Effects (1978): This meta horror flick predates The Blair Witch Project!

NOVI, MI - MAY 18: Tom Savini attends Motor City Comic Con at Suburban Collection Showplace on May 18, 2013 in Novi, Michigan. (Photo by Paul Warner/Getty Images)
NOVI, MI - MAY 18: Tom Savini attends Motor City Comic Con at Suburban Collection Showplace on May 18, 2013 in Novi, Michigan. (Photo by Paul Warner/Getty Images) /

In 1978, well before The Blair Witch Project, Dusty Nelson’s Effects featured an innovative, parodic, “scary-movie-within-a-scary-movie” story. The problem is, this meta-horror wasn’t released until October of 2005! This movie has a few other characteristics that might have please horror fans: (1) It features Tom Savini, John Harrison, and Joseph Pilato (all known as George A. Romero collaborators), and (2) it’s about a director making a snuff film while others think it’s just another horror movie.

While I normally might have avoided saying that, the film’s trailer basically gives that premise away, and it’s a safe bet that anyone who knows about Effects has probably heard about its basic premise (again, this movie was actually made way back in ’78). By now, you might find Effects available from many different places online. Fortunately, the American Genre Film Archive undertook a 4K transfer from the original film print in 2017. In other words, people took action to prevent this from easily become a “lost film.”

Is ‘Effects’ any good?

Obviously, everyone has different standards and tastes. I mentioned The Blair Witch Project earlier, which is coincidentally a great example of diverse opinion. Some people think it’s a masterpiece, others treat it as trash, and others still hate it but nevertheless admire the genius-level marketing skills that sold The Blair Witch Project to moviegoers. In contrast, Effects still seems to be a bit under-the-radar, even though some will surely seek it out, and some will enjoy it.

Personally, I didn’t watch it out of some horror fan obligation, or at the behest of my country. I pretty much randomly watched it, saw some good elements, then learned more of its history afterward. That’s probably the best way to approach this, lest you get your expectations built up too much. You probably will not find Effects as masterful as, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or that other snuff-film-themed classic, 8MM (I recommend that one even to Nicolas Cage haters). In fact, it almost seems factually wrong to call Effects a classic because let’s face it, it was never really given the chance to properly emerge as one.

As for the movies’ strengths, I like the idea of actors and crews not quite knowing what they’re in for, before, during, and maybe after they are finished with their movie. I think the acting is also pretty decent. In addition to Savini and Pilato, Susan Chapek and John Harrison (known for composing music George A. Romero films as well) give decent p0erformances. Of course, another possible positive: As the characters are part of a film crew, you actually get to see what grips and gaffers do for a film (though, in these circumstances, you’ll wonder if they should follow a director’s orders).

‘Effects’ encourages us to ask: Can we trust this sh**?

Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left  is partly remembered for its tagline of “It’s only a movie, only a movie…”  This movie could have used that same tagline. I know movies come and go, but it seems this one unfairly didn’t get a fair chance due to its being shelved, but also because it’s barely hanging on to the thread of the genre, as it tries rather successfully to look real and leaves aside many standard horror gimmicks and tropes (though some of those weren’t even invented yet).

Because it’s not as shocking as some other horror films, it’ll probably never catch on like wildfire, even though it seems Dusty Nelson knows his way around a film (interestingly, he did work on the crew of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, at least for a number of episodes).

On the bright side, you can currently watch Effects on Screambox (including the Amazon Prime channel), Tubi, or Vudu, among a few others (as of 5-29-21). This movie had the chutzpah to do something different in the genre.   It’s interesting to compare this movie to others that followed it, aside from Blair Witch.   One might also compare it a bit to Cabin in the Woods, or even Wes Craven’s Scream for that self-aware meta-horror dynamic. Lastly, yes, we can all agree that enjoying horror movies makes us a little bit creepy, but most of us don’t take it this far.

What are your thoughts on Effects? let us know in the comments!

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