AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
Strikes Back /
The Reel World /
It's A Disaster! /
Etc., Etc., Etc.
Dialogue / Links
AMITYVILLE 3-D (1983)
[[aka Amityville III aka Amityville: The Demon]
|“That house has its own mystique. Things happen in there because people expect them to happen.”|
Director: Richard Fleischer
Starring: Tony Roberts, Tess Harper, Robert Joy, Candy Clark, Lori Loughlin, Meg Ryan, John Harkins, John Beal, Leora Dana
Screenplay: William Wales
Synopsis: A bereaved couple, Melanie (Candy Clark) and John Baxter (Tony Roberts), visits a pair of spiritualists, Emma (Leora Dana) and Harold Caswell (John Beal), who operate from a mysterious house in Amityville. A séance is held in an attempt to get in touch with the Baxters’ young son, who died in a fire, and seems to be a success: a child’s voice is heard, and a glowing shape glides across the room. Suddenly, Melanie starts taking photographs, exposing the apparition as a fake, while John tells the horrified "psychics" that he is an investigative journalist and Melanie his photographer. They are joined by a parapsychologist, Elliot West (Robert Joy), who brought John in on the story, and by a representative of the D.A.’s office. The next day, John and Melanie are shown around the house by Clifford Sanders (John Harkins), the real estate agent who leased the house to the Caswells. The three inspect the basement, where Sanders falls through some wooden planks covering a large hole in the floor. John and Melanie pull him to safety, while John expresses his belief that the allegedly haunted house’s "gateway to hell" is really just an abandoned well. Outside, Sanders tries to convince John that he knew nothing of the Caswells’ criminal activities and begs him not to write him into the story, complaining that his purchase of the infamous house, which no-one will buy, has cost him enough already. John asks how much Sanders wants for it. As they drive away, Melanie tries to talk John out of buying the house, but John dismisses its reputation as mere superstition. John visits his wife, Nancy (Tess Harper), from whom he is getting a divorce, and invites his daughter, Susan (Lori Loughlin), to visit the house and choose a room for herself. Sanders goes to the house and, hearing noises, goes upstairs to investigate. He finds a room that is almost full of flies. The door swings shut, trapping him, while the flies swarm all over him, choking him. Melanie develops the photographs she took at the house, and in each of them finds Sanders’ face distorted. When John arrives at the house, he finds Sanders lying on the stairs, dying. Melanie shows John her photographs, but when she is unable to convince him that Sanders’ death is anything but a coincidence, she takes them to Elliot West, who agrees to investigate. Melanie goes to the house to wait for John, becoming trapped there when the doors refuse to work. Suddenly, a powerful blast of energy surges up from the basement, blowing open the door and pinning Melanie to a wall. Meanwhile, leaving work, John has become trapped in an elevator that seems to have a will of its own….
Comments: Quoth the DVD case of Amityville 3-D, part of MGM’s “The Amityville Horror Collection”---
“Amityville 3-D is not presented in 3-D format. No 3-D glasses needed.”
You know, as an ad-line, I’m not sure which I like better: that po-faced puncturing of the balloon, or the tag that accompanied the original cinema release of the film:
“In this movie, you are the victim.”
I guess now I can start
asking, Don't you miss
I guess now I can start asking, Don't you miss the eighties?
Truthfully, I love this instalment in the Amityville franchise. It’s relentlessly dumb, but an enormously fun ride, without a hint of the faux-respectability to which the original film aspired, nor any of the sleaze and realistic nastiness that both makes and mars its immediate predecessor. In franchise terms, the film is important as the first entirely fictional account of events in Amityville---
Okay, let me re-phrase that.
The film is important for being the first of the franchise written directly for the screen, forming a bridge between the supposedly “true” accounts of events in the earlier films and the undisguised fictions that would subsequently populate the direct-to-video market. The threat of legal action was still in the air, but the experience of Amityville II had taught the producers of this film – including our old friend Dino – how to get around that. Thus, while this film makes reference to the murders that gave the house it reputation, it does so name-checking the DeFeos, not the Montellis, and without any allusion to the house’s subsequent real-life occupants.
