• Effects

    Released by: AGFA
    Released on: August 22nd, 2017.
    Director: Dusty Nelson
    Cast: Tom Savini, Joe Pilato, John Harrison
    Year: 1980
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    The Movie:

    John Harrison (director of Frank Herbert’s Dune for the Sci-Fi Channel) plays an eccentric filmmaker named Lacey Bickle who is currently on location with his small group of cast and crew members in a rural area of Pennsylvania shooting his latest film. As the project moves forward, cinematographer Domenic (the one and only Joe ‘Choke on’em!!’ Pilato of Day Of The Dead) gets to know and fall for sound technician Celeste (Susan Chapek).

    Things seem to be going reasonably well on set initially. Everyone is getting along for the most part though some of the bit part players - Nicky (special effects legend Tom Savini of Dawn Of The Dead), Lobo (Charles Hoyes who had a bit part in the Marilyn Chambers goes legit vehicle, Angel Of H.E.A.T.) and Scratch (Blay Bahnsen) - tend to like their cocaine and their booze maybe a little more than they should. Those issues aside though, things on the surface seem to be okay. All of that changes one day when Lacey calls Domenic into the room to show off a rather strange film that, as he puts it, was "made for a very specific audience."

    The reels turn, the projector springs to life, and Domenic and a few other crew members watch what Lacey claims is a snuff film. When Domenic voices his displeasure with such material, Lacey quickly covers his tracks and tells him not to worry, he was just having some fun with him... but Domenic starts to think something might be a little off with this crew – and how right he is in that assumption!

    Financed completely independently and shot for $55,000.00 in 1979 (it was finished in 1980), Effects played a couple of festivals around the time of its completion and was seldom seen again. The movie never received a proper theatrical release nor did it ever appear on VHS and laserdisc, only being made available to the public on DVD when Synapse Films released it in 2005. That released marked the first time that this often talked about but seldom seen little movie was been legitimately made available to the general public. Thankfully the good people at AGFA have seen fit to give the picture a Blu-ray upgrade with this 2017 release. How does it hold up after all these years? Reasonably well, actually.

    However, the movie is not without its problems and it’s far from perfect – it takes a while to get going and not much really happens in the first twenty five minutes of the film. Once Lacey flips the switch on his projector though, the movie makes a very dark and very grim hard right into horror movie land and it keeps up the pace right until the end credits role.

    Performance wise, those familiar with Pilato only from his completely despicable but very well delivered role in Day Of The Day might be surprised to see him play a likeable sort here, and turn in his performance is delivered with a lot of subtle restraint. Domenic is about as far removed from Captain Rhodes as you can get and rather than have anyone salute his ass, he’s instead more interested in making sweet love to his lady friend on the coast of Maine once production wraps. John Harrison brings a quirky sense of arrogance to his part which suits the story fairly well – he also produced and supplied the score for the film. Savini is more or less confined to a supporting role which might be a downer to some of his fans but he makes the most of his screen time and he’s fun when he’s given something to do.

    The real reason to watch Effects though comes in the final thirty minutes. Here the film it takes on an unexpectedly dark atmosphere and, while it never pours on the blood and guts (nor does it need to), it suddenly becomes fairly disturbing both in terms of content and in terms of visuals. The direction of the film is quite simple, there isn’t a lot of fancy camera work and there aren’t a lot of stand out shots in the film. But it works really well (if one were into bad puns, you could say ‘effectively’ – thank you, I’m here all week!) not in spite of but because of that simplicity.


    AGFA presents Effects on Blu-ray in a sharp 1.78.1 widescreen high definition transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taken from a new 4k scan of the only known 35mm theatrical print in existence. The 50GB disc presents the film at a decent bit rate but keep your expectations in check in terms of the presentation – this is a case of AGFA doing the best with what was available and what was available was a fairly worn print. Still, despite the print damage here and some of the color fading evident in the picture the detail is there, as is the texture. There’s noticeable improvement in terms of depth and clarity to the image when compared to the previous DVD release from Synapse Films. This is very film-like in appearance, the grain structure has been left intact and there’s no evidence of any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts.

