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Larry Cohen's "Special Effects" is an average snuff-themed horror film.Eric Bogosian plays here an on-the-decline director who murders a starlet(brilliant Zoe Tamerlis,who sadly died in 1999)on camera and decides to use a dead ringer to make a film about the killing."Special Effects" is average-the script is mediocre and the action is dull at times.Still the snuff/murder scene(the strangling)is pretty nasty!The ending is also effective.All in all I'd recommend this film for undemanding horror fans-it's really nothing special,but if you want a passable time-killer...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Zoë Lund stars in dual roles, her first being a wannabe star, Mary
Jane, a woman who ran out on her husband and son for a life as an
actress..her dream is snuffed out(pun intended)when she has the
misfortune of showing up at the massive art deco home of failed
director, Christopher Neville(Eric Bogosion), whose decorum has a
strange emphasis on flowers. Neville, reacting to Mary Jane's insulting
in a moment of furious anger, strangles her when she ridicules his
recent firing from a big budget Hollywood movie, after becoming upset
that he has a camera hidden behind a mirror to film them having sex.
Keefe Waterman(Brad Rijn)is the third party in this situation, Mary
Jean's husband, who had come to New York City to take her home, even if
it was against her will. Leaving MJ's dead cleaned body in Keefe's
station wagon on Coney Island, Neville has just gotten away with the
perfect murder. Even worse, Keefe is arrested for MJ's murder when
there were witnesses seeing the disgruntled husband forcing her into
the station wagon to go to her apartment to get some things. Neville
decides, after realizing he had recorded the murder on film, to shoot a
biography on MJ's life, with plans to implicate Keefe by getting him
out on bail and in the movie! Kevin O'Conner is Detective Phillip
Delroy, the cop on MJ's case, who is included as an adviser on the
film! It's a way for Neville(a clever, calculating, cold-blooded
bastard)to seduce Delroy by having him part of the "Hollywood process"
and soon another will become enamored in the title role, a feminist
named Andrea(Zoë Lund's second role)Keefe discovers at Salvation Army.
Andrea loses her own identity as she immerses herself in the role of
MJ, having a hard time overcoming the allure of being part of this
movie. When we see Neville strangle a blackmailer with film(that tears
into the victim's throat), we know he's not playing for keeps. When
Keefe ruins the snuff footage, Neville has plans to stage the scene
again, this time Andrea's life is in danger.
Another one of those great Larry Cohen oddities, I think he had Marilyn Monroe in mind as inspiration for the roles of Andrea and Mary Jean. It's interesting, I was thinking about actors/actresses who spend a lifetime portraying other people, and having a hard time determining where the character ends and real person begins. I think that is what really spoke to me as I was watching SPECIAL EFFECTS. I think the draw of Hollywood is what Cohen uses most in his satiric(albeit a dark one)script for the movie. Kudos to Zoë Lund for portraying two distinct personalities, Mary Jean, selfish and self-absorbed, yearning for success, and willing to bed Neville in order to do so, & Andrea, a vocal, blunt, honest woman who sees through the director's bullcrap, often calling him out for the phony that he is(as she puts it, he's always working a routine, never authentic in anything he does), but not denying the thrill of being in his film. I think Cohen establishes in the opening dialogue that Neville was destined to commit murder, describing Zapruder as his most favorite director because he caught a real murder on film. Cohen makes sure to incorporate the title within his script as Neville is notorious for blowing a budget primarily on special effects, obviously wanting to make his pictures as authentic as film will allow. Unusual synth score and, as typical for a Cohen production, good use of New York locations. I personally found SPECIAL EFFECTS a fascinating film(not average at all, although the ending where Neville finally gets his comeuppance, is kind of a cop out)with layers, and was entranced by Zoë Lund..there's just something about her that holds me in a trance, I'm not sure what it is about her. The final scene, where Andrea makes a decision to "adopt a new personality", is quite intriguing, I think..resisting Keefe's desire for her to be Mary Jean, instead of who she really is, there's a subtext regarding "playing the role" which I found compelling.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A failed movie director kills an actress he is auditioning for a film. He then begins to make a film about her life and tries to frame her boyfriend in the process. An interesting idea is hampered by rather uneven performances, poor plotting, and a low budget. One wonders what the master of the genre Hitchcock could have done with this. My rating: 5 out of 10.
Eric Bogosian of "Talk Radio" fame stars as Chris Neville, a hotshot
young filmmaker. His career is going downhill fast, so he decides to
try something unusual. He films himself murdering aspiring starlet Mary
Jean (the late Zoe Lund of "Ms. 45" cult stardom), then proceeds to
make a movie telling Mary Jeans' sad life. Swept into the filmmaking
process are Mary Jeans' husband Keefe (Brad Rijn, "Smithereens"), and
the detective (Kevin O'Connor, "Let's Scare Jessica to Death")
investigating the case; the detective quickly gets stars in his eyes.
