Tony Roberts - John Baxter
Tess Harper - Nancy Baxter
Lori Loughlin - Susan Baxter
Robert Joy - Eliot West
Candy Clark - Melanie
Meg Ryan - Lisa
Neill Barry - Jeff
Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts/Haunted House
Running Time - 105 Minutes
A journalist named John Baxter (Tony Roberts) and his partner Melanie (Candy Clark) expose shenanigans after they learn some old couple are doing fake seances inside the infamous Amityville house to make a quick buck. Thinking that the stories about the house are just fabrics of someone's imagination, John decides to buy the house while he separates from his wife (Tess Harper). But soon people start dying around him - including the real estate agent who sold the house. Melanie believes something is wrong with the house, but John is in denial and doesn't believe anything is wrong. But as soon as his family, especially his daughter (Lori Loughlin), is threatened, John involves a paranormal expert (Robert Joy) to stop the evil of the Amityville house.
I've made it pretty clear that the 1979 version of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is pretty overrated and not as great as many horror historians have claimed. Yes, I get why it was popular, but the film adaptation doesn't do much for me other than being an average haunted house flick. Honestly, I prefer the 2005 remake, which I find more entertaining. But 1981's AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION is the franchise's highlight, taking aspects from THE EXORCIST and using them in fun ways. Unfortunately, AMITYVILLE 3D just takes the series downhill quickly, with cheap visual gags, annoying characters, and a weak story. While I'm sure the series does get worse than this installment - at least from what I've heard - AMITYVILLE 3D was made to capitalize on a then-fading fad while boring the audience at the same time.
The screenplay is pretty much what ruins AMITYVILLE 3D, at least for me. While I'm not the biggest fan of the first film, at least the story somewhat interests me and the drama between the characters is worth investing in. Same goes with the second film. But this installment is just lazy in terms of its storytelling. For one, there's no sense of continuity with the other films. Why is there a well in the basement all of a sudden? