Saturday, August 5, 2017

EFFECTS (1980) (AGFA Blu-ray Review)

EFFECTS (1980)

Label: AGFA (American Genre Film Archive)
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 84 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Dusty Nelson
Cast: Tom Savini, Joe Pilato, John Harrison

Director Lacy Bickle (John Harrison, director of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie) is an independent filmmaker, he's on location in rural Pennsylvania with a small cast and crew making a lo-fi horror movie. working on the film is a cinematographer Domenic played by none other than Joe Pilato of Romero's Day of the Dead, Captain Rhodes himself! However, in this one he's not the venom-spewing psycho from Day of the Dead, he's down to Earth guy who never really loses his cool, which was a shock, he's definitely showing another side to himself that I hadn't seen before.  Also on set are crew member Nicky (Tom Savini, Maniac), Charles Hoyes as Lobo, the baddie in the movie they're making, sound technician Celeste (Susan Chapek), and the actors, Rita (Debra Gordon, Dawn of the Dead) and Barney (Bernard McKenna). 

The movie is not the horror-shocker I had anticipated going in, what with so many of the cast and crew have ties to George A. Romero, but instead we get a slow-burn slice of sleaze that takes about forty-five minutes to get going, up until that point we have scenes of making the movie, and some relationship building between Dominic and the sound girl Celeste, such as scenes of them bonding over drinks at a bar and fishing together at a wooded stream. Things pick up and get weird when director Lacy shows an 8mm snuff film to the cast and crew, a black and white slice of horror-show that is decently gruesome and more than a little unsettling, the flickering image showing a hooded man slashing a woman who is helplessly tied to chair. It feels dirty and wrong.  A nice touch was when the hooded man realizes the camera is drifting away from the carnage, he stops and adjust the camera, icky stuff. 

After this moment things begin to pick-up as Dominic slowly begins to suspect that maybe Lacey is not just making a low-budget horror flick, but is maybe making an actual snuff film, a suspicion confirmed during a location scout when things turn for the worse for Dominic and he becomes the hunted. The low-budget movie has a very keen premise, and though the whole movie-within-a-movie thing has been done many times over it is still effective here to a degree, though I think the execution suffers a bit, but that final thirty minutes or so was great stuff, it just takes a while to get a proper head of steam going. That's not say I didn't have a good time watching this dingy slice of snuff movie making, if you're a fan of weirdo 70's cinema this is something to look into. 

It's great to see Savini in an on-camera role here, the same year he appeared in Dawn of the Dead, it's a small role but he manages to be effectively creepy, but the real finds here are John Harrison as the snobbish director with ice in his veins, he plays it cold and heartless, very matter of factly, he wants to make a snuff film and this is how to go about it. But the movie is won in my mind by Joe Pilato as Dominic, I am not used to rooting for the man who played the despicable Capt. Rhodes on Day of the Dead, but I'll be damned if I wasn't pulling for him here. 

Audio/Video: Effects (1980) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) with a brand new 4K scan straight from the only 35mm theatrical print in existence, presented in 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1). Originally finished up in '78 the film screened at just a handful of festivals before the distributor went under and the film was almost lost to time, that is until Synapse Films released it on DVD back in 2005. AGFA managed to get their hands on a rare print and gave it the 4K treatment here, but go into this with some tempered expectations, the sole surviving print is well worn and lacks decent contrast, color saturation is weak, the quality of the image fluctuates quite a bit, with vertical lines, white speckling, debris, cigarette burns, and various instances of film damage, it's a very "grindhouse" experience nut very watchable. The sole audio track on the Blu-ray is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo presentation, and it does the job, not the most dynamic lossless audio track but it's just fine, the score provided by John Harrison (Creepshow, Day of the Dead) is effectively eerie at times, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Onto the extras we have a archival commentary track with actor/composer John Harrison, director Dusty Nelson, and editor Pasquale Buba - it's a good listen, I wouldn't rank it among the best but it's fun to hear the crew speak about the films troubled distribution. There's also an archival hour-long doc produced by Michael Felsher and Red Shirt Pictures, filmed in 2004 at some sort of cast reunion, Felsher even does an optional commentary for the doc, which is also a pretty great listen. 

There are also two short films, we have the 12-min short 'Ubu' from director John Harrison, a weird one with marionette puppets, and the 16-min 'Beastie' from Dusty Nelson, about a woman hitchhiking and her experience with a guy who picks her up, it's not as dark as you might wish it were.  

The release comes in a clear Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, one featuring what at first looks like a Mentors record album cover with a black hooded figure illustration, on the reverse we get a black and white illustration. Inside there's a 12 page booklet with a vintage press release for the film, and an appreciation from Joseph A. Ziemba of Bleeding Skull/AGFA, information about the transfer, production credits, and some images and advertising for the flick. 

Special Features: 

- AFTER EFFECTS documentary with optional Commentary Track from Director Michael Flesher of Red Shirt Pictures (60 min) HD 
- UBU short film (12 min) HD 
- BEASTIE short film (16 min) HD 
- Archival commentary track with John Harrison, Dusty Nelson, and Pasquale Buba
- Liner notes by Joseph A. Ziemba of AGFA and Bleeding Skull!
- New 4K scan from the only 35mm theatrical print in existence

AGFA have done right by this obscure slice of snuff, it's a slow-burner but if you can stay with it till the final thirty minutes they are absolutely worth the wait and pay-off nicely. The A/V is as good as well ever likely get, the extras are cool, and the packaging is excellent, this is a fantastic release, recommended for those obscure 70s cinema lovers who like it sleazy and lo-fi.