Amityville 3-D is notorious these days as part of the brief 3-D revival of the early eighties, and like its brethren – including Jaws 3 and Friday The 13th Part 3 – it puts a great deal more effort into coming up with objects that it can thrust into the camera than it wastes upon more trivial matters such as character and plot. Viewed flat, as the film must be, it seems, in these distressingly retrograde days, the contrivance of all this is hilariously apparent, and particularly so because, unlike most of the other 3-D films of this era, which after an enthusiastic opening tend to run out of steam, Amityville 3-D keeps up its attacks upon the camera right to the very last frame.
All of which means, yes, that it is time for me once again to break out – [the square brackets!].
The residents of Amityville must have loved that.
And I get to use them right away, too – see what I mean about this film? – because Amityville 3-D is barely five seconds old before we have [a branch waving in the wind!]. The camera pans across the front of the house, to where that inevitable [“For Sale” sign!] is twisting in the wind, and I am compelled to stop and pay tribute to the digital clarity of this print, as for the first time in all my many viewings of this film, I notice that in place of the traditional ‘555’, the area code is here given as ‘666’.
[More branches!] tap the camera as the credits roll; and as Richard Fleischer’s credit fades, a [car pulls up!]. A couple called the Baxters are welcomed into the house, and the woman, Melanie, visibly nervous, gasps as [her hostess!] looms up. John Baxter asks for reassurance that there is no danger in what they are about to do, after all that has happened in the house – “That family murdered.” The séance gets underway, and Melanie is instructed to call for her child, which she does. Emma Caswell moans and struggles, and finally a little boy’s voice calls for “Mommy”. Then a [strange glowing light!] appears and floats towards them....
....and the next moment, the Baxters are on their feet, with Melanie taking flash photographs and exposing the Caswells’ black-clad co-conspirator, with his glow-ball on a stick.
Wait! What? Mumemschantz!?
This really is the cleverest part of the film – and in the end, a little too clever for its own good. Everything about this sequence is designed to suck the viewer into groaning, “Oh, jeez, this is so fake!” – only to reveal that it is, too. The trouble is, when the “real” supernatural manifestations start up later on, it will be via effects that truly aren’t any less crappy than the ones employed by the Caswells.
John Baxter then introduces himself as a
reporter from “Reveal” magazine, and Melanie as his photographer. As
the Caswells protest angrily, Dr Elliot West from the
The magic of 3-D! A lion in your lap! A spitball in
The magic of 3-D! A lion in your lap! A spitball in your eye!
As Melanie ruefully wipes her face, Elliot comments on the comparative crudity of the Caswell set-up, adding that the only really interesting thing about it is the house itself. They begin to look around, but the lights go out. Elliot [flicks his lighter!], remarkably illuminating the whole hallway with a single BIC; and it is decided that the rest of the investigation will wait until the following day. As they leave, we hear the ominous sound of a buzzing fly, and get a suggestive POV shot out of an upstairs window....
The next morning, John and Melanie are photographing the Caswells’ bag of tricks down in the basement when real estate agent Clifford Sanders, who shows up disclaiming any knowledge of the fake psychics’ activities. In the course of this he walks across some wooden boards, which give way, almost plunging him into the depths of---well, who knows?
Here we hit upon one of the comic highlights of this film. The Amityville series as a whole is amusingly uncertain about the source of its horrors, practically and theologically; and nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in the shifting geography of the basement. The original film gave us “the red room”, a comparatively small cavity that may or may not have contained something nasty: the film is sensibly oblique upon that point. Then we get the climactic sequence, when in the process of trying to rescue the dog, George Lutz goes plunging through the basement stairs into an open pit filled with disgusting goop. This pit is nowhere to be seen in Amityville II, which instead offers a cavernous secret room filled with filth, which seems to extend right into the bowels of the house, and possibly beyond; and which comes accessorised with a swinging door that helpfully facilitates the entrance of Evil into the house. There is, in turn, no sign of this in Amityville 3-D, which presents us with the infamous “portal to hell” – and positions it right out there in the middle of the basement floor.
