A Curious Grindhouse Slasher
Effects is obscure even by the standards of forgotten grindhouse flicks from the 1970s and 1980s. Cobbled together by several associates of George Romero, the independent gonzo movie was made on a shoestring budget. It never even saw the light of day due to distribution issues until Synapse Films “rescued” it for DVD back in the 2000s.
There are good reasons why the obscure film wasn’t released in the first place. Writer and director Dusty Nelson’s movie about horror filmmakers making a low-budget slasher called ‘Duped: The Snuff Movie’ dwells somewhere between ambitious student film and unrealized grindhouse gem. It is an interesting, if forgettable, piece of nostalgia for a sleazier era of drive-in movie theaters and cheap exploitation.
Effects is decidedly lacking in exploitation moments
Effects is decidedly lacking in exploitation moments
The big draw in Effects is its recognizable cast for horror fans. Effects maestro Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead and many others), Joe Pilato (Day of the Dead) and John Harrison (Tales From the Darkside: The Movie) are all familiar faces on the horror scene from this era. The plot is simple to understand in Effects, though it has a few neat moments.
A group of independent filmmakers with a specialty in gruesome F/X are making a low-budget, standard slasher with a small film crew. One gets the distinct impression that some of Effects has been pulled from Dusty Nelson’s experiences making movies. When the director in Effects plays an actual snuff film for the crew, one member begins questioning what’s really going on with this project. Little does he know not everything is what it seems during filming as more and more stuff doesn’t add up.
Effects is better in theory than in execution. Running a little over eighty minutes, the short film plods along despite some interesting ideas. The concept of filming a slasher movie masking a sinister snuff film is a great idea. That should have been enough to make a relevant, interesting grindhouse film in the 1970s and early 1980s. But outside of a couple cool scenes, Effects is decidedly lacking in exploitation moments. There just aren’t enough gory moments in it considering the involvement of Tom Savini behind the scenes.
Watching Effects today is more about catching a cinematic relic from the past. Capturing the independent spirit of low-budget filmmaking from the Pittsburgh scene, it’s recommended for cult movie fans willing to overlook its rougher edges.
Effects was originally a low-budget grindhouse production shot on 16mm film with what cinematographers call “available light.” What would have always looked rough on home video today is hampered even more by its extant elements. The 1980 film didn’t even see home video distribution until 2005, when Synapse Films put out their DVD version. My score reflects the actual viewing experience since I have no doubt this is as good as can be had from these elements. The information reproduced below from the included booklet details this transfer’s checkered pedigree.
Effects is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics film scanner from the only 35mm theatrical print in existence. The print was made from the original 16mm camera negative, which is currently lost.
There is no way around the fact that Effects looks very, very rough in 1080P resolution on Blu-ray. Taking a heavily damaged 35mm blow-up print that has seen better days, this is a wildly erratic presentation that earns its grindhouse street cred. On a pure picture quality basis, it’s one of the roughest film experiences ever seen on Blu-ray. Cue marks, horizontal and vertical gate scratches, exposure issues and contrast fluctuations are but some of the problems.
The 83-minute main feature is encoded in stout AVC on a BD-50. The widescreen presentation actually lies somewhere between 1.78:1 and 1.85:1. There was simply little that could be done with the surviving elements to give Effects a highly respectable presentation in HD. It’s tolerable if you love the grindhouse aesthetic but everyone else will be disappointed. Cult film preservation house AGFA distributes the Blu-ray through MVDvisual.
Given the poor picture quality, Effects’ 2.0 DTS-HD MA in dual mono is shockingly crisp and nicely recorded. There is little obvious wear to its fidelity with clean dialogue and a smooth score. The musical score is an eclectic affair, incorporating a wide array of instruments and sounds. Despite the low-budget nature of Effects, the audio delivers fine entertainment.
Optional English SDH subs play in a white font.
The American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) puts together a nice set of supplements for Effects, pulling in material already seen on the Synapse Films DVD. The included booklet offers an essay on the movie written by Joseph Ziemba, explaining his fascination with the obscure film. Like other AGFA releases, it comes in a clear Blu-ray case.
This is now the definitive edition of Effects.
Audio commentary with director/co-writer Dusty Nelson, actor John Harrison, and co-producer/editor Pasquale Buba – The three best friends discuss making their labor of love in this congenial discussion. For a film made in 1980, their memory for production details is excellent. It’s a light, engaging commentary that definitely “completes” one’s viewing of Effects.
After Effects: Memories of Pittsburgh Filmmaking (59:38 in HD) – This is a fine making-of documentary with rare footage and archival interviews from the cast and crew. It’s a fine complement to the included commentary by the director. An optional audio commentary by DVD producer Michael Felsher is included, discussing the creation of this documentary and what goes into creating these kind of features for DVDs.
UBU (12:11 in HD) – A bizarre short film by John Harrison.
Beastie (15:39 in HD) – A short film by Dusty Nelson.
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