What do you do when you need an idea for a movie? Well, you could start out with a real life incident…say, a murder? Then you carry that act out. What if you decide to then turn that into a movie? Or at least, that is what the director in Special Effects does. Sounds like a flawless plan, right?
Christopher Neville is a former up and coming director whose latest effort bombed in theaters. Due to how much money his last film lost in effects, nobody wants to fund him anymore. As a result, he is looking to revitalize his career. He begins a relationship with a young actress and sets his focus on setting up the future. He records himself murdering this actress and uses it as a template to stage a new film. In an even more disturbing move, he casts his victim’s husband in the movie. What is even more twisted is the husband’s role is that of Neville.
As Special Effects progresses, you watch the director establish the set pieces that recreate the murder. He directs the husband to kill the actress in a manner and a voice that echoes his own demented psyche. You begin to see the scenes unfold with the actors just as they did with the director in the beginning. All the while, the director is falling more and more into his egotism and insanity. It is a terribly fascinating downward spiral as well unsettling as you watch the scenes mirror the murder. The director creates the murder on screen the way his insanity pushed him to commit the original act.
While the movie felt a little slow and stale at first, it quickly drew me in after the initial murder plays out. Each step along the way and each level in the descent to madness pulled me in more. As we watch the director make things more complicated for the plot as well as expose himself, you can’t help but be intrigued by the twists. It is almost like the director wants to go so far that his guilt is obvious while proclaiming his superiority for getting away with everything.
If you’ve seen The Stuff, you understand that Larry Cohen has a real talent for lampooning the worst of our society. In that film, he took on marketing, health food fanaticism, and commercialism. This time, in Special Effects, he takes on Hollywood and those who play a role in movie making, most effectively when the director loses his temper and yells at the staff because things have to be their fault and not his.
Additionally, Special Effects has some very good acting from Eric Bogosian. Bogosian plays the role of the director Neville superbly. He convincingly conveys his need to control everything to the point of obsession and a desire to dance with danger. He puts on a show of the broken psyche of a man that wants to draw in people who his murder tormented to torture people even further.
The acting of Bogosian and the directing of Cohen keeps Special Effects moving at a solid pace with an irresistible plotline. As another masterstroke, Cohen provides set cards between certain scenes to establish the setting, as if we are watching a production. This is a small but brilliant way of drawing one into the concept of watching the director make the film, while also plotting murder and mayhem.
Picture Quality: 3.5/5
For a movie from 1984, I can’t complain much with what I see in Special Effects. It is surprisingly clear in most scenes. Even the dark scenes look pretty good. There are a few imperfections here and there that I suspect arise from the original film not being the best quality stock. The grain is well managed and comfortable for a film from the mid 80s as well. Not a complaint from me here.
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Despite the name, Special Effects, is no titan of effects whether visually or aurally. There aren’t any explosive action scenes to test your surround system. As it is, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track works effectively when the audio effects come into play. What really worked well was the score; the track provides the right weight to emphasize what plays out on the screen.
Special Features and Packaging: 2.5/5
Audio Commentary: Always a welcome piece for a Cohen film. This one is okay. While better than average, it isn’t too lively. Cohen gives a ton of interesting information though, and he seems like a pretty good guy.
No subtitles is a true disappointment for features.
Just a normal Blu-ray case for this release. Nothing special.
Special Effects Overall: 3/5
Special Effects surely is a bit different. The pacing will throw one off at first and the style can be a little odd. It might take you out of the film in the beginning, but as the movie goes on, it all works together for a consistent presentation. The technical attributes of the disc are sufficient. The audio commentary is a good addition, while being the only extra and lacking subtitles. The packaging is just standard for Olive’s style. Overall, the movie is worth seeing, so I recommend picking this up if you see it for a good price, just understand there are no great extras. It’s available now at Amazon or Best Buy.
Note: This Blu Ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.