Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

Effects (1980)
Available from Synapse Films | Review by Stephen McClurg

For a movie that has been "lost" for twenty-five years, EFFECTS is oddly contemporary. The premise is similar to "Big Brother." Instead of featuring a group of strangers who auditioned to be filmed living together, EFFECTS is about a group of strangers living together and making a horror movie while being unknowingly filmed for a snuff feature. Well, the cast and crew are not completely unaware, and that’s exactly what the film pivots on for intrigue and interest.

Lacey Dickel (John Harrison, who also produced and scored the film) is an independent director making a horror film. It is rumored that Lacey has a lot of money, even though everyone is living on the sets and he has one cameraman on the project – Dominic (DAWN OF THE DEAD’s Joe Pilato). Film making is hard work, with tight budgets and tight schedules, but that doesn’t mean there is no time for cocaine and liquor-fueled fun on the shoot. Much of the congenial atmosphere begins to get tense after Lacey shows a film to Dominic and and a couple of actors.

It’s a movie that he got from a guy in England that was made for a "rather specific audience." Dominic is not part of that audience. In fact, he is quite disturbed by the grainy, black-and-white footage featuring a woman getting tied to a chair by a hooded, muscle-bound guy who starts to cut everything but the ropes holding her to the chair. To ease the tension, Lacey then retracts his earlier description of the film and says that he made it as a student. It never gets too comfortable after that – especially when real scares and real blood starts getting used on their own sets.

While not perfect, EFFECTS is a well-written and well-acted movie. The film was written and directed by Dusty Nelson (based on the book SNUFF by William H. Mooney), produced by Harrison and Pasquale Buba, and costars Tom Savini and Susan Chapek. George Romero fans may recognize some of these names since most of the acting and production crew worked with him during the 70s and 80s. In many ways, I think EFFECTS is more enjoyable and more interesting than Romero’s output during this period – with some obvious exceptions (those featuring "dead" in their titles).

Pilato is most famous for playing Captain Rhodes in DAY OF THE DEAD. As much as Rhodes was despicable and over-the-top, Dominic is likable and played straight. It’s a shame that this movie didn’t get released when it was made because Pilato should have had a higher profile as an actor. He’s definitely got chops.

Included on the DVD is a documentary that features interviews with Romero, Savini, and most of the cast and crew from EFFECTS. The documentary is well-worth watching as it details the bad distribution deal that has kept EFFECTS out of theaters and stores and nicely documents the camaraderie and film making passion of the Pittsburgh independent film scene. A couple of short films – "Ubu" and "Beastie" – are also included. While not exceptional, they certainly give the viewer an idea of the breadth that the Pittsburgh filmmakers were actually capable of despite their most famous export – zombies. "Ubu" is a goofy, surreal jaunt based on Alfred Jarry’s silent play "Ubu Roi" and "Beastie" is a romantic dramedy.

 


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