Effects (1980)

Director Lacey Bickel is making a low-budget horror film, choosing an isolated house in the Pennsylvania woods for filming.  Helping him with the project is a two-man crew composed of Dominic, the cinematographer and special effects artist, and Celeste, the gaffer.  The acting troupe is equally small, consisting of Barney and his wife, Rita.  As the crew lives and works around the house, Lacey secretly has another crew filming their every move.

Bickel soon adds another friend of his, Nicky, to the acting troupe and introduces him to Dominic.  The two of them had an earlier encounter with each other in the local bar over Celeste, and there is a lot of tension and dislike between the two.  Celeste and Dominic become closer and wind up sleeping together.  They are unaware that Bickel’s hidden crew is filming their sexual encounter.

Sometime later, Dominic snorts coke with Lacey, Barney, and their mutual friend Lobo.  Afterward, Lacey shows Dominic a snuff film – a film where the actors are supposedly actually killed during the filming.  In the movie, a masked man ties a woman to a chair and sadistically makes incisions all over her body before slicing her throat.  The snuff film revolts Dominic, but he agrees with Bickel that people would pay a lot of money to see it.  Bickel admits he directed the film, and all the violence was not real, but created with special effects.Lacey admits to directing the film and tells him it was not real, but special effects.

Getting back to filming, Dominic looks for a prop razor needed for the upcoming scene and looks in Barney’s room for it.  While searching the room, he finds a stack of photos and recognizes a bound woman in the photos as an exotic dancer the crew hired earlier.  Barney enters the room, startling Dominic, and shows him the razor’s location and escorts out to film the scene.

The next morning, Bickel, needing more background footage,  convinces Dominic to accompany Nicky and Lobo up into the mountains to film the area.  Once they are in the hills, Nicky tries to shoot Dominic with a shotgun.  The shot misses its mark and Dominic trips, falling down the hill and fracturing his ankle.  A frightened and injured Dominic is pursued by Nicky and Lobo through the wooded terrain as Bickel’s hidden second crew films everything.  Bickel watches the live footage of the pursuit on the control room monitors while Celeste angrily tells him that Dominic was not supposed to be hurt.

In the woods, Dominic gains entry into a hunting cabin to hide from his pursuers.  Scratch, assisting Nicky and Lobo in their hunt for Dominic, enters the cabin but does not see Dominic and leaves.  Unable to find him anywhere else, Scratch returns to the cabin, and a desperate Dominic beats him to death with a fireplace poker.  Leaving the cabin after arming himself with Scratch’s shotgun, Dominic attempts to return to the filming location but passes out in the woods from pain and exertion.

Bickel continues filming in Dominic’s absence, shooting Rita’s death scene, which turns out to be all too real as a depraved Barney slashes her to death with a razor.  Bickel betrays Barney as well, shooting him in the head with a real pistol during his death scene.  Regaining consciousness, Dominic returns to the house in time to see Celeste shoot Bickel in the stomach and the head, telling the visibly shaken Dominic that Bickel murdered Rita and Barney.

Before Dominic can react to the shocking events, Nicky and Lobo arrive at the house intent on killing him.  While attempting to escape, Dominic is forced to shoot and kill Nicky.  Reaching his car, Dominic drives off with a hysterical Celeste, who tells him that killing Nicky was not in the script.  Shocked, Dominic stops the car and demands to know what she is talking about.  Before Celeste can answer, the car explodes, killing them both.  An unharmed Bickel watches the explosion and ensures that his second unit cinematographer got the shot.  A short time later, Bickel’s latest film, Duped, is premiered.

Effects is a fascinating and well-made low-budget film.  The script is full of numerous twists and turns that keep the viewer guessing as to everyone’s motives.  By the film’s end, the audience shares Dominic’s confusion and incomprehension of the movie’s events.  Throughout the entire film, Celeste and all the others have manipulated Dominic, staging fights, romantic interludes, and the like to get the footage they need for their movie without realizing that Bickel is manipulating them as well.

Bickel’s new film, Duped, is aptly named and can describe almost everyone that came into contact with him.  He dupes Dominic into believing he was a cinematographer on Bickel’s new project when in reality he was an unwitting actor in Bickel’s actual movie. Bickel also dupes the other players, enlisting the depraved Barney to murder his wife on film before eventually turning on him also.  Even Celeste, who seems to be in on the whole operation, duping Dominic into thinking their relationship was real when it was just an acting job for her, becomes a victim as Bickel kills her along with Dominic for his finale.  Ultimately, the audience itself is duped by Effects, as the events unfolding on screen suggest a story that does not exist and they are just as schocked and confused as Dominic when the truth is known.

Tom Savini also had acting roles in the genre films Heartstopper (1989) and From Dusk Till Dawn (1993).  Joseph Pilato appeared in Day of the Dead (1985) and Wishmaster (1997).

Running Time: 84 minutes


Joseph F. Pilato, Susan Chapek, John Harrison, Bernard McKenna, Debra Gordon, Tom Savini, Chuck Hoyes, Blay Bahnson, Joe Wittkofski, John Sutton, Dave Belko, Jackie Lehane, Cindy Sebastian, Bobbi Van Eman, Duke Snyder, Kim Snyder, Doug Harrison, Dave Andrews, Ramona Zini, Martin Schiff, Nancy Allen, Tom Turich


Executive Producer – John S. Harrison Jr.; Producer – Pasquale Buba; Director – Dusty Nelson; based on the novel “Snuff” by – William H. Mooney; Written by – Dusty Nelson; Music – John Harrison;  Special Effects – Tom Savini


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