Effects (1980)

About five years ago I rented Effects on dvd, released by Synapse. I saw that it starred Joe Pilato (Day of the Dead), Tom Savini, and oddly John Harrison (score, Creepshow) and was filmed outside Pittsburgh. It’s a Romero film without Romero at the helm, made by alums of his films. I watched it and didn’t quite know what to make of it. This brand new Blu release by AGFA (American Genre Film Archive), gave me a second chance to watch and digest Effects.

Effects is about a small crew making and independent film in a cluster of picturesque cabins in the woods. The film is a horror movie and the crew spends their days shooting and their nights drinking, smoking, and snorting coke. Pilato plays the everyman camera operator/cinematographer and the rest of the cast and crew are drugged out weirdos except for the chilly director (played by Harrison). The filming is chaotic and rife with conflict but every day they slug it out. One night Pilato and Harrison are hanging out talking while some other crew members are once again doing coke. Pilato, who is also doing special effects on the film, tells the guys that he feels that special effects are nothing without a good script that makes the audience care about the character. Harrison disagrees and shows the group a snuff film he claims to be real and later claims to be fake. It’s a nasty piece of work and Pilato is disgusted. The next day, early in the morning Pilato is woken up by Harrison and sent out on a mission to film. Then something happens and the whole film takes a 180 degree turn. I won’t spoil it for you here but Effects suddenly becomes very prescient of the type of entertainment that would become popular decades later.

The first time I watched Effects, I thought it was a cheap (it is very low budget) flick without much to say with only a little bit of horror thrown in at the end of the movie. It didn’t wow me. This time around however, I knew what to expect and so I was able to pay better attention to the slowly growing pressure and dark overtones that I missed the first time out. Effects is more of a slow sleeper of a flick that catches you off guard but if you are expecting something overt and gory, you will be sorely disappointed. It would be easy to miss the subtle elements of the film that make it so unsettling, until the very end when the plot finally becomes explicit. I know I did the first time I watched it. This time around I liked the film a lot more. The performances are natural and the film making aspect of the film feels real. I can believe that this is a real crew making a movie and the style feels very documentary-esque. This makes sense because the director was mostly doing documentaries at the time. This reality based documentary style turned me off the first time I watched the film but this time it made the movie feel more raw and real and thus more creepy.

According to the documentary on the disc, the film was never theatrically screened because of a bad distribution deal and never got a great home video release until the Synapse dvd in the early 2000s. Even that release wasn’t a big one so hopefully now this Blu will get the movie into more horror heads homes. The Blu itself looks pretty good. The print is apparently the only 35mm theatrical print that exists and the 16mm negative is currently missing. The 35mm blow up is fuzzy at times and does have some visible wear in the form of black lines. The image is as crisp as it’s ever going to be until the original 16mm negative is found. The disc includes the hour long documentary about the making of the film that was included on the Synapse dvd, the early short films of the director Dusty Nelson, a commentary track, and liner notes by Joseph A. Ziemba.

Effects is a small horror film with some big names from the era in which was made. It has largely slipped through the cracks over the last 37 years but deserves a second look.  It is creepy, disturbing, and prescient. The film is rough around the edges and ugly but feels real and raw.

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