24 July 2017 | gavin6942
A True Hidden Gem
Some crew members of a company shooting a horror film begin to suspect that the "killings" in the movie are real, and that they are actually making a "snuff" film.
There are two things about this film that keep it interesting all these decades later. One is the abundance of George Romero-connected people involved: Tom Savini, John Harrison, Joseph Pilato, Pasquale Buba, Nancy Allen (but not THAT Nancy Allen) and others. Filming took place in 1978, around the time that "Dawn of the Dead" was made; it seems that many involved in "Dawn" were making their own film on the side.
The other interesting historical note is how this film for many years just never existed. Although it was shot in 1978 and seems to be copyrighted in 1980, virtually no one saw it in the 1980s or 1990s. Due to a distributor bankruptcy problem, the film never received a theatrical or home video release. It never aired on television, or got passed around as bootlegs either. The October 2005 Synapse Films DVD was the film's first official release anywhere in the world. The American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) is now (2017) releasing a Blu-Ray of the film mastered from a rare 35mm print that was made before the distributor backed out, so it can be discovered by a new generation.
Perhaps due to this film's misfortunes, Dusty Nelson did not return to directing until the "Tales From the Darkside" episode "The Unhappy Medium" (1986). Others involved (Savini and Harrison in particular) achieved great success in its wake. How such a movie went hidden for so long is something of a mystery. If its existence was known, it would be widely sought after. The film was such a secret, we never see it mentioned in interviews or even within in-depth books such as Joe Kane's "Night of the Living Dead".
The most logical reason it would fade into obscurity would be if it was an awful film. But, on the contrary, it actually happens to be quite good. While not the era-defining classic that "Dawn of the Dead" is, it is far better than many other independent horror features of its time. Heck, it even blows away Romero's early works (especially "There's Always Vanilla"). The film-within-a-film is creepy and effective. Dusty Nelson could have been somebody!
A historical footnote: The first known use of the term "snuff movie" is in the 1971 Ed Sanders book, "The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion". He alleges that the Manson Family was involved in making such a film in California to record their murders. His allegations were, for the record, false. The idea caught on, however, and we received the film "Snuff" in 1975, as well as this film. The most interesting thing about snuff films is not how they have captured the imagination of people who spread urban legends
it is that they don't exist. While it would be nearly impossible for such a thing to exist as an industry, it seems plausible that at least some killer would record their exploits and at least some of those tapes would get traded on a bootleg market. But apparently not.
The AGFA Blu-ray comes out August 22, 2017, featuring a new 4K scan from the only surviving 35mm theatrical print. We get an archival commentary track with John Harrison, Dusty Nelson, and Pasquale Buba covering their memories of a bygone era. These should be enough, but wait
there is also a "Beastie" short film by Dusty Nelson and a "Ubu" short film by John Harrison. Heck, we even have the "After Effects" documentary with optional commentary track!