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Blu-ray Reviews: August 22, 2017

A sampling of this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of capsule reviews.


Distributor: The American Genre Film Archive (AGFA)

Cobbled together with loose change by George Romero’s friends, Effects is a mesmerizing D.I.Y. frightmare that no one talks about, but everyone should. A group of coked-up filmmakers — including Tom Savini, Joe Pilato, and John Harrison — gather in Pittsburgh to make a slasher. As filming begins and accidents happen, it’s clear that something isn’t right. And no one can be trusted. Landing somewhere between Snuff and a student film by John Carpenter, Effects is a meta-enhanced takedown on the philosophy of horror that doubles as a sleazy and terrifying movie on its own.

Effects, the film long lost and whispered about by horror fans and those general movie watchers fascinated by special effects, is finally on Blu-ray, following on its quiet DVD release from a few years ago. Very much a self-examination of the state of the horror genre on its audience, what may seem like a tired concept today was pretty novel back in Effects’ 1980 production year. Feeling somewhat like a lost film from George A. Romero (whose passing still weighs heavily even all these weeks later), Effects was shot in his native Pittsburgh, where Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were shot, and features many of the director’s collaborators. Joe Pilato, the maniacal Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead, essays the lead role of Dominic, a special effects man on a low-budget horror film who, unbeknownst to him, is being prepped for a significant on-screen role. Alongside him are frequent Romero collaborator Tom Savini, who has pulled down make-up effects, acting, and stuntman duties on many of the director’s films, plays Nicky, and Creepshow composer and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie director John Harrison plays unhinged director Lacey Bickel, who effortlessly exudes an unlikability which perfectly suits the kind of character he’s playing.

Once the novelty of seeing all these Romero collaborators embarking together to make a self-exploration of filmmaking begins to wear off, what slowly rolls in to take its place is an undeniable plodding pace and uneven performances. If one were to sit down with Effects and begin watching just for the sake of those involved, with no sense of the film’s actual plot, they would be wondering by the 45-minute mark just where all of this was going. “What is this? A drama? A doomed romance? A horror film in the making?” Well, in a way, it’s all of those, and it’s a worthy effort with a worthy message that would later be explored by future horror films – many of them with better results.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Right off the bat, expectations must be tempered. Though a 4K restoration was performed on a rare and surviving 35mm theatrical print, Effects still looks very rough, and sadly much of its 4K work gets lost. The print is fairly damaged and uneven, hobbling along and exhibiting multiple signs of wear and tear, scratches, and even a hair or two for good measure. Audio pretty much matches the video, offering somewhat hissy dialogue with not much oomph in scenes that call for it. Both PQ and AQ here leave a lot to be desired, but there’s likely not much that could have been done on such a mistreated title.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

Effects’ Blu-ray release is one of those situations where its supplements are more interesting than the film being discussed. For instance, the simply titled “After Effects,” is comprehensive, running much longer than the actual feature, and finally includes the Romero we could feel permeating throughout Effects’ running time.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • NEW 4K restoration (master struck from the only 35mm theatrical print in existence)
  • Archival commentary track with John Harrison, Dusty Nelson, and Pasquale Buba
  • After Effects documentary with optional commentary track
  • Beasite – short film
  • UBU – short film
  • Liner notes by Joseph A. Ziemba of AGFA and Bleeding Skull!

OVERALL:

As a curiosity, and look at the kind of low budget filmmaking that was ongoing in Pittsburgh, and would go on to launch many genre careers, Effects is certainly worth a look. But for those interested in it merely as a film, without reverence for those involved or the time and place it was made, it’s likely to disappoint. A slow pace and a somewhat meandering plot make it a tough watch, but its Blu-ray release from the AFGA, who have been consistently focusing their attention on films with little mainstream appeal but lavishing them as much as they can, is absolutely worthy of praise. PQ and AQ might not be stellar, but the supplements are. As a film, recommended, but only to Romero and family devotees. To everyone else, tread carefully.


Distributor: Lionsgate

In the future world, a physicist’s experiment to harness unlimited energy goes wrong. Chased by drones and soldiers, Will Porter (Dan Stevens) must race through an imploding world and retrieve the Redivider box to save his family — and all of humanity!

At this point in tech time, video games have become as cinematic as cinema — and depending on what you consider to be “cinema” these days, probably more. Though the player’s perspective has changed, going from flat 2D to a fully immersing first-person point of view, one approach has remained a dependable constant: grabbing a gun and blowing the hell out of something, be it Nazis (topical!), zombies, or Nazi zombies.

As video games became more cinematic, the notion to turn them into films more routinely soon became too tempting to ignore. This was, however, how the Resident Evil series came to be, an eight-film franchise that managed to spawn exactly one installment that was mostly watchable. (Guess which one.) From Resident Evil came Doom, the first to to experiment with the first-person POV, presenting action segments by having a pair of muscular arms grabbing a gigantic weapon in the foreground of the screen. If Disney’s Back to the Future Ride made you toss your cookies, then Doom was the next step in cookie-tossing.

Lastly, from Doom, came Hardcore Henry — the first film to embrace the first-person POV but present the entire film in this manner. Cookies didn’t have a chance. While Hardcore Henry was far away from being what could be termed as a “good” film, it was lots of fun, offered hugely epic action sequences and a cutting sense of humor (mostly from the revolving door characters played by Sharlto Copley), and — above all — didn’t take things too seriously.

Which brings us to Kill Switch, a little too heavily inspired by the Half Life video game series, all while resembling very little from it. Though Kill Switch straddles the line between traditional narrative and first-person POV, it’s actually a little surprising to see that it’s the traditional scenes that offer the only thing closely resembling audience engagement, while the first-person POV stuff comes off bland and boring, complemented by some atrocious voice acting courtesy of Dan Stevens. (Take a drink every time he witnesses something insane and says, “What the…?” with an evident lack of alarm.)

Kill Switch, to its credit, boasts an interesting concept and tremendous special effects, but unfortunately that’s all it can boast.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Thankfully, at least Kill Switch looks and sounds great. The actual environments in which he film takes place are either cold and sterile (interiors), or bleak, desolate, and cold (exteriors — think Russia), but the visual effects more than make up for it, offering tremendous clarity and  eye-candy chaos. As for audio, I’d imagine that fans of the film would get a lot of mileage out of playing this one loud. The audio presentation is excellent.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • “The Visual Effect: Inside the Director’s Process” Featurette
  • Audio Commentary with Director Tim Smit

 OVERALL:

If you’re intrigued by the notion of the first-person POV/first-person shooter approach to an action film, but would like to see something with a pulse, see Hardcore Henry instead. Give this one a hard pass.


Also Available This Week:

Distributor: Shout! Factory Select

A small Maori village faces a crisis when the heir to the leadership of the Ngati Konohi dies at birth and is survived only by his twin sister, Pai (Academy Award® nominee* Keisha Castle-Hughes). Although disregarded by her grandfather and shunned by the people of her village, twelve-year-old Pai remains certain of her calling and trains herself in the ways and customs of her people. With remarkable grace and courage, Pai summons the strength to both challenge and embrace a thousand years of tradition in order to fulfill her destiny.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary With Director Niki Caro
  • “Te Waka: Building The Canoe” Featurette
  • “Behind-The-Scenes Of Whale Rider” Featurette
  • Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary
  • Poster Art And Photo Gallery

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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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