Effects (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1978 (August 22, 2017)
Studio(s)Image Works/International Harmony/Synapse Films (AGFA)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B+
While making a horror film, a director secretly films his actors and his crew, unaware that he’s actually making a snuff film and that they’re going to be the unwilling stars. Such is the plot of Effects (aka The Manipulator), a little-seen thriller from George A. Romero’s repertoire of crew members from projects such as Martin and Dawn of the Dead. Produced for very little money and subsequently lost for decades, Effects was eventually found and released on DVD in 2005 by Synapse Films. Twelve years later, it makes its Blu-ray debut from the only known surviving print.
The Philadelphia filmmaking community of the 1970s was one of camaraderie, the kind that most young filmmakers dream of when attempting to break into the business themselves. Romero’s troupe not only relished making films with him, but they also occasionally made projects on their own. His regulars who tackled Effects included John Harrison, Pasquale Buba, Tom Savini, and Joe Pilato. Although the film was completed, it was never picked up for major distribution and died a horrible death, not being seen by many people outside of the few screenings that it initially had. Looking at it today, it’s a little rough around the edges, but you can see that they were definitely going for something a little more avant-garde (as evidenced by their surviving short films). While it has some pacing issues and is slightly impenetrable upon an initial viewing, mainly because viewers might be expecting something different from it because of who’s making it, Effects is a fascinating relic from the Dawn of the Dead era that could and should have had more eyes on it.
AGFA’s presentation of Effects on Blu-ray is sourced from a 4K scan of the only surviving 35mm print of the film in existence. Unfortunately, the original elements no longer exist. It’s a raw presentation, almost like seeing it at a drive-in, which means that it’s full of a variety of film defects (scratches, lines, speckling, tears, etc), while also lacking definition in some of the darker scenes, not to mention shadow detail because of the crushed blacks. It’s also quite grainy because of its 16mm origins, which 35mm blowups only enhance. However, it’s still a very watchable presentation, and the only one we’re likely ever going to have, so keep that in mind while watching it. The sole audio option is an English 2.0 mono DTS-HD track. Not quite as damaged as its counterpart, the audio is fairly decent with good dialogue reproduction. Sound effects and score are a little thin, but everything seems to come through well enough without overt aggression. Optional subtitles are included in English SDH for those who might need them.
Nearly everything has been carried over from Synapse Films’ 2005 DVD release of the film, including an audio commentary with producer John Harrison, editor Pasquale Buba, and director Dusty Nelson; the Ubu short film by John Harrison; and the Beastie short film by Dusty Nelson. Also included is the terrific After Effects: Memories of Pittsburgh Filmmaking documentary with an optional audio commentary by its creator Michael Felsher. There’s also a 12-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Joseph A. Ziemba, as well as restoration details. The only two things that didn’t make the cut are a behind-the-scenes still gallery and an additional short, which was featured as an Easter egg.
Effects isn’t an easy film to tackle initially because it’s the opposite of what you think it is, but if you give yourself over to it, you might be pleasantly surprised by the skill that went into making it. It’s no lost masterpiece, but it definitely has merit. AGFA’s Blu-ray presentation of the film, by all rights, shouldn’t exist at all, but along with Michael Felsher’s documentary and the other extras, I’m thrilled that it does.
- Tim Salmons