INTERVIEW - Faces of Death Interview Part I: Allan Apone and the Special Effects That Inspired Urban Legend
When I was in grade school, Faces of Death was the ultimate taboo. Descriptions of the film's supposed contents-- real footage of actual deaths-- were passed by word-of-mouth so religiously that practically anyone could recall a litany of them in hushed tones, reducing younger kids to puddles of pale dread.
I never got to see FOD, nor any of its sequels, which was fine by me. But I was intrigued to read recently that a DVD is being released, containing featurettes that give credit to the special effects artists whose work the film showcased. It was FAKE?? This bit of news totally un-traumatized me a little, and I decided that my next column at AMC would be devoted to the strange, windowless room in pop culture that this movie has become. Here you'll be able to read all about it, including my chat with director JT Petty, whose fictional meta-horror movie based on FOD is currently underway.
In the meantime, here's my chat with Allan A. Apone, whose career as a make-up and special effects artist spans over 30 years, and who has been powdering Samuel L. Jackson's nose for longer than I've been allowed to vote. I was nervous bringing up FOD with him, not knowing whether he'd put that hideous and notorious movie long behind him. Instead, I found myself gladly sharing in Allan's memories of his glory days as a young artist-- and learning the recipe for vegetarian monkey brains!
TB: You've had such an extensive career that it’s almost impossible that people haven’t seen your work. What jobs stand out in your memory as your favorite?
AA: Friday the 13th part III is definitely one. And 1981's Evilspeak... I made so many lifelong friends on that movie, I doubt I could go through a week without talking to at least one of them.
TB: How did you originally become involved in Faces of Death?
AA: I got a phone call from the producer/director, who asked whether I’d be interested in doing some death-recreations and body parts and some specific props for a movie. They sent over a sort of outline since they didn’t have a script yet, and he told us what specific things they wanted to do, and asked us to give them a budget. It was all really low-budget, our company was very new; it was one of the first five things we did.
TB: When it was all over and the movie gained popular notoriety, were you at all open about your involvement?
AA: We totally tried to preserve the reality of it-- all of us who worked on it were very close friends as well, and we just loved the fact that people thought it was real. I remember the very first times I heard people talking about it, like someone saying, “Have you seen this Faces of Death video? Oh my god, it’s incredible!” "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 could just laugh. No one ever piped up and said, “Oh, that never happened, I did that sequence!” Everyone [who had seen it] wanted to be a part of it, or know something about it. I think that it’s one of the best things about the film-- how many years we preserved the myth that it was all real. I never, and I stress, never, on any movie set that I was on, heard anyone talk about how there was fake stuff in it-- and it was talked about all the time.
TB: What about the sequels? Did you work on them too?
AA: Oh, we did all of them.
TB: Wow. Well, I’m glad artists are finally getting credit for work they did a long time ago. Although... some of the footage is real, right?
AA: Sixty/forty. That’s what I think, about 60% real. That’s the thing that helped to sell it; they picked really good [real] footage, and they tried to match that same style of footage when they filmed.
TB: So how do you think the truth started getting around?
AA: I don’t know how, my guess is the internet. I think that also people started to talk about it, like people who weren’t there, but know their parents worked on it.
I never even told my kids about it until a few years ago. My son was maybe a senior in high school, and one day he 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.” Of course he was like, “NO WAY!” I showed him myself in the movie, and they thought it was the funniest thing in the world.
TB: Did you swear him to secrecy?
AA: No. I didn’t. So much time had passed.
TB: Do you think more people will be interested in revisiting FOD now that they know a lot of these scenes aren’t real?
AA: Sure, I think people will definitely do that. “This looked so real when I saw it, how the hell did I miss that?” It’s the same reason people went back to see The Sixth Sense again once they knew the ending; they'll watch to try to figure out what they missed.
TB: You mentioned working on the occult ritual-murder scene. What's another of your contributions?
AA: Monkey Brains! People eating the monkey brains. Everyone knows THAT’s real, right? It's cauliflower, with green food coloring and gelatin.
TB: ...I have to tell you, that’s a real load off my mind, knowing that.
AA: That’s a sculpture of the monkey’s head, and when they hit him on the head and pull the skin back to break the skull-- which is a plaster cap-- people went “AAAUGH!” [Laughs.] It was so much fun to work on. When we did FOD, we were all twenty-somethings, you know. We were just having a ball!