Effects

| August 25, 2017

The restoration and preservation efforts from the collaboration of the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and Something Weird Video got off to a spectacular start with their Blu-ray/DVD release of The Zodiac Killer. These two entities have done much to save cult and exploitation film history, AGFA primarily working in acquiring and distributing film prints for theatrical exhibition and Something Weird traditionally focusing on home video releases. Together, their new home video imprint promises to bring some lost gems to a whole new audience and keep these films in circulation for a long time to come. Their latest release is a Blu-ray of Effects, a Pittsburgh-shot horror film from friends and collaborators of George A. Romero.

Lacey Bickel (John Harrison) has gathered a small crew at his remote cabin to shoot a horror movie. On hand are his former lover Celeste (Susan Chapek), an actress who seems to be annoyed that she’s not in front of the camera, Dominic (Joe Pilato), an easygoing freelance cinematographer, bickering married actors Barney (Bernard McKenna) and Rita (Debra Gordon), and Lacey’s regular right-hand man Lobo (Charles Hoyes). Lacey also brings in some outside help from biker and drug dealer Nicky (Tom Savini), whose introduction to the tight-knit cast and crew grates on Celeste and Dominic’s nerves. Spending so much time in such close quarters, the relationships between the cast and crew are already frayed. Meanwhile, in a mysterious “control room” another crew watches the action in the cabin on a set of monitors. Dominic reluctantly finds himself in the dangerous position of amateur detective–what exactly is going on here, and who is really running the show?

Effects was the feature directorial debut of Dusty Nelson, who had some crew experience in the 1970s including working on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The cast and crew included a number of people who worked with Romero on previous films and who would go on to work with him in later projects as well: Pilato unforgettably starred as the power-mad Rhodes in 1985’s Day of the Dead, Savini was a regular collaborator in front of and behind the camera doing makeup and effects work for Romero’s films, and Harrison composed the scores for this film, Creepshow (1982), and Day of the Dead. The collegial atmosphere of the earlier parts of the film is likely totally genuine: Effects works very well as a portrait of the ups and downs of an independent film production before pivoting into much darker territory. Harrison and Pilato both give great performances, but Pilato really deserves special mention for creating and inhabiting a character who is so completely removed from his iconic portrayal of Rhodes. Dominic is a laid-back, good-natured guy who handles himself admirably when faced with a very difficult situation.

AGFA and SWV have given Effects a 4K scan from the only surviving 35mm print of the film. Like The Zodiac Killer, the transfer is mostly focused on a presentation as close as possible to viewing the movie on film. Rather than painstakingly removing every imperfection in the print, Effects looks beautifully ragged. It’s not a terribly worn print–and the color looks great–but the commitment to a filmic presentation is perfect for such a gritty low-budget horror film. Some horror fans might find much of Effects to be dull, but the intense final act more than makes up for the less genre-centric “slice of life” portrait of life on an indie film set that makes up the first hour or so of the film. This is a sorely underseen classic that certainly deserves to be seen by a bigger audience, and hopefully this new Blu-ray will help make that happen.

AGFA released Effects on Blu-ray 22 August 2017. Special features include After Effects documentary (with commentary track), an archival commentary track for the film, early shorts by the filmmakers, and liner notes by Bleeding Skull‘s Joseph Ziemba.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom

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