Because if you had a portal to hell in the basement, you WOULD just throw a few loose boards over it, right?
The truly wonderful thing about this is the casual way everyone treats this ominous void which, whatever else it is, is certainly a deadly drop straight down, as Clifford Sanders very nearly discovers. I mean, even if you believed with arch-rationalist John Baxter that this thing is “just an old dry-well”, wouldn’t you safeguard it a bit more securely than putting a few wooden boards over the top of it? Particularly if you were the Caswells who, on the evidence of all the gear stored nearby, were certainly spending a lot of time down in the basement.
John and Melanie haul Sanders to safety, and the latter adds to the general hilarity of this sequence by insisting that he had no idea that “well” was there – because, you know, it was so cunningly concealed. Sanders objects to being linked in print to the Caswells, insisting he had no idea what they were up to and that he’s taken enough of a financial bath already having secured the house cheap as an investment, then been unable to unload it. All of which prompts a few inquiries from John Baxter....
This has been fun, and all, but we’re about to run into this film’s brick wall. Amityville 3-D is William Wales’ only known credit, and there is a very good reason for that, namely, his adherence to the tenets of the Cookie-Cutter School of Screenwriting. There is no-one in this film that isn’t out of The Big Book Of Movie Clichés. Thus our four main characters [sic.] are the Hard-Headed Sceptic Who Will Not Believe; his Bitchy Ex-Wife; the Doomed Companion; and the Dedicated Investigator Who Will Give His Life In The Name Of Science. While we’re having glow-balls shoved into the camera, and people are falling down portals from hell, this isn’t so much of a problem; but bring on the character scenes, and ouch. Tess Harper as Nancy, John’s soon-to-be-ex, gets the worst of all this, being introduced in a scene where she responds to John’s eulogies about his new house and about finally having “a place to work” by braying at him, “Fine, fine, just leave then, JUST LEAVE!!”
In spite of the
screenplay’s best [sic.]
efforts, I’ve never been able to keep from feeling a sneaking
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxPompous AssxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxBitchy Ex-Wife
Stupid To Live
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxDoomed CompanionxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxToo Stupid To Live
The John Baxters, the hard-core disbelievers who scoff
at everything and who keep insisting that there’s a rational
explanation even as the bodies are piling up at their feet, are much
more common in films than they are in reality. This is where Nancy
Baxter tends to win support in spite of everything, frankly
admitting that her fears about The House are entirely irrational –
but acting on them anyway. Of course, and this is another of this
Film’s Thuddingly Obvious Choices, there is a yawning gender gap in
the credulity levels of the various characters. Psychic investigator
obviously, but does so in a “rational” and “scientific” manner,
cheerfully admitting that 97% of all overtly supernatural phenomena
can be explained away, and throwing himself into the debunking of
the Caswells with enthusiasm.
Sanders arrives at the newly sold property and wanders on in, and immediately hears noises from upstairs, which he foolishly investigates. He ends up in the eye-window room – surprise! – which he finds occupied by [a swarm of flies!]. (On his way up, we also saw a window frost over, taking us back to that seminal “flies in winter” scenario.) He tries to leave, but the door has locked itself behind him – surprise! – and the flies, including one [hilariously fake one!] move in for the kill, in spite of Sanders [frantic efforts!].
Baxter then arrives, and he too hears noises from upstairs and goes to investigate, only to have Sanders collapse and die on the landing in front of him, [his hand!] reaching, as always with 3-D death scenes, [straight into the camera!].
"I never dreamed it would turn out to be the flies!
They've always been our friends!"
"I never dreamed it would turn out to be the flies! They've always been our friends!"
Not that this little episode does anything to discourage the new home owner, even when Melanie – who arrives as Sanders is being carried out by the paramedics – shows him her photos, which he dismisses as “a startling coincidence”. Ass. (Still, you do have to love a guy who buys a three-storey house, and then moves in carrying nothing but his Casio keyboard. Welcome to 1983!) Melanie then takes her photos to Elliot West, who is rather more receptive, asking for her [camera!] – well, hello to you too, Nikon! – and film and her photographic paper, so that he can eliminate those as suspects. It is here that Elliot makes his “97%” speech – and Melanie, the obvious retort.
Now, we’ve already been briefly introduced to the Baxters’ daughter, Susan. (More importantly, we’ve also been introduced to Susan’s BFF, Lisa – more on her anon.) She makes her first visit to the house here, and she and John discuss The House’s reputation; John insists he’s never met anyone who claimed to have seen a ghost who “could last twenty seconds with a lie-detector”. (Meaning they were all lying, as opposed to, at worst, deluded? I doubt that.) As the two chat, the film – inadvertently, we feel – begins to enter into some interesting territory, as John refers to the Caswells and their ilk as “exploiters” who “prey upon the fear of death”, but refers to himself and his “Reveal Magazine” employers as being essentially in the same racket; and for a second, just for a second, we feel that this film’s makers were taking a not entirely comfortable look at themselves. The moment has passed almost as soon as it arrives, though. John then calls The House “this monument to paranoia and fear”, a comment juxtaposed with Susan picking out a room for herself: the one with eye-windows. Surprise!
Probably the defining characteristic of Amityville 3-D, and one the reasons I have such an affection for it, is its deployment of The House. No other film in the franchise, not even the first one, gets such marvellous use out of its setting. It looms over the action in beauty-shot after beauty-shot, while numerous lingering inserts of the eye-windows are used, along with a series of internal, through-the-window POV shots, to convey the feeling that something is watching. It is a tactic simplistic to the point of laziness, yet remarkably effective, conjuring up a real sense of The House as a genuinely malevolent presence, one capable not merely of bringing about the various tragedies we are witness to, but getting a kick out of doing so. That’s the good news. The bad news is that even as early as the third film in the franchise, writers were really struggling for something new for The House to do. Their answer, unfortunately, was not just to dream up a few sincerely silly in-house pseudo-scares, but also to extend the range of The House’s influence, with disaster – or mild inconvenience, as the case may be – striking miles away from its vicinity, with an unavoidable diminution of effect. (Amityville II may have gotten a lot wrong, but at least it knew enough to keep its horrors close to home.)
It's not just a Guest Star this time around.
It's not just a Guest Star this time around.
This wandering from the point gives us the film’s most idiotic sequence – okay, second most idiotic – as John Baxter gets stuck in a lift that starts doing the Macarena, in a scene that coincides with The House’s hands-on terrorisation of Melanie; quite a mild terrorisation, really, considering that it will kill her off gruesomely a few scenes later, and some miles away. With Melanie’s “experience” in the house, they seem to have been striving for the unheimliche feel of the babysitter incident of the original Amityville Horror, but it doesn’t quite come off, although her gibbering terror and bolt from the house afterwards, when John finally arrives, are unnerving. John later makes an attempt to, ahem, bring Melanie to her senses, which she rightly resents. In the course of this he asks in an exasperated tone, “Why do you suppose this happened to you and not to me?” – a question we can answer even if Melanie can’t. Being bought by a blind chump like this, guaranteed to bring victim after victim into its province, all the while insisting that there’s a rational explanation? – The House must have thought all its Christmases had come at once.
And then it’s time for
[a cheap scare scene!] as one of Elliot’s test subjects in a sensory
deprivation experiment sits bolt upright and [screams into the
camera!]. Elliot then craps on about this for a full five
running-time-padding minutes, until he eventually remembers that
Nancy Baxter is actually there to talk about
problems. Here again Nancy hits a realistic note that wins the
viewer, confessing that her fears for Susan aren’t logical, but all
the same, she doesn’t want her in That House. (It is to the film’s
credit that there is no suggestion that
Back to the house, and an unauthorised visit by Susan and Lisa - the latter played by a young Meg Ryan in only her second film role. It's an odd thing: often with these early career appearances, you look at the person and ask, “Is that really so-and-so?” Meg Ryan, on the other hand, is so unmistakably Meg Ryan from the instant we lay eyes on her, it’s actually a little creepy. Contemporary promotion of this film tends to go the “Starring MEG RYAN!” route (the packaging of the R4 DVD unintentionally implies that Meg Ryan is the eponymous demon, as well as synopsising that, “Meg Ryan helps him in searching for the truth....”), but her screentime as Lisa is fairly brief. She makes the most of it, though, and embarrasses herself thoroughly, entering the house upon the line, “I’ve been dying to check this place out!” [*cough*], and adding, “Do know it’s possible to have sex with a ghost?” before opining that this is the real reason that John Baxter bought The House: that he has stashed away, “Some sex-starved ghost with boobs out to here!”
worship is so rad! When I sold my soul, they promised I'd look like
this for twenty-five years!"
"Devil worship is so rad! When I sold my soul, they promised I'd look like this for twenty-five years!"
Lisa goes on to play Captain Exposition, reciting the history of the DeFeos to an increasingly uncomfortable Susan before the two girls end up in the basement, inspecting the portal to hell – which still only has loose boards over it! Lisa also gives us the “ancient Indian burial ground” bit here before jokingly “oooooOOOOoooo”-ing down the portal....and deciding she’s had enough when the portal “oooooOOOOoooo”-s right back at her.
Aaaaand then it’s time for what really is the film’s most idiotic scene, as John Baxter is unable to shut off the hot water taps in his bathroom. As he wrestles with them, [steam!] blasting everywhere, the bathroom wall begins to move, creeping closer, and closer---
And then the taps are off and the wall is back in place.
See what I mean about “struggling”?
Meanwhile, Melanie is rushing to meet her manifest destiny, by playing David Hemmings with her photographs of Sanders. As she examines the enlarged images with a magnifying-glass, to her horror she sees – A COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY NIGHTMARISH AND TERRIFYING FACE!!!!!!
"Raar! I'm demon hell-spawn!"
"Raar! I'm demon hell-spawn!"
Um, yeah. (Actually, to be fair, the reveal of the face is a pretty good jump moment; it just doesn't pay to dwell on it too long.)
Melanie packs up her evidence and rushes away, presumably to try and convince Baxter that he is in real danger; but she never makes it. Melanie is first distracted by an enormous fly (of the “booga-booga!” variety), and then her brakes fail. Her car slams into the back of a parked truck, and we get what is, without any joking or snark, the best 3-D moment in the whole film, as the [metal pipes!] jutting from the back of the truck smash [straight through the windscreen!].
As Melanie tries to recover herself, the satchel containing her photographs ignites; and as she makes a panicky attempt to put the fire out, well, so does Melanie. Unable to get her car doors open, Melanie [goes up in flames!], her [gruesomely charred corpse!] pitching straight into the camera.
And remarkably – the film then fails to acknowledge Melanie’s death in any way. Granted, from this point on the rest of the characters are rather busy, but still.... You’d think someone would at least mention it. Talk about adding insult to injury.
The following day, a reluctant Susan is roped into taking Lisa and their would-be boyfriends, Jeff and Roger, to The House in Baxter’s absence. Four teenagers in an empty house? This can only mean – one thing!!
That’s right, it’s time for another séance.
Lisa constructs a makeshift Ouija board and after the usual dicking around and accusations of cheating, Lisa asks, “Is there anyone in this room who is in real danger?” The answer is “S-U-S---”
More accusations and denials follow, as the glass the kids are using as a planchette [hurls itself across the room!].
