Effects (1980)

MAY 6, 2010


I remember stumbling across Effects in a Best Buy a while back (pre HMAD), with a cover boasting Joe Pilato and Tom Savini, and a cool/trashy cover with a bloodied corpse on the floor next to a director’s chair. In other words, it looked like yet another “killer stalks a horror movie set” film, which I was sort of tired of even then. So I forgot all about it until I saw that it was showing at the Egyptian with Joe Pilato in attendance, and then did some research and saw that it was actually filmed in 1978 (the IMDb actually says 1974 - I submitted a correction), and that it was actually about a horror film crew learning that they are involved in making a snuff film. Now curious, I decided to make it my movie for the day.

Well, maybe I should have just grabbed something else from the screener pile. Not that anything in there is probably any better, but 10 bucks for the ticket, couple bucks for parking, gas, etc - Effects certainly wasn’t worth my effort. Even on DVD, at home, I probably would have been disappointed, but factoring in all the extra time and money made it even harder to endure. And to top it off, Pilato was more or less sedate, a far cry from his outlandish, seemingly drunk/high appearance at the New Bev earlier this year when they screened Day of the Dead.

The main problem with Effects is writer/director Dusty Nelson (working from a novel by William H. Mooney) apparent insistence on redefining the term “woozy narrative”. I mean, pretty much all “East coast” independent films from the 70s could benefit from an actual editor (as I’ve said before, some of these movies aren’t edited, they’re assembled), but this one is 10x as pace-challenged. We watch minor characters walk off into the distance for 30-40 seconds before cutting to the next shot, there are several scenes of no seeming relevance to the plot, and a few subplots are never really explained. For example, our lead actress seems to be cracking up as she shoots the scenes for her movie, a storyline that is dropped after about a half hour. Of course, this might just be the plot of the movie she’s making, but if so a. it just goes over to the “these scenes have no point” pile, and b. they’re also showing us an entire scene of a movie that could not possibly exist between yelling “action” and “cut”. Either way, it’s wrong. And I never got a sense of why the villain was doing this - did he get off on it? Was it just a better way of making a horror movie to have actual deaths on-screen? How many times has he done this before? How did our non-snuff folks get involved in the production?

Also, we watch pretty much every “movie in the movie” scene twice, due to a blown take or whatever. Again, since it’s basically a MacGuffin to the plot of the actual movie, this is pretty annoying - it’s double the paddage! We also get a few too many scenes of characters doing things that aren’t going to be of any interest to anyone but filmmakers, such as Pilato using a dark bag to remove the film from the camera and put it in a can for developing. Sure, I felt a bit nostalgic for film school when I saw this (man I hated changing film in the bag, feeling around in the dark... when I did my thesis film I took on every single job of the production at one point or another, EXCEPT for this. Too nerve-wracking), but I can’t imagine a general audience to care or even know what he’s doing (he doesn’t explain it - why would he? Every character is on the film crew). It's like the actual movie is elsewhere and we were watching the deleted scenes collection, missing only the director saying that they were cut because they slowed the film down.

Scenes also just come out of nowhere, with no buildup whatsoever, and many end just as abruptly. A major character is suddenly attacked in her home by another character, and then we never see them again. We find out later that the girl was indeed killed, but what came of her attacker? Guess it doesn’t matter. Around the same time, Savini and another character are chasing our hero through the woods, and even though he doesn’t seem to go very far, they are never seen again. Even when he stops to nurse his injuries (somehow he gets shot in the foot when the guy fires at him at chest range), they are apparently unable to keep up. And the climax involves a car exploding, which comes out of nowhere. I would think if two major characters were to get killed by what I assume is a bomb of some sort, that it would be set up earlier in the movie. How do a bunch of cokeheads know about rigging explosives?

Oh yeah, the coke. This is the most pro-coke movie I’ve ever seen, with literally every character snorting away and never having any sort of bad reaction to it. And it’s delightfully casual, like when Savini produces some and the other characters argue about what they should snort it from. Again, none of this has anything to do with the plot (it’s not like they get coked up and start killing people in their drug induced hysteria), so I guess it’s just a particular preference of the filmmakers and cast, since coke is more of an 80s generic drug. This being the 70s, shouldn’t they all be high on the pot, as the kids say?

Luckily there’s a scene every now and then to keep it from being a complete atrocity. The sequence where they watch a snuff film is a bit unnerving, and there’s a strange tension to the later scenes where Pilato is trying to escape and we keep hearing his tormenters narrate his every move (sort of like My Little Eye). I also really dug the score by John Harrison (who plays the film's villain), which had a creepy electronic vibe to it and single-handedly made a few scenes late in the film feel a bit more alive than they actually were. But a few OK scenes and a fun score does not a good movie make, and while I’m sure Nelson and his crew had more ideas than their budget allowed, it’s simply a meandering and un-involving movie that never even comes close to delivering on the intriguing promise of its plot. I hate to utter the following phrase, but it’s true - you’re better off watching 8MM.

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1 comment:

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