Evil Gets Snuffed and Blued. Blu-ray That is! “Effects” review!


Special effects technician Dom joins a small cast on the scenic outskirts of Pittsburgh to work on a horror film with wealthy director Lacey Bickel at the helm. Filmmaker Bickel’s indifferent passion about obtaining the perfect shot for his movie puts Bickel at odds with the other cast and crew, rendering Lacey just another irregular and peculiar director attempting to show the general public his ultimate vision, but during one particularly odd behavioral moment, Dom was subjected to the exhibition of a presumably snuff film possibly directed by Bicket during a coke-filled round table discussion. Dom begins to suspect that the movie he’s laboring over isn’t the sole objective of Bickel’s, but stays quiet about his instincts and he forms a romantic relationship with Celeste, a gaffer whose worked with Bickel prior to, and the two resume their work on the film despite the being the oblivious subjects of a real snuff film.

In 1978, the Godfather of the modern zombie film, the late great George Romero, had an inner circle of friends conjure up their own funding for an idealistic, ahead of it’s time horror film entitled “Effects” with then newcomers and Pittsburgh natives Dusty Nelson at the helm, John Harrison producing and starring as the offbeat Lacey Bickel, and post-“Effects” “Day of the Dead” and “The Dark Half” editor, Pasquale Buba, as the other producer. Filming had wrapped with tons of positive public review potential to be the next big horror film of it’s time being produced out of Pittsburgh, but a major distribution complication had put the kibosh on any theatrical and home release run, leaving “Effects” to be shelved for nearly thirty years until 2007 when Synapse released the film on DVD. The snag resonates soundly with the group of filmmakers who are probably more than acquainted with their friend and colleague George Romero’s “Night of the Living” and the copyright problem. However, the American Genre Film Archive, or AGFA, began a kickstarter funding campaign to buy a 4K scanner to remaster cult and underground titles to Blu-ray and “Effects” became one of the first selected!

“Day of the Dead” star Joe Pilato stars as special effects technician Dom and Dom is a far cry from being his future role of the sadistic and stir crazy Captain Rhodes. Pilato brings a lot of peace and tranquility to his mild mannered, if not very gullible, character. Along side Pilato is another fellow “Dead” series star, Tom Savini, as portraying not his trade of a special effects tech, but as a producer of sorts in the film. Off camera, Savini handles the gruesome special effects with a straight blade and gunshot sequences. In character, Savini doesn’t stray too far from his character on “Dawn of the Dead,” donning the black leather jacket and sporting a cocky-jerk attitude. Producer John Harrison also has a role as the callus director Lacey Bickel who bosses around his two surface actors “Life of Brian” actor Bernard Mckenna and a “Dead” series dead head zombie in two of Romero’s films, a Mrs. Debra Gordon. McKenna delivers question mark after question mark of a performance that Matthew Lillard, perhaps, imitates the best in Wes Craven’s “Scream” whereas Gordon just provides a straightforward background performance with her scene with Lacey conversing over the idea of stress releasing sex being one of the more intense moments of the movie. Susan Chapek, Charles Hoyes, and Blay Bahnsen complete the cast.

Despite the modest budget, Nelson and his team construct monumental frightening moments. When Dom, Lacey, Lobo, and Barney converse around a mirror laced with coke, Lacey wants to show Dom a film after their sharing their opinions on what the general public will or will not pay to see. The actors’ faces and reactions as the snuff film rolls is on the brink of teeth clenching madness. The catalytic moment bombards questions internally into the group of presumably professional people and starts the separation between whose really in control of their fates. “Effects” is a movie within a movie and a deception within a deception where the characters have more than one role and pinpointing their specific purpose is difficult to land that Nelson’s film will have your head spinning with guesses. A fierce and boldly ambitious film from a scrappy Pittsburgh crew of talented filmmakers taking a risk with an intricate plotted thriller.

AGFA and MVDVisual present Dusty Nelson’s “Effects” for the first time on a region free Blu-ray. The 1980 thriller has been scanned and restored in 4K from the only existent copy of the 35mm negatives and delivered the original aspect ratio, an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1. The image quality is better, but only slight above the Synapse DVD that sourced from 16mm negative and still maintains a healthy dose of noised induced and film grain and print damage. The color palette has a dullish grey-brown combination fairly noticeable to the naked eye. The English DTS-HD dual channel audio has hints of a hiss and faint crackle in more scene intense segments, but relatively clean and clear inside a limited range. Extras included are an updated version of Synapse’s retrospective documentary entitled “After Effects” that brings a stingy melancholy when seeing George Romero converse with his friends. There are also two short films by John Harrison, an archival commentary track, and liner notes by AGFA’s Joseph Ziemba. Plus, the AGFA Blu-ray has a snazzy illustrated cover, with reverse cover art, encasement. “Effects” glorifies snuff film with ample attention to detail and precision that only this Pittsburgh all-star team of filmmakers could produce on a limited budget and AGFA, alongside MVDVisual, amplify their efforts by a hundredfold with a remastered transfer withstanding straight razor home movies, a bombastic car explosion, and cloak and dagger guerilla filmmaking that’ll have you second guessing if the effects are only movie magic or not?