Neville actually finds a young woman who's a dead ringer for the
murdered actress, also played by Lund.
There is a good idea here, about satirizing the entire movie-making business, and showing what happens as real life and reel life blend together. It's written and directed by low budget movie icon Larry Cohen, so you know that he will come up with some interesting material, and movie moments. (It IS intriguing to think what a filmmaker of Brian De Palmas' sensibilities could have done with this!) It's a good blend of art and trash, with a little bit of sex and shots of the beautiful Lund baring her body. It's also a marvel of art direction: dig that garish studio and townhouse in which Neville does his dirty work. Perhaps the most entertainment value arises out of O'Connor enjoying his "technical adviser" capacity and becoming fixated on receiving the appropriate credits. Given that Neville is such a smarmy character, you watch and keep waiting for him to get his just desserts. Michael Minard supplies a fun electronic score that unfortunately is used a little too much.
The performances are fine. Lund has a field day in her dual roles. Bogosian is superb as the creepy director. Rijn, O'Connor, Bill Oland, H. Richard Greene ('Mad Men'), and Steven Pudenz offer fine support.
The most striking image of all: Neville standing on a floor completely covered with headshots. (Among those he thumbs through is one of Dustin Hoffman as "Dorothy Michaels" in "Tootsie".)
Seven out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Arrogant and unscrupulous down-on-his-luck faded former big shot director Chris Neville (an excellent live-wire performance by Eric Bogosian) films himself murdering naive aspiring actress Andrea Wilcox (the gorgeous Zoe Tamerlis of "Ms. 45" fame). Neville decides to make a movie around the snuff footage and hires sassy lookalike Elaine (also played by Tamerlis) to portray Andrea in the picture. Neville even convinces Andrea's earnest, clean-cut hick husband Keefe Waterman (likable Brad Rjin) to be himself in the life and persuades pesky, hard-nosed Detective Philip Delroy (a fine turn by Kevin O'Connor) to serve as a technical adviser. Writer/director Larry Cohen, taking a break from his usual monster horror affairs like "Q" and "The Stuff," expertly crafts a deliciously twisted and absorbing thriller which unfolds at a gradual, yet hypnotic pace, offers a fascinatingly cynical inside look at the film-making process, maintains a properly bleak and eerie tone throughout, and builds a reasonable amount of tension as it culminates in one doozy of a startling double whammy surprise conclusion. Cohen gets a lot of intriguing millage out of distorting reality and astutely explores such weighty themes as the dangerously seductive allure of cinema, the manipulation of the truth, and American culture's obsession with making stars out of nobodies. The acting is uniformly sturdy and impressive, with Tamerlis a particular stand-out in a demanding dual role. As a tasty added bonus, Tamerlis bares her beautiful body a few times. Paul Glickman's glossy, glittering cinematography, Michael Minard's shivery, flesh-crawling synthesizer score, and the gritty New York City locations all further enhance the overall sound quality of this spooky, unsettling, and underrated little pip.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Special Effects (1984): Dir: Larry Cohen / Cast: Zoe Tamerlis Lund, Eric Bogosian, Brad Rijn, Kevin O'Connor, Bill Oland: Innovative thriller that counters special effects with reality. Eric Bogosian plays a sleazy filmmaker who strangles a would-be actress and films it. Her husband is charged with the murder since he aggressively hated the lifestyle she led, particularly when he catches her doing a striptease for a group of males in the film's opening. Central plot regards Bogosian in negotiations with police in a film that recreates the horrific murder. They manage to find a young woman whose appearance greatly resembles the murder victim. With that said, she is to play that role, while the decease's widow reluctantly portray himself. Director Larry Cohen previously made It's Alive and Q but here he is aided by one of his best screenplays. Zoe Tamerlis Lund is a stunning and beautiful presence in duo roles fresh off her rousing performance in Ms. 45. She plays the niave murder victim as well as the lookalike caught up in the scheme. Bogosian plays off the sadistic desire of a filmmaker to bypass fiction with reality. Brad Rijn plays the husband caught up in a film that can falsely expose him as a murderer. The detectives are standard issue although one desires film credit for his involvement. The result is an underrated thriller with a lot of nudity, thrills and absolutely no special effects. Score: 8 ½ / 10
Special Effects is kind of a serious parody, if that makes any sense,
of what De Palma did back in the 80's (or perhaps Larry Cohen's work
too), where a filmmaker becomes a murderer when he lets in a would-be
actress to his home, films having sex with her and also films the act
of death. But instead of going on the run or just hiding it and going
on with his life, he decides to make a movie about this girl, using
Keefe, the girl's husband (played by Brad Rijn), getting a police
detective to be a consultant (because who needs to solve any crimes)
and, via Keefe making a trip to the Salvation Army and her just
happening to work there, a girl who with a hair change looks just like
the dead Andrea Wilcox (both played by Zoe Lund of Ms 45 fame).
