Directed by Dusty Nelson.
Starring Joseph Pilato, Susan Chapek, John Harrison, Tom Savini, Debra Gordon, and Susan Chapek.
The crew of a low budget movie begin to wonder if the violence they are filming is actually real.
Effects is a low budget movie about the crew of a low budget movie filming in a remote country location. Drugs are taken, people drink and fight, and eventually some of the crew are convinced that the killings being filmed for the movie are real and that they are actually making a snuff movie.
An interesting premise indeed, and an idea that has plenty of potential to make a terrifying and uncomfortable thriller. Effects is a movie that was shot in the closing years of the 1970s by a crew of local talents from the Pittsburgh area, the most notable (and familiar) being Joe (or Joseph, as he is credited here) Pilato, Tom Savini and John Harrison, all of whom are alumni of legendary filmmaker George A. Romero, who is a solid reference point for the look and feel of this movie as this is hands-on, almost documentary-style filmmaking similar to Romero’s early works.
Early works, it must be said, that have been celebrated for their ideas and techniques but often criticised for their dour tones and, in some cases, just being too slow with little action, and Effects definitely feels like a companion piece to sluggish pieces like Season of the Witch or – if you’re feeling brave – There’s Always Vanilla, two Romero movies that have their fans but also don’t tend to get mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Martin, The Crazies or Night of the Living Dead.
However, Romero is not involved (not directly anyway – he gets a mention in the ‘Special Thanks’ credits at the end) and we have Day of the Dead’s Captain Rhodes – or Joe Pilato as he is better known – as the lead character Dominic, a camera operator working for director Lacey Bickel, played by John Harrison, who you may recognise as Screwdriver Zombie from Dawn of the Dead or his many appearances in any documentary about George A. Romero you care to name. Bickel is a shifty character and John Harrison, ironically, gives probably the best performance in the movie; ironic because he is the non-actor out of the main cast, although he was an assistant director to Romero and has directed movies himself so he probably wasn’t stretching himself. Joe Pilato, thankfully, doesn’t shout as much as he does as Rhodes, playing things a lot more restrained but his theatrical roots do come through every now and again as he overdoes the emotive expressions on his face, which is at least something to break through the tedium of the first hour.
As well as doing the effects for Effects, Tom Savini pops up as Nicky, a highly annoying character who only seems to be there to wind people up and, surprisingly, it works because his intentions seem to transcend the screen, and when Dominic takes a swipe at him you find yourself egging him on to hit Nicky harder as Savini mumbles and grins his way through his scenes. Savini’s effects also feel a little naff considering this movie fell between his excellent work on Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th; granted, he was probably working for pennies but the work he does contribute just feels too shoddy and underwhelming.
Released as part of 101 Films’ new AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) label, Effects is a movie whose development and history is more interesting than the movie itself, and the disc comes with plenty of supplementary material to fill you in. The most useful (and entertaining) is After Effects, an hour-long documentary featuring members of the cast and crew who reunited in 2005 when the movie got its first wide release on DVD 25 years after it was initially released on a limited festival run, and you also get a booklet with notes on the movie’s troubled history. Effects is presented in a 4K scan from a 35mm theatrical print but don’t go expecting super-clean and detailed imagery as the movie is extremely grainy with several pops and blemishes throughout. It all adds to the grindhouse feel, which is part of the experience and will delight fans of the era, but if you’re watching on high-end 4K equipment it won’t add very much.
Overall, Effects is a curio that will appeal mainly to hardcore George A. Romero fans looking to fill in the gaps of the casts and crews of his movies. As a movie it should be out there for people to see, should they choose, but its value would likely be higher were it an extra feature in a Romero box set, rather than giving it the full-bodied boutique label restoration, a treatment that its creators may appreciate more than the viewing public as the lethargic pace and surreal atmosphere don’t do justice to the talent and ideas that are clearly there but not fully realised.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★