Saturday, June 12, 2010

Revenge of 3-D: AMITYVILLE 3-D (1983)

The early ‘80s was a boon period for the 3-D format. Amusingly, it was the small independent production COMIN’ AT YA! that kicked off this 3-D renaissance. Released in June 1981, this Tony Anthony western vehicle drew in the crowds with its 3-D novelty. Hollywood naturally saw gold in them thar hills and over the next few years a slew of 3-D studio pictures hit screens. But as quick as the craze hit, it ended and the final nail in the coffin was AMITYVILLE 3-D, the last studio flick attempting to bowl audiences over.

This picks up with the Amityville property abandoned and for sale. Tabloid journalist John Baxter (Tony Roberts) and his photographer partner Melanie (Candy Clark) quickly uncover a séance scam at the famous Amityville house. But when Baxter finds out the house is on the market ("It's a steal. Nobody wants it."), he can't pass up a good deal and moves in to work on his great American novel. Surprisingly, his bitchy ex-wife (Tess Harper) doesn't approve of him moving out because she knows the stories and fears for the safety of their daughter Susan (Lori Loughlin). Baxter experiences a number of strange phenomenons but, hey, this place is a steal so he can put up with it. Of course, once his daughter is killed by the evil in the house, he suddenly gets serious and, before you can say POLTERGEIST, Baxter hauls in a paranormal investigative team (led by Robert Joy).

Directed by Richard Fleisher, this sequel is just as slick as the previous two entries but lacks, well, everything. Seriously, nothing major happens until an hour and ten minutes into the flick. Well, unless you consider a séance Susan’s friends (including a young Meg Ryan) have chilling. Some crazy stuff goes on in the last ten minutes, ending with the house exploding in a big ball of flames. Screenwriter David Ambrose definitely dropped the darker edge of the first two films and seems more inspired by the episodes of THE OMEN. He took the pseudonym William Wales on the final product, probably for fear of rioting filmgoers pissed off that he considers things like a fast out-of-control elevator, overdeveloped film or a sliding bathroom wall scary. Oh, and he has the film's major plot point happen off screen and doesn't have the brains to include a priest character (blasphemy!). Of course, what can you expect when the tagline in the US was “WARNING: In this movie YOU are the victim”?

All was probably forgiven by audiences thanks to some eye-popping 3-D gags and AMITYVILLE 3-D shows it ain’t playing around. From the opening credits to the finale, there are 3-D special effects every ten minutes or so. Some are lousy (a Frisbee flying towards the camera) and some are absolutely spectacular (a pole going through a car window; strikingly similar to Argento's FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET). The funniest bit is Roberts walking in on the dying realtor, who reaches out his hand toward the camera for an extended period of time. It is amusing because you realize if this were happening in “real life” that Roberts is just standing there doing nothing while this guy dies in front of him. No wonder he is divorced! The end has a number of gags from a door exploding to a swordfish flying at the camera. There is also a demon that comes up from a basement well and breathes fire right towards the audience.

I guess it is a credit to producer Dino De Laurentiis’ enthusiasm (or bank account) that he was able to corral some decent leads into this. Tony Roberts had just done a bunch of films with Woody Allen. Tess Harper sure had an interesting 1983, having starred in TV's CHIEFS (3 Emmy nominations), TENDER MERCIES (5 Oscar nominations), SILKWOOD (also 5 Oscar nominations) and this (1 Fantasporto nomination). LOL! I hope she is enjoying that pool this paid for. Director Fleisher certainly seemed to be slumming (the man made 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA for heaven’s sake), but he turns in a very polished looking picture. He was lucky enough to top this in terms of his worst feature by making MILLION DOLLAR MYSTERY (1987) a few years later.

Sadly, this wasn’t enough to lure in audiences who had already grown tired of the 3-D experience. AMITYVILLE 3-D actually opened in first place the weekend it came out, but you have to remember that the movie-going public and industry was a completely different monster back in 1983. A film could reach the top spot by hauling in a measly $2.3 million. It dropped each successive week and was gone from theaters in less than a month, symbolically signaling the end of the 3-D craze. This was supposed to be the final film in the AMITYVILLE series (the house freakin' blew up), but clever producers found a way to keep it going with sequels (one TV movie and 4 direct-to-video) focusing on "haunted" items from the house. Oh, Hollywood! Interestingly, if you want a real Amityville 3-D experience, the house is currently on the market. Be sure to tell them Dino sent ya.

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