Written by: William Wales
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Starring: Tony Roberts, Tess Harper, and Lori Loughlin
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďI hear you bought yourself a haunted house."
" I just bought the house, not the ghost."
" I just bought the house, not the ghost."
I like to think that the whole Amityville II episode eventually degenerated into Dino De Laurentiis glowering and insisting that heíd show the world how to really do tabloid cinema, so he brought along his Italian buddies and essentially churned out a nutty slice of Euro-horror. It must not have gone down well, though, as most everyone cast an accusatory glare at Dino and asked him just what in the hell heíd done with quaint old Amityville Horror. Only room for psycho dads and potential axe murders hereónone of that incestual brother-sister hanky-panky. This is a wholesome household. And with that, De Laurentiis turned the reigns over to Orion (but stayed on board as a ďpresenterĒ) for Amityville 3-D, a film that you could bring home to dear old mom (not to mention the kidsóto date, itís still the only PG-rated Amityville movie).
While a lawsuit between De Laurentiis and George Lutz prevented this from being billed as an actual sequel (itís a good thing the resurgent 3D craze allowed Orion to sneak a ď3Ē into the title anyway), letís not kid ourselves: there are thinly-veiled references to past incidents that made the property at 112 Ocean Avenue so infamous, which explains why a troupe of spiritualist con artists have taken up residence with the promise of duping unsuspecting rubes into ďcommunicatingĒ with their lost loved ones. Intrepid Reveal Magazine reporters John (Tony Roberts) and Melanie (Candy Clark) are having none of it, though, and expose the sham operation. John is quite taken with the place, though, and decides to buy the house at a dirt-cheap price because nothing bad has ever come out of that before.
Amityville 3D returns the film to its domestic drama roots, though it (perhaps wisely) foregoes the familial bloodlust route, perhaps because Johnís already going through a divorce and doesnít need any other reason to kill his wife (Tess Harper). I kid. They mostly get along pretty well, though Johnís decision to move into a murder-house is understandably a source of consternation, especially since the two have a teenage daughter (Lori Laughlin) whose free-spirited friend (Meg Ryan) is a little too eager to explore the houseís dark history. With this, the Amityville franchise enters the territory of teenie-horror flicks, albeit without the bite of its slasher contemporaries.
Eventually, anyway. Amityville 3-D has some intriguing notions, but itís a little formless. People often joke that the later sequels revolved around some silly item from the house (a lamp, a clock, etc.), and Amityville 3-D might as well be regarded as ďthe one with the flies.Ē A touchtone of the first film, the houseís insect horde returns in full force here, buzzing menacingly in various scenes and causing mayhem. For the first time in the series, the Amityville tenants donít need a priest so much as an exterminator. Not that John would bother with the priest, what with all of his skepticism that gets tested throughout the film, especially when both his wife and his assistant are taken in by the Amityville legend. Taking liberties has always been the company line with this franchise, and 3-D continues the tradition by altering the nature of the homeís evil presence. Rather than possess victims and compel them to violence, the house is now able to engineer its own ďaccidentsĒ in a wrinkle that anticipates the Final Destination series (one sequence especially foreshadows the vehicular carnage of FD 2).
But without any sort of bite, Amityville 3-D is a little too dry and dull, and it certainly canít compensate for the lack of overall intrigue. The old ďskeptic gets his skepticismĒ chestnut is roasting somewhere at the center but doesnít really warm up until the end, when Ryanís character decides to hold a sťance in the house (spoiler: itís a bad decision). At this point, the film takes a bizarre, metaphysical turn that flips the Amityville script. For once, the family actually wants to conjure up a spirit (in addition to ridding themselves of the demon that eventually emerges from the pesky gateway to Hell), which perhaps speaks to just how far this one veers off course. Taking a different direction isnít an altogether bad thing, but itís even hokier than the original film, as Richard Fleischer isnít particularly interested in stirring up many scares. He does lean on the more robust effects budget, which allowed for a third dimension to terrorize viewers; for the most part, though, random objects are flung about and thrust at the screen: tree branches, Frisbees, floating orbs, a charred corpse, etc.
While itís still considered to be among the ďofficialĒ Amityville series, 3-D charted the course for later sequels that would become even further removed from the original real life events that spawned the hysteria in the first place. This one at least boasts the house (or at least the cinematic facsimile used in the first two movies), something many of the others could not do. Itís a pity nothing consistently interesting takes place within its infamous walls this time out. Modern audiences can at least see it in its native 3D format thanks to Scream Factoryís latest Blu-ray release. I canít vouch for its quality since I donít have 3D equipment, but I can say that the 2D transfer looks to be ported over from MGMís 2005 DVD release. As I mentioned in my review of the first Amityville, thereís something noticeably amiss with its softness and haziness. A faint blue and red outline is also prevalent throughout the film, presumably due to the 3D process. At any rate, itís not terrible, but itís disappointing that it didnít get another polish for HD. Both the 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-MA tracks fare much better, and Scream Factory did bother to throw in some extras (a 10 minute interview with Clark, the filmís trailer, and a photo gallery), which is more than MGM ever did. I suppose itís a fitting treatment for the also-ran of this particular collection. Rent it!
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