In mainstream cinema, for every genuinely good idea there are several hundred bad ones. And then there are the complete screw-ups, the ones that should never have been made in the first place and only exist at all because there was a dollar to be milked from an unsuspecting public at the time.
Following the success of the 1979 haunted-house flick The Amityville Horror (based on what was purported to be a true story), a sequel was made in 1982 which received critical scorn but decent box-office. With the sweet smell of a franchise opportunity radiating from every page of the script, a third movie was sent into production the following year; just to make sure it got attention, this one would be made in glorious 3-D! Not surprisingly, the movie’s title was changed to Amityville 3 - The Demon for TV and video release, but the main titles here are the originals from the 3-D version (designed, incidentally, by the legendary Pablo Ferro!) and present the film under its correct name - Amityville 3-D.
And the result? A total stinker of a movie - and we’re not talking about the stuff that has a tendency to end up smeared on the Amityville walls either, folks. A dumb script makes the truly bad performances seem even worse, and going by the bland and uninteresting direction you’d expect Joe Amateur behind the camera. Instead, it’s veteran Richard Fleischer, of all people, the same man who made the original Narrow Margin, Fantastic Voyage, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Soylent Green. Coming straight to this 3-D monstrosity from the debacle that was the Neil Diamond ego-stroke The Jazz Singer, Fleischer seemed determined to get a career in crap movies solidly under way. He worked hard, too, going on from here to make Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja before giving up directing at the end of the '80s and writing a book instead.
The plot doesn’t really bear much discussion. People move into house. Spooky stuff happens. People die. The end. The only diversion for this third instalment is that they have a tendency to wave things directly at the camera; these, of course, are the shots that would “leap out” at the audience in 3-D. As with almost all 3-D movies seen without the third dimension, it all looks rather silly.
The cast is decidedly not-famous, incidentally, with Tony Roberts and Tess Harper the big drawcards (!). Don’t be fooled by Force Video’s top-billing of Meg Ryan, by the way. This was one of her first films, and she barely appears on screen; Force’s deceptive billing of Ryan as the movie’s star and their use of a '90s-vintage pic of the actress on the front cover is false advertising, plain and simple. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Proving that there are always nasty surprises even in this digital age, Amityville 3-D is presented via the worst video transfer this reviewer has seen all year. Cropped from its original 2.35:1 ratio to a windowboxed 1.91:1 for no particular reason (yes, information is lost from the sides) the picture throughout is fuzzy, grainy, blurry, indistinct and lacking in both colour saturation and contrast range. It makes the pre-digital transfer efforts of the '80s look like high definition video by comparison, and you could record this to VHS and not notice a quality drop. It’s really that bad. The picture is 16:9 enhanced, but you’d have to be insane to want to watch this on a large, high quality display.
The movie was originally released with matrixed surround sound, but that audio has been abandoned here in favour of a mono mix that’s then been “extrapolated” into a fake 5.1 track that tests the limits of your tolerance to tinny midrange and tape hiss. There’s really little point in doing a 5.1 extrapolation of a mono soundtrack (or a stereo one, for that matter) - it’s purely a marketing tool. We’d much rather have had the original matrixed surround track on the disc, but it’s AWOL. The supposedly “stereo” alternative soundtrack here is actually mono.
Audio synch is noticeably out for the entire movie; whoever did this transfer was obviously deaf as well as blind.
A stinker of a movie on a stinker of a DVD; when the animated menus are the only positive thing you can find to comment on about a disc, you know it spells trouble. But when the only way the marketeers can sell the thing to you is to bend the truth, you might want to make sure you can get a refund. Caveat emptor.