Eric Bogosian is the reason to see the movie, playing this nasty, brutal director with some level of... do we call it humanity? He sometimes plays it over the top, but not in a way where it chews the scenery. He is really there to be the best actor he can be, which is more than can be said of Lund (who is maybe half-good, not as Wilcox but as the 'new' Andrea, Elaine), and certainly not Rijn, who tellingly only made a few movies and is just terrible here as this angry, despondent husband.
Maybe the problem is that Cohen is just a bit too obvious with his satire, or maybe, in a way, not obvious enough. This should be really funny - once or twice I did laugh, more from the police detective's meddling - and when he does an actual sex scene with two characters it stops the movie dead in its tracks. Special Effects has a little fun with its premise, which is rather dark and takes not just from De Palma but liberally from Hitchcock (Vertigo, duh) and even Peeping Tom with the idea of a camera that, ahem, kills in its way. It also has a rather obnoxious 80's synth soundtrack, which could be fine in small doses but is laid over every scene like a cocaine-diddled cloak. And the horror scenes, when they come, are kind of shoddily filmed.
But, again, if you like Eric Bogosian, this is one of his better performances, and a good indication of what he would do later in the decade with Talk Radio.
After making a disastrous, special-effects laden film, a movie director decides to make a low budget biography of a murdered actress. To make her murder look as real as possible the director murders the actress himself. Could have been a very good film about snuff films, but the film's direction is a letdown. Zoe (Ms. 45) Lund (in a dual role) and particularly Eric Bogosian are very good in their respective roles of the murdered actress and the actress playing her, and the Cecil B. Demented director. Brian DePalma would have had a field day with this film.
I'm a really big fan and admirer of writer/director Larry Cohen. Are cult, horror and exploitation fanatics even fully aware of all the things he did?!? Cohen co-created the super successful Blaxploitation genre, with milestones like "Bone", "Black Caesar" and "Hell up in Harlem". He also invented the bizarrely uniquely and blackly comical monster trilogy "It's Alive", as well as several other imaginative and unforgettable horror gems like "The Stuff", "Q The Winged Serpent" and "The Ambulance". Larry Cohen is also a very versatile and experimental director who even tried out religious thriller ("God told me to"), werewolf comedy ("Full Moon High") and political biography ("The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover"). But I'll also tell you what Larry Cohen is not, though He's not Brian DePalma. Cohen penned it down for himself to direct, but here's one script he maybe should have donated to De Palma With its convoluted plot and an ambiance reminiscent to "Blow Out" and "Obsession", this film is straight up the alley of Brian De Palma and he presumably would have done more with it. "Special Effects" is a very Hitchcockian thriller about a flamboyant but failing NY movie director who goes berserk whilst seducing an aspiring young actress and strangles her on camera. He Chris Neville dumps her body on Coney Island but after meeting his victim's desperate husband he develops the brilliant idea of turning is crime into a movie! He casts the husband as the naive culprit, an unknown look-alike as the willing victims and he even hires the investigating police detective as counselor. Half dark satire and half serious thriller, "Special Effects" is overly talkative and quite often too dull. In sheer contrast to Cohen's other films, there's very little violence and bloodshed in this movie, but the two murder sequences that are shown are quite unsettling and macabre. Practically all characters are hateful and unidentifiable, even the ones that are supposed to be likable ones. I'm not a fan of Eric Bosogian, but he's ideally cast as the megalomaniac director, who lives in a bizarrely decorated loft full of flowers and ugly relics. Zoë Tamerlis stars in a double role, as the strangled actress and her dead ringer, but doesn't impress in either of them. Tamerlis is considered a cult heroine by many exploitation fanatics, but apart from her sole legendary role in Abel Ferrara's "Ms. 45" and dying far too young she didn't really accomplish a lot. Who knows, perhaps the whole "aspiring actresses dying whilst trying" premise was Larry Cohen's own personal tribute to Dorothy Stratten who tragically died at the age of 20 in 1980. Like Tamerlis' character in the beginning of the film, Stratten also was a naive and overly enthusiast young beauty who surrounded herself with the wrong men. By getting murdered at such a tender age, before her career even properly started, she became more famous and legendary that an actual long-running career ever could have made her.
Nicely twisted and rather unpredictable thriller, with a very interesting character played by Bogosian. Worth a check...
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