Quickly made to simultaneously cash-in on the success of "Poltergeist" and keep the "Amityville" franchise going, executive producer Dino De Laurentiis also dipped into the 3-D craze, and had the film shot in the gimmicky process, though like fellow sequel "Friday the 13 th 3-D," the effects couldn't make up for a wafer-thin story that often feels like a pale William Castle spookfest, aimed at the less astute adolescent crowd.
Here the house is a known poltergeist hole, with a demonic well straight to bubbly Hell, and demonic possessions that can now affect other poor souls, farther from the home's evil boundaries. Much like fellow director J. Lee Thompson, Richard Fleischer was finishing up his career sleepwalking through a handful of De Laurentiis productions ("Conan the Destroyer," "Red Sonja," and "Million Dollar Mystery" soon followed), and here directed an interesting cast of stage thespians (Tony Roberts, Tess Harper), former exploitation bunny Candy Clark, and future starlet Meg Ryan.
The story is basically a bodycount/poltergeist hybrid, though some of the effects sequences - the house freezing from inside, for example - recall some of the gimmicky moments in the arm's length, franchise cousin, "Poltergeist 3" (which also contained the 'ol temperature-switcheroo in an underground parking lot). Adding an out-of-control/possessed elevator to the mix (liberally borrowed from "Damien: Omen II," minus the bisecting cable) but with a smaller budget, the real shocks (obviously tongue-in-cheek) come from the rudimentary 3-D effects.
The problem with these 3-D films, however, lies in their presentation on video. Admittedly, a label's in a bit of bind when "3-D" is part of the title; Rhino burped out Cannon's idiotic "Comin' At Ya!" and Arch Oboler's lame "The Bubble" several years ago, with anaglyph spectacles, but the depth trickery only kicked in at rare intervals when the fixed focus of the transfer managed to match an effect that was sort of in sync. A few companies have offered electronic 3-D simulation via their own patented gizmos, but major studio labels have yet to find a suitable home video process to showcase the 3-D craze that fluttered into movie theatres during the 1950s, and 1980s. (Robert Rodriguez' recent fascination with the process has received very mixed results both in theatres and via the corresponding DVDs, as both still rely on the imperfect red-blue glasses.) Rhino's 3-D transfers also have focus and hazing problems even with the glasses - something that was common both to 3-D TV broadcasts of films such as "Hondo," "Gorilla at Large," and "The Mad Magician" back in the 1980s, and gimmicky videotape versions of movies like "The Mask."
So for now, North American audiences have to use their imagination for "Amityville 3-D," which is at least nicely transferred by MGM from a good print. The DVD also includes a crisp Dolby 5.1 mix, with Howard Blake's formal, orchestral score resonating through the surround sound mapping. (Once again, though, fans of the film should note that England's Sanctuary Entertainment have released a Region 2 disc, with a commentary track by horror historian Kim Newman and Stephen Jones. In addition to a still gallery, the DVD also offers a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack mix, and a 3-D version of the film, requiring those nose-itching glasses.)
As for the franchise, original "Amityville Horror" screenwriter Sandor Stern furthered the curse by writing and directing a 1989 TV movie with Patty Duke, involving a "mystical lamp." A 1990 direct-to-video haunted house variation, called "The Amityville Curse," placed more stupid people in danger with ghosts and insects. Two years later, former "Hellraiser" producer and wannabe director Tony Randel helmed "Amityville 1992: It's About Time," another direct-to-video quickie, with a possessed (and inaccurate) clock. 1993 brought forth "Amityville: A New Beginning" (what else?), where the screenwriters didn't learn from the cheapening "Mirror, Mirror" franchise that evil mirrors offer limited scares (and focal depth); and the last sequel (from 1996) is "Amityville: Dollhouse," proving that if you're a pop culture rube and buy your child a dollhouse patterned after the home of a mass-murder, you deserve the same villainous, spiritual malevolence that plagued Carol Anne Freeling, and her pot-smoking parents. Next time, think Barbie.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan