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  Special Effects Repeat Performance
Year: 1984
Director: Larry Cohen
Stars: Zoë Lund, Eric Bogosian, Brad Rijn, Kevin O'Connor, Bill Oland, Richard Greene, Steven Pudenz, Heidi Bassett, John Woehrle, Kitty Summerall, Kris Evans, Mike Alpert
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mary Jean (Zoë Lund, formerly Tamerlis) tried to break into movies to escape her background, and today has found herself posing in not very many clothes as a circle of photographers gather around her. However, there's one person out to stop her ambitions, and he is her estranged husband Keefe (Brad Rijn) who gatecrashes the party and forces her to flee, with him in hot pursuit. After asking after her and getting no leads, he realises she has gone outside onto the streets of New York and he follows, catches up and drags her inside his car, bumping her head in the process, all with witnesses as they speed away. But would Keefe go as far as murder?

No, he would not, but that's not what the cops think when Mary Jean shows up dead. This is actually tied in with the other main character, a disgraced blockbuster director called Chris Neville (played with cocky self-assurance by Eric Bogosian), who has recently been chucked off his latest film after a high profile flop - although when was the last time a flop director made front page news? But that is one of a number of implausibilities that the director of this, low budget genre auteur Larry Cohen, throws up for you to ponder over in service of his ultra-cynical take on the moviemaking business, which according to this attracts the control freaks and the downright desperate alike.

Well, I suppose Larry would know of what he speaks, but in his mad dash to stomp all over the magic of the movies he doesn't half turn pretentious. In a twist straight out of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, Chris likes to film things in his bedroom and as the story progresses shoots footage of Mary Jean in his bed - being murdered by him when he suffers a bout of sexual impotence. Apparently all of a filmmaker's experience is grist to his creative mill, so he decides, after effectively pinning the blame on Keefe, to make a film on the subject of the deceased and not only that but he plans to utilise the reel of Mary Jean's demise in it. But surely he wouldn't be able to get away with that?

He would if he finds her exact double in a property depot worker called Elaine, who he recruits to play the lead in his project, along with Keefe who he has offered an alibi and a lawyer for, not that he intends to look after him too well, just long enough to get his opus completed. Elaine is also played by Tamerlis, an interesting figure who died while still in her thirties thanks to her drug use - she was a strong advocate of heroin, a message her early death would appear to contradict - and still best known in exploitation movie renown as the title character in Ms. 45. Funnily enough, that was an Abel Ferrara film, and far from seeming like an Alfred Hitchcock homage (Cohen worked with Hitch in his younger days), Special Effects comes across like a lost Ferrara effort.

All right, there is an element of Vertigo in Cohen's plotting what with Tamerlis playing two different women, but the malaise exhibited here, the way that the life has been drained out of the ostensible thriller conventions, speaks more to jaded New York directors' tastes. It certainly has a New York sense of place and attitude about it, although you could say that about a fair few of this director's films, but the way in which it denies any attempt to romanticise the setting or the characters in the manner a Hollywood movie might makes for dispiriting viewing. As it turns out, Chris is obsessed with redeeming his muse, if not necessarily his career, in such grim terms that far from building up suspense, you begin to be turned off this premise quickly after the murder, and once the plot is made clear, it's a viewer with a high threshhold against sourness and meanmindedness who will get enjoyment out of this. It is provocative, but hard to like. Music by Michael Minard.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Larry Cohen  (1938 - )

Talented American writer/director who often combines exploitation subject matter with philosophical/social concepts. Began working in TV in the 1960s, where he created popular sci-fi series The Invaders, before directing his first film, Bone (aka Dial Rat), in 1972. A pair of blaxploitation thrillers - Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem - followed, while 1974's horror favourite It's Alive! was a commercial hit that led to two sequels.

God Told Me To and Special Effects were dark, satirical thrillers, while Q: The Winged Serpent and The Stuff were witty modern monster movies. Cohen directed Bette Davis in her last film, Wicked Stepmother, and reunited Blaxploitation stars Pam Grier, Fred Williamson and Richard Roundtree for Original Gangstas in 1996. Cohen has also had considerable success as a scriptwriter, turning in deft screenplays for the Maniac Cop films and mainstream pictures like Best Seller, Sidney Lumet's Guilty As Sin and most recently Joel Schumacher's Phone Booth.

 
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