This year has been a rather somber one for horror fans. We’ve lost a lot of influential contributors to the genre including the great filmmaker, George A. Romero. Now, this isn’t a review about a film from the man who perhaps singlehandedly created the zombie sub-genre, but it does have some very deep ties to him and his early filmmaking days. Close friends and repeat collaborators of Romero’s made a little known film in the late 70’s that, hopefully, until now has gone under the radar. That film is Effects.
Director Lacey Bickel (John Harrison, director of Tales From the Darkside: The Movie) is making a film. While his cast and crew just think it’s another low-budget, 16mm horror flick with little to no substance, Lacey has other plans for everyone involved with the shooting that will both shock and titilate the general public.
With some very close ties to one of horror’s most loved directors, it’s puzzling how I’ve never heard of Effects before now. The film’s cast and crew is filled with so many Romero collaborators, it is almost shocking. From his first assistant director, John Harrison, to long-time special effects master, Tom Savini, this proto-snuff film is a who’s who in the life of the father of the zombie film.
I had no idea what to expect from a film that was made in 1978 that I have never heard of before. How good could Effects really be? Shouldn’t I know about this one by now…? I mean, it was made 40 years ago! Fortunately for me, this movie actually is really good and four decades later or not, I’m glad I finally got around to seeing it. Everything, from a talented cast to an effective score, make this film worth your time.
Effects is essentially a film about a film within a film. Yeah, I know that doesn’t sound right, but trust me, it is. In this production that only had a budget of $55,000, a movie is being filmed. Without the real knowledge of most of the actors involved, however, the sleazy and ‘in-need-of-inspiration’ director is actually filming a snuff flick, one that features the deaths of his entire unaware cast and crew, entitled Duped: The Snuff Movie. It is way ahead of its time and although it sounds somewhat confusing, it is actually very easy to follow and executed perfectly.
I was deeply impressed with how great the entire cast performed in this independent film. Everyone from Tom Savini to Joe Pilato — you know, Rhodes from Day of the Dead who gets torn apart viciously by the undead, the whole time screaming “choke on ’em,” (‘them’ being his guts) — did a remarkable job creating characters with very distinct personalities. I quite enjoyed watching Pilato’s “Dominic, the cinematographer/effects guy” and his budding relationship with gaffer, Celeste (Susan Chapek). It brought an amazing amount of character development to a film that I didn’t expect to have any.
In addition to the acting, the soundtrack and score for Effects was highly impressive. An escalating piano score does a fantastic job cuing just the right emotions in the audience; When you’re supposed to be frightened, you’ll know it just by keeping a close eat to this frenzied soundtrack. Similarly, the film’s final act is filled with trampling drum beats that keep the suspense high, as the end draws near for our main characters.
While Effects does have a slower pace than I’d like, it is all worth it in the end and makes perfect sense for what’s at hand. There is no need here for fast-paced action. By the end of the film, you clearly know what is going to occur, but it is still filled with some surprises that will have you cringing and smiling all at the same time.
This one is highly recommended and is now available on Blu-ray for the first time. The AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) and MVD Visual have done a remarkable job reviving this one with a brand new 4K transfer. It contains the same grain and blemishes you’d expect from a 40-year-old 16mm film, but it is as crystal clear as it will ever get and it is a joy to watch. It also features reversible sleeve artwork, an hour-long documentary about the filming of Effects, and much more.
Effects is definitely a must-see for all old-school horror-heads and gets a final rating of 4 UK snuff reels out of 5 from yours truly.