|Director: Richard Fleischer
|Screenplay: William Wales
|Stars: Tony Roberts (John Baxter), Tess Harper (Nancy Baxter), Robert Joy (Elliot West), Candy Clark (Melanie), John Beal (Harold Caswell), Leora Dana (Emma Caswell), John Harkins (Clifford Sanders), Lori Loughlin (Susan Baxter), Meg Ryan (Lisa), Neill Barry (Jeff)
|MPAA Rating: PG
|Year of Release: 1982
Amityville 3-D arrived in the middle of a wave of stereoscopic features in the early 1980s. This surge, which lasted about five years, was arguably kicked off by Comin’ at Ya! (1980), a violent spaghetti western whose title, which is otherwise unrelated to the story, lays out the essential draw of 3-D at its most base. Despite its low budget and lack of stars, Comin’ at Ya! was a significant hit in the U.S., and both independent and major studio productions soon followed, mostly in the horror and sci-fi genres: On the lower end of indie production we had Parasite (1981), Rottweiler (aka Dogs of Hell, 1982), and Chain Gang (1984), while major studios gave us Friday the 13th Part III (Paramount, 1982), Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (Columbia, 1983), Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (Universal, 1983), and Jaws 3-D (Universal, 1983).
Amityville 3-D arrived in theaters in November 1983, after Jaws 3-D had taken a decent bite out of the summer movie business. Once again produced by famed Italian mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis, who had produced Amityville II: The Possession (1982) the previous year, the third installment of the now decades-old haunted house franchise plays exactly as what it is: a quickie cash-in on both the revitalized 3-D craze and the success of the previous two Amityville films (the first being 1979’s The Amityville Horror, which was based on a supposed nonfiction account of a real-life haunting on Long Island). Granted, the first two films are far from masterpieces, with both cribbing quite shamelessly from other, better horror films (the second half of Amityville II is a particularly blatant rip-off of The Exorcist), but Amityville 3-D is so sloppy and cheesy that it makes them look positively masterful by comparison.
The film’s central character is John Baxter (Tony Roberts), an investigative reporter for a magazine dedicated to debunking paranormal hoaxes, urban legends, and the like. In the film’s opening scene, he and his partner Melanie (Candy Clark) expose a supposed séance in the living room of the infamous Amityville house at 112 Ocean Avenue. Despite all the violence that has occurred there over the years, he is taken with the place and buys it (what he plans to do with a five-bedroom, three-story house is one of the film’s more intriguing unexplained mysteries). He is in the midst of a contentious divorce from his wife Nancy (Tess Harper), who forbids their teenage daughter Susan (Lori Loughlin) from going to the house. Unfortunately, Susan has a friend named Lisa (Meg Ryan, in her first major film role) who is bit obsessed with the idea of ghosts, and pretty soon they are holding their own for-real séances on the third floor with the house’s two glaring window-eyes looking in on them.
Baxter is a born skeptic both personally and professionally, which makes him the perfect protagonist to anchor the old white science/black magic divide on which so much of the horror genre is based. He feels perfectly comfortable moving into the supposedly haunted house because he doesn’t believe in ghosts or demons, and we all know that he will eventually get his comeuppance. The problem is that Tony Roberts, a character actor perhaps best known for his supporting roles in various Woody Allen films throughout the 1970s and ’80s, plays him as such a wooden bore that we don’t really care. His speeches about rationality and logic have no real conviction, and he seems incapable of expressing more than a modicum of emotion (even when struck with an enormous personal tragedy, he appears to be over it the next day). The other actors don’t fare much better, as they are mostly reduced to giving rote, character-type-determined speeches that simply grind the plot forward when necessary.
