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Special Effects (Blu-ray Review)

Special-EffectsLarry Cohen is no stranger to B-movie cinema geeks like myself.  He’s mostly known for all kinds of genre fare, like Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff, the It’s Alive movies and even a sequel to Salem’s Lot.  But, the man really got his start in Blaxploitation cinema, crafting a couple of Fred “The Hammer” Williamson’s strongest efforts with Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem.  Aside from his own stuff, he has written plenty of other films.  He’s a New York filmmaker and has plenty of experience in “the biz”.  After doing the monster film Q, in 1984 he opted to do two thrillers.  One of those was a satirical look at Hollywood and filmmaking.  It was a sort of different route for the director.  That film is Special Effects.

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Film 

When the fresh-faced Oklahoma country boy Keefe comes looking for his wife Mary Jean, a wannabe actress, he soon discovers the seamy side of Tinsel Town when Mary Jean is found dead and he’s the prime suspect. In an devious and twisted turn, he becomes involved in the industry himself.  With a few swipes at Hollywood archetypes, Special Effects offers chills, thrills, shrieks, and a few laughs along the way.

Larry Cohen’s venture into thriller cinema finds him aping one of cinema’s greats; Brian DePalma.  Funny how many criticized DePalma of borrowing from Hitchcock and here we have someone borrowing from him.  If anything this is a low rent DePalma film.  It has the intrigue, the sexiness, the sleaze and overall structure that one would find in a film of his.  However, this has some lesser talent and lesser production value.  Like the playing telephone version of a DePalma film.

That’s not to say that the technical aspects aren’t worth any merit.  This does have a bit of 80s flare to it, but its also used in some beautiful sets and styles.  There are also some really good lighting moments as well as memorable shots in the film.  What also shouldn’t go unnoticed is the score in the film.  Its synthesized and its pretty awesome.  It has the wavy breezy attitude of a Blade Runner score mixed with some more intensity of some of the 80s Cannon action films (If that comparison makes a lick of sense).

As much as this film sells itself as a satire, most of the humor is super dark if intended to be humorous at all.  There are some laughs, but for the most part I felt this plays it very safe.  Maybe that was a pitfall of the movie at the time of release, but it surely is fine now.  One humorous moment I really did enjoy was when the director was going through many headshots of actresses quickly and one of them was Tootsie (From the Dustin Hoffman movie of the same name).

Special Effects was a nice little surprise that I’d never seen before and very different from most of the filmography I’m familiar with of Larry Cohen.  If there’s one scratch is that its a bit long and the schtick doesn’t hold on too well the longer it goes.  Its nice to see Ms. 45 herself Zoe Lund in another nice meaty role.  Eric Bogosian I found to be fun, though I could see some people rolling their eyes at him and hating every time he opens his mouth.  Aside from that, this one works pretty well.  Check it out.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-25

Clarity/Detail: Special Effects’ Blu-ray debut features a film cinematic or film print look to it, which is pretty terrific.  It features a nice detailed image that feels full and with good coloring.  Clothing is a highlight, which has patterns, textures and fabrics that fuzz up and can be make out very cleanly.  Wrinkles and bunches in silk sheets also come through.  Due to the grain, the image has a bit of softness to it, but for what it is, it looks pretty sharp and defined.  Olive Films looks to have taken a very “hands off” approach to this transfer and it seems to have used a very good print of the film.

Depth:  Decent dimensional work here.  Nothing very special, but there are some good foreground and background separations.  Background imagery can appear pretty detailed depending on the focus.  Characters movements are chronicled very cinematically.

Black Levels:  Grain structure is more apparent and a little heavier in nighttime or darkly lit scenes.  Details can be hidden those as well.  However, worry not as Eric Bogosian’s incredible curls can be made out down to the follicle in most scenes. No crushing apparent on this viewing.

Color Reproduction:  This movie is hitting the sweet spot of the 80s where colors would burst out.  This transfer manages to present them well and full, but without bleeding or becoming overly vibrant.  Pinks, reds, purples and many flashier colors look quite lovely in this image.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones have a natural look and maintain that appearance from scene to scene for the duration of the film.  Scratches, dried blood, stubble, moles and even some make-up brush strokes can be seen in medium and close-up shots.

Noise/Artifacts:  The picture is pretty clean and the print in good shape.  There is a nice layer of grain that features just a few moments of dirt/specs.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  Special Effects features a really clean and crisp mono track.  There are some good, deep lows in this mix that help keep it from sounding dated and crummy.  Vocals, effects, and music are woven in quite nicely.  The all-star of the mix may be the score.  Synth wanders around in the mix, coloring up the background with ambient music or taking front and center with good presence.  This is a very rock solid mono mix that more than does the trick for this film.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Vocals are capture fully, with plenty of depth and you can hear good breaths and pieces of diction.  The mix has good clarity and audibility.

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Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Larry Cohen and Filmmaker Steve Mitchell

Trailer (HD, 1:42)

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Summary 

Special Effects proves to be a fun little low grade thriller that could qualify as one of those “forgotten” films.  Olive Films drops it on Blu-ray with a presentation that should appease fans and newcomers.  The image has a very filmic look to it and the audio track is far more than solid.  You’re also treated to a solid audio commentary as bonus with Larry Cohen himself.  If you’re curious or are a fan, you should really just pick it up, as it currently has a really low pre-order/week 1 pricepoint.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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