    The English language DTS-HD Mono track is on par with the video presentation in terms of quality – given the obscurity and rarity of the film, some defects are to be expected. As such, there are a few lines that sound less than pristine and a bit of hiss here and there but overall the audio here is fine. There aren’t any alternate language options provided but English subtitles are available.

    It’s in the extra features department that this disc really proves its worth! First up is a lively full length archival commentary (carried over from the previous DVD release) with the film’s director and co-writer, Dusty Nelson along with producer and star John Harrison and editor Pasquale Buba. Harrison and Nelson dominate this track but Buba gets some interesting words in edge wise as well as the three men look back on the events that took place while Effects was in production, as well as its unusual and troubled distribution history (or lack thereof). There are plenty of interesting little tidbits of information scattered throughout this full length discussion. At times it gets scene specific and at times it’s almost stream of consciousness but there’s enough going on at any given moment during this track that the three participants don’t ever sound bored or not into it at all. All three participants come across as very amiable and speak of their co-workers with respect, and seem to be genuinely pleased to have been involved in making this movie despite the fact that until now it’s been relatively impossible to see.

    Also carried over from the previous DVD release is a fantastic nearly hour long documentary from Red Shirt Productions on here entitled After Effects that takes a look at the film and its cast and crew in the present day, roughly twenty five years since it was made. This documentary captures the bulk of the people involved in the making of the movie when they reunited in late 2004 at a Pittsburgh based filmmakers get together (look for George Romero poking around in a few scenes!). Pilatto, Harrison, Nelson and Buba as well as supporting performers like Chapek and McKenne are all on hand to talk about the movie and discuss the memories they have of the time spent on set. Pilatto is always a character and he makes for an amusing interviewee here, and most everyone involved really seems to enjoy the reunion, you can tell there was a genuine sense of happiness in the air when this was shot. At fifty eight minutes from start to finish, this one gets pretty in depth and it covers everything from pre to post production and everything that happened in between as well as budgeting issues, how certain scenes were developed and how the filmmakers feel about the finale version that ended up on the aforementioned DVD release after languishing as basically an unreleased film for a quarter of a century. It’s a well edited, well put together documentary that flows well and that doesn’t feel padded at all – this is almost as long as the feature itself and some might think it overkill but there are a lot of interesting stories to tell about this movie and this featurette does a fine job of giving them their due, even if there is a bit of cross over between this supplement and the commentary track.

    The documentary comes with an optional audio commentary from Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures, the guy who made the documentary, who starts off with some background information on his career before then going on and talking about how this was the first long form project he’d done. He then goes on to talk about how his work making supplementary material for DVD releases led to his career and the origins of Red Shirt. Lots of talk here about the industry, his time working for Anchor Bay and other labels, geographical difficulties he encountered along the way and how he came to have a strong affinity for the Pittsburgh filmmaking scene that this film was so clearly related to. From there he goes on to talk about how the film wound up getting its home video debut on DVD via Synapse, how the extras were put together and how this documentary came to exist.

    Also included and of interest are two short films, the twelve minute long Ubu (it starts with a very strange introduction involving some creepy puppets before then telling bizarre tale of a king and his troubles!) and the sixteen minute long Beastie (a tale in which a lovely blonde woman hitchhikes and strikes up a relationship with the guy who picks her up), from early on in Dusty Nelson’s filmography.

    Inside the Blu-ray case is an insert booklet containing an essay from AGFA’s Joseph A. Ziemba entitled This Isn’t What I Thought It Was: My Love Affair With Effects. It’s an interesting appreciation piece that explains why Ziemba is as enamored with the film as he is. Accompanying the essay in the booklet are some archival documents and images, credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release and about AGFA itself.

    The Final Word:

    A truly obscure horror film that delivers in the last half hour, Effects gets a fantastic special edition Blu-ray release from AGFA that carries over the prime extras from the past DVD release and throws in some new stuff for good measure. On top of that it offers up an improved HD presentation – making this a worthwhile upgrade for fans of the film.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!