Special Effects (1984)

special effects

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murder her on film.

Snuff movies have become the thing of urban legends and apparently tapped into society’s morbid curiosity. It is really surprising how many movies and TV-shows have dealt with the topic especially recently. It all started in 1971 with the film Snuff that purportedly dealt with an actual murder of an actress done in front of the camera even though it was faked and not very good, but the film’s tagline ‘Filmed in South America where life is CHEAP’ is at least amusing. There have been films that have tried to make it look very convincing particularly the disturbing ‘Guinea Pig’ series from Japan as well as Cannibal Holocaust that got director Rogero Deodato taken to court to prove that he didn’t actually kill his cast. Although there have been executions, assassinations and suicides that have been recorded and sometimes put into documentaries there has yet to be a performer murdered in front of the camera for commercial purposes.

In today’s movie writer/director Larry Cohen takes this concept and gives it an intriguing spin. Neville (Eric Bogosian) is a down-and-out filmmaker. His last picture bombed at the box office and he is looking to make a buzz with his next project. He is fascinated with the capturing of the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald and how movies can never quite recreate death in the same way. Struggling actress Andrea (Zoe Tamerlis) answers an ad and shows up in his apartment/studio for an audition. Neville uses the allure of potential fame to get the women into bed with him, which he usually films with a camera hidden behind a two-way mirror. During the sex Andrea begins to belittle him, which angers him enough that he strangles her. Realizing that he has the murder captured on film he decides to use it to his advantage. He disposes of the dead body and then hires another woman named Elaine (also played by Tamerlis) who looks just like Andrea to star in his next film. He will then incorporate the scene of the murder into the movie. Audiences will think it was done with special effects and be so impressed with how realistic it looks that it will give Neville numerous accolades for his film making skill and bring him back to the top of the directing world.

Cohen uses the story as an excuse to expose the seedy, unglamorous side of low budget filmmaking many of which based on his own observations from working in the business. One of the more startling revelations that he shows is how the movie world is such an allure to some people that they will completely sell-out to get into it even if it means losing their dignity. This comes to a head in what is probably the film’s strongest scene when Neville is very rude and brash with Elaine when he first meets her. He shouts at her like she is sub-human and simply a piece of property, but the prospect of starring in a movie is so strong that she doesn’t walk out of there like most people would probably want to do. What is worse is the fact that Neville is aware of this and realizes he can get away with it.

The movie also looks how demeaning it can sometimes be being a filmmaker as well. Having to work and deal with various personalities and egos as well as fighting to remain in control of the project and vision. He also shows how exhausting the research phase of a production can be and how breakthroughs and inspirations usually come about by complete accident. The extended scene dealing with them trying to find an actress who resembles Andrea and auditioning hundreds of different women without any luck only to come upon Elaine by complete accident when they go to a Salvation Army store is a good example of this.

Cohen also infuses some creative camera work and directorial flair. The opening sequence showing Andrea prancing around topless in what looks to be the Oval Office of The White House has panache. The shot showing rows upon rows of hundreds of headshots of young and aspiring actresses, which includes an amusing one of Dustin Hoffman in his Tootsie character, lining the floor is impressive. I also liked the way Neville’s apartment is captured when Andrea first walks into it as well as extreme close-ups of circuit breakers being put back into a circuit box, which is really cool.

Tamerlis is fantastic in the lead. She shows a great awareness and natural acting ability in front of the camera. She plays the dual roles with two very distinct personalities and accents both of which are good. Her presence makes the film more interesting and the scenes that she is not in lack the same energy.

Bogosian easily conveys the obnoxious sarcastic personality of his character, but at times his facial expressions seem to be either lacking or over-exaggerated. Brad Rijn who plays Andrea’s husband who later gets involved in Neville’s project is weak and annoying. In some ways he seems to be the right pick for someone playing a country hick, but he has no charisma and looks too scrawny especially with his clothes off.

For a low budget 80’s flick the film has enough twists and a good enough pace to be marginally entertaining. The only thing that I really didn’t like was the synthesized electronic music score that drones on endlessly like in one of those 80’s porn flicks. I think the reason I liked the scene where Andrea’s dead body is shown inside a parked car in a lonely area of Coney Island is because it didn’t have any music and instead used the natural ambience of the location, which helped make it distinct and should’ve been done with the rest of the movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: VHS, DVD

2 responses to “Special Effects (1984)

  1. Hmmm, think based on your review I’ll probably pass on it although it sounds interesting. Bogosian is a strange on-screen presence, never really cared for him, although he was pretty good as the seedy Eddie Nash in Wonderland Drive. I always thought “8mm” with Nicolas Cage was a pretty entertaining film using the taboo subject of snuff films as it’s subject matter.

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