“Effects” on Blu-ray by AGFA and MVDVisual!

Evil Finishes a Long Over Due 90’s SOV! “Jungle Trap” review!


Dr. Chris Carpenter aims to assemble a team of grad students to search for lost idol artifacts from one of the last, and deadliest, known South American native tribes who were thought to be exterminated by a military force. Despite her severe objections, her ex-husband and anthropologist, Dr. Josh Carpenter, is hired by the university department head to lead the expedition to the infamous Palace Hotel, a proclaimed millionaire’s playground overtook by the jungle after the natives beheaded guests and staffed. Unequipped and ill-prepared, the team journey to the most remote parts of South America, winging the entire trip with their haphazard ambitions, and seek means of transportation any way possible even if that means flying in a cramped plane with an alcoholic pilot. Upon their arrival at the Palace Hotel, hotel manager Madam Trudea and her odd bellhop Obie welcome them to the incredulously pristine resort grounds where one-by-one the team ends up dead with their heads chopped clean off and shrunken to fulfill an vengeful oath of retribution.

twenty-seven years. twenty-seven long years since director James Bryan’s film “Jungle Trap” saw the light of viewership day. “The Executioner, Part II” and “Don’t Go Into the Woods” director interlaced his cult filmography with also notable adult features that starred recognizable talent with Ron Jeremy, Peter North, Kitten Natividad, and Kristara Barrington helmed under a pair of monikers Emil Hightower and Morris Deal that Bryan used to separate his classes of work. Unfortunately, Bryan’s colorful career came to a complete and sudden halt right before the decade turn into the 1990’s until Bleeding Skull! Video unearthed haunted hotel in the deep jungle film “Jungle Trap.” Filmed in 1990, Bryan and his co-writer/female lead, Renee Harmon, use the latest and greatest technology of the time, tape. “Jungle Trap’s” shot-on-video, aka VHS, appeal is an exuberance of maddening creativity only bested by the “Troll 2” style bad acting.

Co-writer Renee Harmon stars as Dr. Chris Carpenter, marking the sixth collaboration between Harmon and Bryan along with “Run Coyote Run,” “Hell Riders,” “The Executioner, Part II,” “Lady Street Fighter, and “Boogievision.” Harmon’s relationship to her character, Chris Carpenter, mimics that of Eva Gabor if she had somehow wound up in the thick Jungle instead of that farm on Green Acres. “Night of Terror’s” Frank Neuhaus had more appropriately succumb to the distressed anthropological victim accustomed with this horror and Neuhaus opposite of Harmon, performance wise, is night and day making their former relationship hard to fathom. If there’s one character that was genuinely creepy in “Jungle Trap,” Jan Vanderberg’s bell hopping Obie wins the prize. THe elderly Vanderberg has spry movements, wide-wild eyes, and a sinister smile that mingles around in the grey area of friend or foe. The remaining cast, including Heidi Ahn, Tim de Haas, Valerie Smith, Rhonda Collier, Glen Serebian, Bill Luce, and Bette Bena, share the same remarkably and overly dramatic bad performances that make “Jungle Trap” hard to skip.

I’m sure the picture is starting to materialize. “Jungle Trap” is nowhere near a good movie. However, vast improvements to render the “Jungle Trap” enjoyable, as well as to scrape by finishing the Bryan project, was courteously contributed by Bleeding Skull! Video’s kickstarter initiative. The company has a history of gathering unreleased film’s loose ends, tying them together, and creating a fetching film; in this case, “Jungle Trap” didn’t have a score, wasn’t edited, and was shelved for decades. Now, “Jungle Trap” isn’t a mystery in the public eye, has a semicoherent storyline with an edited in arbitrary opening, and, thanks to the synth-heavy Euro-trashy sounds of Taken by Savages, a gloriously catchy soundtrack has been laid down. The entire package puts more girth and more value into Bryan’s shamefully quaint horror.

Bleeding Skull! Video presents “Jungle Trap” on DVD, VHS, and VOD for the first time! Since provided with a streaming copy, critiquing the audio and video won’t be solid, but the shot-on-video image keeps the obsolete VHS quality attributes with tracking lines galore, blurry-soft quality, and a slew of inconsistent coloring that works under the maestros of Joey Ziemba and Annie Choi, high ranking members of Bleeding Skull! Video, synthesizing a score under the Taken by Savages moniker! There were no extras with the streaming screener, but the 72 minutes feature includes with the VHS and DVD a fold-out poster, making-of documentary, and Bleeding Skull! Video trailers. “Jungle Trap” is a mondo masterpiece, a terrific terrible, with a heart of gold (skull) and a kickass soundtrack from a colorfully careered director who now has this blast from a past as his legacy film.