage” section, a woman with a rather extreme case of leprosy is briefly glimpsed, and the producers also showcase a collection of some of the most hideous birth defects ever documented. Arguably the most alarming visual shows a young Indian child born with Harlequin Ichthyosis, a medical condition which results in scaly skin and the inversion of the eyes and mouth. This video has turned up on the internet under the (somewhat appropriate) title of “alien baby,” and it’s disturbing to see that, despite this grotesque disfigurement, that this child still obviously is alive. A further segment that’s difficult to watch (though perhaps not something that belongs on this DVD in the first place) focuses on male and female genital piercing by showing the procedures involved and some examples of the results. Personally, I could live without seeing mutilated genitalia or one woman who proudly shows off the (inexplicable) 34 piercings she has between her legs.

Probably the “highlight” moments of Traces of Death IV are those which show on-camera death and destruction – after all, it’s this type of footage that separates the “good” shockumentaries from the “bad.” In some of the most graphic footage I’ve seen (which also features prominently in the sobering 1995 documentary Executions), a young Arab man is executed by firing squad which literally blows his face apart while he’s still struggling for breath. These images are quite shocking and show the realities of the martyr mentality that exists in the Middle East. Another very explicit scene shows criminals in Iraq having their limbs amputated with a large butcher’s knife as punishment for crimes. Finally, there’s an extremely bloody sequence showing the results of a mortar explosion along a busy city block. This scene looks eerily similar to the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and this familiarity ensures that the footage hits (perhaps uncomfortably) close to home.

All in all, Traces of Death IV is a definite improvement over the previous volumes in this series, and probably one of the better shockumentaries that one could find. Image quality here is hit-or-miss, but probably is about as good as one could expect. I also found that the black metal soundtrack used during the program was actually pretty decent and somewhat less obnoxious than the music featured in previous volumes. As much as it would be nice to have a film of this nature that had a narration that actually explained everything that was seen onscreen, I guess we’ll have to settle for one that at least delivers on its promise to shock a viewer. This fourth volume still suffers from the tendency to go off on tangents (the genital mutilation sequence and lengthy motorcycle racing montage don’t at all seem to fit with the genuine carnage), but it does contain some of the most graphic and disgusting images one is likely to ever come across. This also was the first volume of the series where I could not detect any obviously faked footage. For the viewer in the market for a legitimately hardcore death video, this one comes recommended.

“9th Anniversary Collector’s Edtion” DVD from Brain Damage films boasts decent quality, full-frame print of the main program. Extras include two minutes of bonus footage (an awful-looking incident from South America where a man is shot point blank in the chest with a shotgun; various still photos) and a seven-minute interview segment with the film’s producer/narrator explaining the changes in media’s portrayal of graphic footage, and the editing scheme used for these films.

27/10: Very wet, lots of splatter and EXTREME, REAL-LIFE violence. This is probably the goriest entry of the Traces series.

3/10 : Half the time, I couldn’t understand what the narrator was even saying due to poor audio quality. This probably actually enhanced the program.

0/10 : Full male and female nudity, but it’s more likely you’ll become sick rather than aroused.

10/10 : It’s mean and it’s nasty.

Life Lesson Edition, courtesy of a man named “Brain Damage:”
“Never try and outrun a speeding locomotive…underestimate the power of a mortar…or mess with the Asian mob…”

Due to the nature of this film, I’m not linking to any trailers or media. Proceed at your own risk…

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