Attack of the Franchise Sequels: Amityville 3-D

3-D! About every generation or so 3-D makes a rousing return to cinema, but never seems to rise above gimmickry. Then, after a few years it recedes back into the mists, waiting to appear again, after the moviegoing public forgets how annoying it is to wear those damn glasses. The second wave of 3-D movies came to audiences in the early 1980s, when this film is from, and, like the first wave in the 1950s, the ’80s saw the technique’s most prominent use in horror films.

It’s no surprise that horror is the genre that would give something like 3-D a spin. After all, horror films are the descendants of carnival fun houses, where showmen would use every trick in the book to put a scare into the rubes. It’s also a perfect fit for a genre that features deadly weapons, severed limbs, and spurts of blood all flying about the screen. Anything that brings the action closer to the viewer is a good thing, right? Right?!

(A quick aside: The first 3-D film I ever saw was Creature from the Black Lagoon, at the Highland Square Theater in Akron, Ohio. The Highland is one of those glorious old movie houses that has been struggling since the introduction of the cineplex. From first run, to second run, to closed, to open as a concert venue, to closed again, to open again, to closed again, to discount first run theater, to temporarily shuttered because of Covid, and all sorts of states in between, the Highland has had an up-and-down run during my lifetime. When I was in high school, it reopened after a lengthy closure, and the new owner, somehow, got ahold of old 3-D prints and a projector to show them. Creature was a glorious introduction to the technique, as the underwater shots were stunning in 3-D. It turned a cheap monster flick into something special. 3-D may never rise above gimmickry, at least until movies turn to VR, but when done right it will leave a viewer’s jaw on the floor.)

The third film in the Amityville series, Amityville 3-D, like the second film, comes to viewer’s via mogul Dino De Laurentiis, with Richard Fleischer directing. Fleischer, after a hell of a run directing classic Hollywood action and sci-fi flicks, was winding down his career in the employ of De Laurentiis, and was probably in full-on ‘fuckit’ mode.

Once again, the film takes place at the infamous haunted house on Ocean Boulevard in Amityville, NY (Exteriors were played by the same house in Toms River, NJ, that served so well in the first two films, yet, as made clear at the end of the trailer, “This picture is Amityville 3-D movie posternot a sequel to the pictures ‘Amityville Horror’ or ‘Amityville II: The Possession.’” I just love rights disputes). There, investigative reporter John Baxter (Tony Roberts), along with photojournalist Melanie With-No-Last-Name (Candy Clark), expose a fraudulent spirit medium, à la James Randi. Baxter, very taken with the house, and in need of a new home after a divorce, buys the home at a steep discount. He’s not concerned in the slightest with the house’s history, both real and imagined. Of course, the house really is haunted, otherwise this would be a very dull film series, indeed.

What comes next is the first major departure from patterns established by the earlier films in the series. In those films, the house was host to a malevolent presence, but it never actually harmed anyone. It got into the heads of people living there, and it was through them that the harm was caused. That fits in well with the house being the site of real-life murders. In the first film, it was George Lutz who was coming under the house’s demonic influence. In the second film, it was Sonny Montelli. In this third film, then, one would suspect that John Baxter would begin to slip into murderousness after he moves into the house. But, no, the house needs no agents in this film. It kills all on its own. It’s also able to assert its will off property, carrying out its dastardly deeds at a distance. Baxter, in fact, is unaware of the danger presented by the house for most of the film. It doesn’t make sense, but, then again, making sense is no requirement here at Shitty Movie Sundays.

The screenplay, by David Ambrose, also doesn’t have much of a plot to speak of. The film lurches along from one horror set piece to another, providing audiences scares and blood at regular intervals in order to prevent boredom from setting in. The film has a professional polish to it, courtesy of Fleischer, but it never goes anywhere. It’s regular life, sprinkled with bad occurrences. That’s acceptable for avant-garde cinema, sure, but this was supposed to be a horror spectacular. I mean, 3-D!

This film is a lazy collage of haunted house tropes, punctuated by a rushed ending stolen from Poltergeist. But, as noted above, Fleischer never lets things get too slow. The discerning shitty movie viewer will find mirth in all the storytelling shortcuts and 3-D shots, even when watching a 2-D print.

Sublime moments of shitty include:

  • Future stars Lori Loughlin and Meg Ryan in early roles, still figuring out that whole ‘acting’ thing.
  • Fleischer stealing scenes from the first movie, most notably covering a middle-aged man in houseflies. Thumbs up for not making the walls bleed, however.
  • Egregious use of 3-D. Things that shoot out of the screen towards the audience include the opening credits, a frisbee, a steel pipe, and an animatronic burn victim.
  • An old well in the basement full of blue kool-aid.
  • The appearance of a ghost that looks like purple bubble wrap undulating beneath the surface of the sea.
  • And an explosive finale, in which a scale model bites the dust.

A good time will be had by some while watching all of this unfold. Lack of direction in the plot hurts watchability, but shameless cheese always yanks this film back from the brink. Amityville 3-D is the most watchable in the series to this point, displacing Dracula 3000 in the Index at #144.

And with the spectacular demise of the house, shot from multiple angles (apologies for the spoiler), thus ends the saga of the Amityville Horror. There surely could not have been more films in the series.

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