Pros: Brutal and vile, i.e. what one is looking for in a death tape

Cons: Too much filler with footage of suspension and backyard wrestling

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 fifth (and to date, final) entry in the infamous “shockumentary” series Traces of Death that shows actual scenes of death and mutilation may be the most explicit of the bunch. The Traces series long-proclaimed to be “the first true shockumentary series” due to its supposed use only of authentic footage, but the first three volumes in particular fell short on this claim by including fabricated scenes ripped straight out of various Italian-produced documentaries of the 1970s. Traces of Death IV and V are the only ones that I could honestly say have avoided faked footage – and these two may indeed be among the more grueling death videos that one is likely to come across. It’s quite obvious from viewing it that Traces V has been edited together with footage taken from other sources (as was the case with the previous volume, much of the footage here seems to have originated in Asia), and the program looks and feels like the grade-F made-on-and-for-video production that it is. That said, this volume is extremely graphic and disgusting, with plentiful splayed brain matter courtesy of a near-endless array of scenes showing the aftermaths of motorcycle accidents.

As per usual, the gruesome footage seen in volume five is accompanied by an intermittent narration provided by producer “Brain Damage” who explains certain scenes and delivers a few wisecracks. Additionally, the program features a soundtrack made up of the nu-metal that was popular around the time this video was assembled in the year 2000. Truthfully, if the footage here weren’t so wet and gory, I’d almost be inclined to say that the soundtrack was the most nauseating aspect of the film. One of the most welcome changes between this and previous entries in the series is that the producers have finally realized that no one wants to see another asinine montage of non-fatal auto and motorcycle racing crack ups. These sequences were featured in every prior entry in the series, and came across as ridiculous in a series that prided itself on being brutal.

Not so good is the large amount of footage here that acts purely as filler: Traces V runs 90 minutes, but at least twenty of that could have been eliminated. There are several montages of backyard wrestling footage that, while prescient in the year 2000, seems idiotic today. It’s also worth noting that the wrestling footage included here is very tame by backyard wrestling standards: there is much worse, more violent, and extremely bloody wrestling footage out there, a large amount of which can be seen in the commercially available Best of Backyard Wrestling series. Perhaps the most questionable addition to volume five however is a lengthy section dealing with the phenomenon of “suspension” which focuses on groups of people who, as a form of “artistic expression,” are hung with ropes strung through fishhook like-metal loops stuck through the skin of their backs. Footage of heavily tattooed and pierced individuals being “suspended” is fairly eye-opening for sure, but I’m not sure that this material really belongs in a Traces of Death video. The ongoing program grinds to a standstill during this segment, and the suspension footage pales in comparison to the worst that Traces V has to offer.

Immediately after it begins, Traces V kicks off the parade of footage whose main purpose seems to be to promote motorcycle safety. I lost count of the amount of crash victims whose skulls had been completely obliterated, thus leaking their entire contents all over the roadway. Often, the camera (most of this footage appears to be of the newsreel variety) lingers on the pool of brain matter and blood, and a viewer certainly would gain an appreciation of just how fragile the human body really is when facing off against the laws of physics. This is especially true when a man’s body is literally ripped out of the chain link fence he was propelled into during a crash. I suppose it’s a little disappointing that Traces V focuses so heavily on vehicular accidents, but it’s difficult to imagine footage that would in any way be more bloody or gory than what is seen here.

Alongside familiar footage taken during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, we have instances of bodies (sometimes charred beyond recognition by fire, sometimes in severe states of decay) being recovered by coroners, victims of the drug war and the Asian mob, a cavalcade of birth defects and a look at the effects of leprosy, and some good, old-fashioned police chase action. One of the “highlights” of the program (which the narrator proclaims that he is “proud to present” to us) is a montage of footage showing various female rape/murder victims, reaching a true nadir when the camera zooms in on the putrefying genital region of one decomposing corpse. The obligatory WTF moment is provided by a sequence in which an Asian prostitute defecates onto a plate, much to the delight of her well-dressed patron who then proceeds to eat the results. The look on the woman’s face is priceless, though I’m not entirely convinced that there’s not some sort of trickery involved in creating this sequence. Finally, we have the infamous, rather harrowing footage taken from news helicopter showing an obviously disturbed man committing suicide by way of shotgun along a California highway. This last bit of footage is unsettling to say the least, and in general, there’s something here that would make most anyone a little queasy (or worse).

Had Traces of Death V been tightened up a little, with less focus on the whole suspension thing and backyard wrestling, I probably would have called this the most nasty and downright disgusting volume in the series. As it stands in its final version though, volume five has too much filler for my taste, seeming at times to stagnate. Due to these pacing issues, and despite the fact that the sheer amount of evacuated skulls here is sickening, Traces V doesn’t quite surpass volume four in terms of having the most “bang for your buck.” An edited version of this film would work wonders if shown as part of a motorcycle safety program: one can only imagine how grossed out people would be seeing some of this incredibly graphic footage, and it would certainly make them think long and hard about biker safety. Ultimately, while I certainly wouldn’t recommend this disc to everyone for obvious reasons, it would be one of two volumes of the Traces of Death series that best accomplishes its goal of shocking a viewer. Volume five is probably one of the most downright gross death videos out there, and considering what a viewer of these programs would be looking for in the first place, I’d say it’s recommendable.

“9th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” DVD from Brain Damage films is full-frame format; better picture quality than some other volumes in the series, but still is VHS level. Bonus footage on this DVD focuses on a series of gory still photos (thank you internets!) and a scene in which an African man is beaten to death by a mob. The interview with producer/narrator “Brain Damage” focuses on horror film distribution and film conventions and festivals. It’s a very mediocre extras package.

27/10 : Splatterrific; bring along a rain slicker to avoid all the brain matter and blood. EXTREME, REAL death and violence.

5/10 : some harsh profanity in song lyrics; not much of anything else

0/10 : Full nudity, but a close-up of decomposing female genitals? No thanks.

10/10 : Hideously gory and extremely graphic.

“On my travels around this deranged world, I have run into some individuals with an all around different view on life. Some may consider these people insane. I consider these outcasts new friends of mine.”

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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