The small cast and crew of an indie horror production are shacked up together on location, shooting a film about demonic possession under the direction of the compulsive Lacey (John Harrison). Key to the team are mild-mannered FX artist Dom (Joe Pilato) and his attractive gaffer Celeste (Susan Chapek), plus leading couple Barney (Barney McKenna) and Rita (Debra Gordon).
Earlier portions of EFFECTS alternate between scenes being shot for the film-within-a-film, and the crew members unwinding during downtime by either hitting the local bar, or staying in their digs to snort coke and bang whatever actress they can.
To this end, Dom's eyes are opened to the excesses of the industry firstly when he beds Celeste, and secondly when he's invited to sample cocaine for the first time with Lacey and his assistant Lobo (Charles Hoyes). It's during this latter gathering that Dom remarks upon the film being made, suggesting audiences don't remember gory death scenes unless they're invested in the characters. Lacey and Lobo disagree, provoking a discussion on the merits of movies such as THE OMEN, THE FURY and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
This debate leads Lacey to dig out an old film reel for Dom's coke-addled amusement. He suggests that its contents will make the FX artist re-evaluate his beliefs about actors having to have made an impression on their audience in order for the latter to feel anything about the former's onscreen demise. And so, we're privy to a short black-and-white "snuff" film in which a woman is tied to a chair and slashed repeatedly by her masked assailant.
Dom is mortified by what he's just witnessed, and not entirely convinced when Lacey backtracks by saying the reel was merely a student film he'd made in his youth, and the actress concerned came to no harm. The following morning, filming resumes on Lacey's low-rent project ... but the director now seems distracted, repeatedly talking about how he's seeking "inspiration" in order to satisfactorily complete his movie.
Could it be that he has devious methods in mind?
Dusty Nelson's low-budget 1980 flick EFFECTS is a real oddity. It begins as a rather candid fly-on-the-wall expose of indie filmmaking, leading us into scenes of actors fluffing their lines, effects make-up tests, repeated takes being required and so on. The on-location banter in-between takes has an almost verite style, and at times feels not too far removed from the cinema of John Cassavetes. Only, with less proficient performances, of course...
The drama feels rather formless for the film's first third, as we switch between ropy horror movie tropes and the in-between take shenanigans of the diminutive crew. Look out for Tom Savini during one of these latter moments, rucking with uncharacteristically coy Pilato in a local bar.
Things start gathering narrative steam about midway through proceedings, once Dom has been subjected to the potential snuff reel and the audience get an inkling as to how deviant Lacey could actually be in his plight to get his film made to his liking.
Sure enough, EFFECTS does actually make the leap from self-reflective puzzler to fully-fledged horror film, but only during its final twenty minutes. Still, there a couple of standout moments during this final act which ably demonstrate Nelson's ability to produce potent scenes of terror.
EFFECTS comes to US blu-ray courtesy of MVD Visual Entertainment, and with many thanks due to the American Genre Films Archive (AGFA).
The disc is a region-free affair, playable worldwide.
The film is presented uncut (83 minutes and 36 seconds), in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, as an MPEG4-AVC file with full 1080p HD resolution. This new AGFA-supervised 4K transfer was struck from the only 35mm theatrical print known to be in existence - which itself was made from the original 16mm camera negative, which is currently lost.
Though this isn't a full restoration - minor specks and cigarette burns are still prominent - it is a step up from any version previously released. There is still an overall softness to many scenes and colours are nowhere near as vivid as they would be for a more mainstream film of the era, but just remember that this was shot on 16mm and then blown up to a 35mm print. A largely clean image which retains a fine layer of natural grain pleases throughout, and what's on the screen has never looked clearer or had more authentic filmic depth.
English audio is proffered in a healthy, consistently reliable DTS-HD Master Stereo mix. Minimal background hiss is evident here and there, but dialogue, music and sound design are presented in a clean fashion at all times.
Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read (in white with a thin black borderline). They include cues for the hard-of-hearing.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. Pop-up menus include a scene selection option allowing access to the film via 9 chapters.
You'll probably be wanting some bonus features?
Fortunately, they're in no short supply. First up is Red Shirt Pictures' excellent hour-long documentary "After-Effects", which takes a retrospective look at the making of Nelson's peculiar movie. Scenes from the film, behind-the-scenes footage, interview clips with key cast and crew members (filmed during a 2004 reunion) - this makes for a great, entertaining and insightful watch. Attendees include Nelson, Pilato, McKenna, Chapek, Gordon, Harrison - who also produced - editor Pasquale Buba, stunt co-ordinator Marty Schiff, technician David Belko and Savini. Oh, and some filmmaker who was local to where EFFECTS was being shot, called George A Romero...
The above documentary also comes with optional commentary from director Michael Felsher.
UBU is an interesting, semi-experimental 12-minute film by Harrison. It's arty, nightmarish and definitely worth a look despite its rather worn, faded 1:33:1 presentation. Be forewarned though, if you get freaked out by life-sized puppets, you'd be better off staying well away.
BEASTIE is an old short by Nelson. It's 16 minutes in length and deserves your attention. That's all I'll say about this beguiling, initially innocuous little treat.
Nelson, Buba and Harrison also return in an archive audio commentary tracks which you can select to play over the main feature. This is a really amiable chat track, the rapport enjoyed between this threesome being really warm and genuine. In-between the mirth and refreshing honesty, there is a good amount of technical detail on offer here.
This set also comes equipped with a most welcome 12-page booklet, containing a great essay by AGFA director Joseph A Ziemba along with archival photos and notes about the transfer, plus some nifty double-sided reversible cover artwork.
EFFECTS is a real curio of early 80s horror. A bizarre low-budget look at the relationship between filmmakers and their audience, and the blurring between the lines of reality and fantasy. It's probably better enjoyed now than it was at the time. And it's served extremely well on MVD/AGFA's sterling blu-ray release.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by AGFA|