Plot: Chris Neville (Eric Bogosian) is a film director with ambition and vision, but his work isn’t often well received and while his artistic merit is sometimes praised, he struggles to break through. Despite his failures, Neville remains supremely confident in his vision, so he is certain his next movie will be the one that turns him into a legend, provided he can get it made. In the meanwhile, he meets a beautiful young woman named Mary Jean (Zoe Lund) and Neville turns on a hidden camera, to record the night’s sexual congress. But when he decides to kill Mary Jean in the middle of the act, he realizes he has found his cinematic masterpiece. At the same time, Mary Jean’s husband Keefe (Brad Rijn) is hot on her trail and winds up pulled into Neville’s twisted vision, as he wants to tell Mary Jean’s story in his next movie. As Neville begins production on the picture, the real investigation unfolds and Keefe finds himself painted as the main suspect, while Neville cozies up to the detectives involved. Will Neville be caught before he can finish the movie or has he finally uncovered the path to cinematic immortality, via this all too real tragic tale?
Entertainment Value: If you’ve ever wanted to see Larry Cohen’s take on Brian De Palma’s take on Alfred Hitchcock, Special Effects is the film that delivers on just that concept. The end result is by no means a classic thriller, but I think it is a fun watch and Cohen doesn’t hold back on the grit and nastiness. The narrative is serious in tone, but feels like a satire at times, as it is so convoluted and filled with cliche after cliche that the genre is known for. I’m sure some dislike the muddled plot, but I think it adds to the film’s ridiculous atmosphere. If you’re going to make a thriller with an overly complicated narrative, might as well as go for it, right? I also like flawed, dysfunctional style characters, so the movie had my attention throughout, as these are indeed characters with a lot of issues. And when you throw these characters into the overcooked plot of Special Effects, this takes the convolution to the next level, especially when some of the performances are dialed up like this. So if you want a serious, sincere thriller, Special Effects isn’t likely to satisfy that urge, but if you like a more ludicrous, almost satire of the genre, give it a spin.
This is an eclectic mix of performances, which makes sense, given how convoluted and uneven the rest of the movie is. Eric Bogosian delivers the best effort of the lot and as usual, brings immense energy and presence to his role. I’ve always liked his work and in Special Effects, he is given an interesting part that lets him convey sly menace and he nails that vibe. I also appreciate that he does go a little over the top at times, as the role seems to require, but knows when to reel things in. This helps the movie maintain a mostly serious tone, despite having what seem to be some obvious satirical elements at work as well. I think Bogosian is a big reason of why Special Effects is worth a look, as he puts a lot into his turn. Zoe Lund also has a memorable performance, but more for how inconsistent her work her in dual roles winds up. At times, she is solid and others, she is wooden and almost laughable. Given the overall inconsistent flow of the movie itself, perhaps her performance makes perfect sense. The cast also includes Brad Rijn and H. Richard Greene, while Larry Cohen wrote and directed.