And then the four of them run outside and get into a small motor-boat.
You see what I mean about movie people vs real people? Call me credulous, but I’m pretty sure that if I’d just been given a message like that, if I’d just seen a glass fly through the air and smash itself, my first response wouldn’t be to climb into a small boat and head out onto choppy waters.
And that’s even if that boat hadn’t just appeared from nowhere.
While all this is going on,
Guess who should have Listened To Her Mother?
Amityville II, this move into the
with parents trying, and failing, to cope with the death of a child,
is moving in a way that the over-the-top, supernaturally tinged
deaths of Sanders and Melanie are not.
First, though, Baxter comes
out of an uneasy, alcohol-induced doze to hear strange bubbling noises
coming from the basement. There he finds
----and John Baxter jerks awake on the couch. Surprise!
This rather tacky scare
followed by one of my favourite moments, as John finds
Housework is a bitch, isn't it?
John’s inability to get
The Mauve Swirly From Hell
speaks in Susan’s voice, which the microphones pick up. It begs
Elliot glances from the
Mauve Swirly to the well and offers up an intuitive leap of truly
record-breaking dimensions, crying, “It’s using Susan! The force!
The force from the well! It killed Susan, and now it’s using her to
Aaaaand you’re basing that on...?
John makes a move to rush to the basement, but Elliot stops him, blathering, “We’ve got to save Susan too! We’ve got to release her! I think there’s a way! You’ve got to believe me!”, before rushing off.
John and Nancy follow the
Mauve Swirly to the basement, where Elliot is already staring down
into the [bubbling waters!] of the well. Suddenly
And confront it he does, as a [rubbery demon!] – which, in fact, does bear some resemblance to what emerged from Sonny Montelli in Amityville II – [launches itself!] from the well and toasts Elliot’s face with its [fire-breath!], as he [screams in agony!].
Elliot's confrontation with the demon didn't go quite the way he expected. At least, I guess it didn't....
You know, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned here – or rather, two: first, if you have a portal to hell in your basement, it’s probably not a good idea to stick your face right over it; and second, no-one called “Elliot” is ever going to make it out of a horror movie alive.
The demon grabs Elliot and pulls him into the well. He is dragged under the water, shouting as he goes, “Susan! Get out! Save yourself! Blbbb, blbbb, blbbbb....”
Well, what can I say? He was a dweeb, but a heroic dweeb.
The Mauve Swirly
disappears, which I suppose means Susan has, indeed, “saved
herself”. John drags
Amityville 3-D: from the pretty darn good to the pretty darn silly.
And then – if you’ll pardon the expression – all hell breaks loose.
Seriously, though it is impossible not to rag on this film, in a good 3-D print this thing must have totally rocked. If all those assaults upon the camera up until now weren’t enough, the last five minutes of Amityville 3-D exist wholly and solely in order to chuck things at the audience – and it isn’t fussy about what those things are.
The House goes berserk. [Beams!] fall, [mirrors!] shatter, [furniture!] topples, [chandeliers!] plunge, [appliances!] explode in [showers of sparks!]. [People!] fly through the air. John Baxter is attacked by a [stuffed swordfish!].
Actually, my very favourite moment here isn’t strictly a 3-D one: it’s when one of Elliot’s technicians gets abruptly squished by a flying door.
All through this, an icy gale has been blowing through The House; but as John succeeds in breaking open a door so that he and Nancy can escape, there is a sudden eruption of flames. The Baxters make it out onto the lawn, gazing back at the fire....and then get hurled to the ground amongst a shower of flaming debris as The House literally explodes. Not for Amityville 3-D the gorgeous but strangely ineffective fireball of Amityville II: this time The House is left a shattered, smouldering wreck....
....which of course explains why it will be in one piece, hale and hearty, six years later during the opening sequence of Amityville IV....
Want a second opinion of Amityville 3-D? Visit
Measure Visits Counter