Special Effects
Olive Films // R // $29.95 // October 18, 2016
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 24, 2016
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The Movie:

Written and directed by Larry Cohen in 1984, Special Effects is one of only a handful of movies to have starred the late Zoe Lund, the beautiful actress who will remain immortalized thanks to her iconic performance in Abel Ferrara's seminal Ms. 45. This was her second feature film appearance.

The storyline revolves around a man named Neville (Eric Bogosian), a filmmaker by trade. One night he brings a beautiful girl (played by the aforementioned Ms. Lund) back to his apartment. They have sex, and he films it. Things get out of hand and he kills her, but the camera is still running. Rather than destroy the evidence, Neville comes up with a different idea. Despite the fact that it had production values and all sorts of effects work, his last film flopped. Now he's decided to make a movie about the incident and build a story around the killing. To do this he brings on the victims' husband, Keefe (Brad Rijn), and casts him as the killer. He also finds the victim's doppelganger in the form of a lookalike named Andrea Wilcox (Lund again). He even brings on a cop named Detective Philip Delroy (Kevin O'Connor) to serve as a consultant on the project, just to cover all of his bases.

Of course, none of this will happen as plannedů what would be the fun in that?

A dark satire on the film industry machine, Special Effects isn't Cohen's best film but it's definitely one well worth seeing, particularly for those who already have an affinity for his sometimes very subversive writing and filmmaking style. The concept behind the movie is pretty twisted, but Cohen makes it work. There is humor here, though it is dark. Most of the laughs lie under the surface, however. Cohen is clearly pointing a very barbed finger at Hollywood bigshots, the kind that feel that they can literally get away with murder due to their social standing, power and influence. This is personified with Bogosian's turn as Neville, the ultimate cinematic narcissist and a complete and utter egomaniac. Bogosian is perfect in the part. He's a despicable self-centered bastard who doesn't care who gets hurt in his attempt to rebuild his career. Rarely do you hate a character so much and yet find yourself so captivated by him. Neville is an awful person, but Bogosian turns him into an almost charming sort of devil.

The rest of the cast are interesting. Lund is fetching and beautiful. She was an arthouse darling for a while, despite her substance abuse problems, and she's pretty good here. Occasionally distant and sometimes a bit too aloof for the most part she fits the role really well. Brad Rijn, who also appeared in Cohen's Perfect Strangers and The Stuff, is sometimes the weak link. His performance isn't awful but it isn't always convincing. There are some scenes where we have a bit of trouble buying him in the part because he doesn't seem to have much of an emotional connection to the material. Kevin O'Connor, who horror fans will recognize from Let's Scare Jessica To Death is decent enough as the cop. He doesn't stand out or really seem all that memorable in hindsight but as the movie is playing out, he's fine. For the most part, however, this is Bogosian's show, he acts circles around everyone else in the cast.

Cohen uses some nice New York City location photography to his advantage, the best example being a rather haunting shot where we see a dead body left alone in a car along the Coney Island shore at winter time, the entire area looking quite abandoned. There's something quite eerie about this shot, knowing that it's an area where people go to enjoy themselves, to take in the ocean and to enjoy all the amusements. The pacing is good and there are some stylish setups. The score is very much a product of its time but those who appreciate synth scores will definitely dig the music used in this picture. This is pretty entertaining stuff that offers up some good thrills, solid suspense and a few twisted laughs.

The Blu-ray:


Special Effects arrives on a 25GB Blu-ray from Olive Films framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. Generally speaking the image quality here is quite good. There are a few scenes that do appear a bit softer than others but the picture is clean and nicely detailed with good texture and depth to it. Black levels are nice and solid and color reproduction looks just fine, as do skin tones. There's very little print damage outside of a few minor white specks here and there, while grain appears throughout, looking natural as it should. There are no noticeable problems with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction. No real problems here at all, the movie looks good.


Audio options are provided in English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono with removable subtitles available in English only and generally speaking the track sounds fine. Levels are nicely balanced throughout and the awesome synth-heavy score has good depth to it in spots, as do the sound effects used throughout. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and dialogue stays clean and clear from start to finish.


The main extra on the disc is a commentary with director Larry Cohen and filmmaker Steve Mitchell. These guys have a pretty good vibe going throughout. Cohen's commentary tracks are always great as the guy is just interesting to listen to and often times pretty opinionated. As the two sit down with the film we learn about where the idea for the storyline came from, some of the social commentary inherent in the script, life events that influenced it, casting the picture, the sets and locations and quite a bit more.

Aside from that we also get a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. Final Thoughts:

Olive Films gives Larry Cohen's criminally underappreciated film Special Effects a very nice Blu-ray release. The movie looks and sounds very good and the commentary is pretty great as well. The movie itself holds up, a quirky thriller that is both suspenseful and entertaining. Recommended.

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