Written by David Ambrose (The Final Countdown, D.A.R.Y.L.) under the pseudonym William Wales, Amityville 3-D borrows heavily from both the earlier Amityville films and other horror franchises, most notably The Omen (1976) and its sequels (Melanie discovers that recently snapped photographs of one of the house’s victims foreshadowed his demise, and almost anyone who suspects that anything might be amiss is mysteriously killed in a supernaturally determined accident—a heart attack, being burned to death in a car crash, drowning on a boating expedition). The technology of parapsychological research, which was entirely absent from the previous two films, makes a major appearance here, perhaps driven by similar plot developments in Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s hit Poltergeist (1982) a year earlier. There are a few variations here and there; for example, rather than discovering a hidden room in the basement, as in the first two Amityville films, the new tenants discover a boarded over well that eventually turns into what looks like a hot tub, albeit one that channels a demon of some kind.
Otherwise, the screenplay is a strictly plug-and-play affair (hence Ambrose’s use of a pseudonym), and things aren’t helped much by director Richard Fleischer, whose career spanned everything from taut film noir (1952’s The Narrow Margin), to expensive musicals (1967’s Doctor Dolittle), to effects-heavy science fiction (1964’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1966’s Fantastic Voyage), to exploitative potboilers (1975’s Mandingo). He had directed some genuinely good films (notably the aforementioned The Narrow Margin and the 1972 sci-fi classic Soylent Green) and some genuine stinkers (the 1980 Neil Diamond vanity project The Jazz Singer), and Amityville 3-D falls much closer to the latter category. Fleischer had always been something of a jack-of-all-trades, working in just about every genre imaginable, so it’s not much of a surprise that he eventually found his way to the reins of a horror film. However, he clearly had little investment in the material, as he treats each scene in largely mechanical fashion, which drains all the tension and makes the film, for lack of a better word, fairly boring.
This is not to say that there isn’t a guilty pleasure aspect to Amityville 3-D, especially in terms of the stereoscopic effects, which are deployed with such telegraphed crassness that you can’t help but laugh at the strenuous effort to give us our money’s worth. Fleischer never misses an opportunity to have something come out of the screen at you, and sometimes it works, such as when a metal pole crashes through a car’s windshield. Sometimes the effect is just hokey, as when a paranormal researcher sticks a microphone out of the screen or a Frisbee flies at us, and other times it’s so over the top that any sense of terror that might be generated gives way to giggles (such as when a supposedly charred corpse suddenly springs to life and reaches out at us). The first two films in the Amityville franchise were relatively serious affairs, but like its central character, this third installment sees no need to take any of it seriously. Unfortunately, it ends up falling into an ill-defined netherworld where it’s still trying to be scary, but doesn’t succeed because there’s no real conviction. At the same time, the filmmakers lack the audacity to make it a straight-up parody. Unintentionally funny and never really frightening, it is just kind of embarrassing.
|Amityville II: The Possession Blu-ray
|Amityville 3-D is available as part of the “Amityville Horror Trilogy” boxset, which also includes The Amityville Horror (1979) and Amityville II: The Possession (1982).
|English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surroundEnglish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
|Video interview with actress Candy ClarkStills galleryTrailer
|$69.99 (box set)
|October 1, 2013
|Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray 3D of Amityville 3-D marks the first time the film has been made available on the home video market in its original stereoscopic presentation. The image quality is, unfortunately, pretty poor, owing largely to the original cinematography and the early ’80s technology used to create the three-dimensional effect, which in this case was the ArriVision over/under 35mm single-strip format, which author Ray Zone in his book 3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema describes as technically insufficient. The image certainly has an impressive sense of depth, and scenes shot in brightly lit interiors or outdoors during the day look generally good. Darker scenes suffer quite a bit, though, with significant muddiness and lack of definition. The overall image is quite soft, and there is some ghosting at times. The other problem is the film’s insistence on extreme depth effects, which means that there are often out-of-focus objects like lamps and furniture in the extreme foreground that cause some eye strain. The original stereo soundtrack has been remixed into a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel mix, and unlike the image, it is uniformly excellent. The surround channels are effective in enhancing the film’s atmosphere, and there are several points involving a buzzing fly that had me convinced there was actually a fly in the room. The supplements are definitely the lightest of the three films in the Amityville Horror boxset, consisting of a very brief teaser trailer, a stills gallery, and a 9-minute interview with actress Candy Clark.
Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick
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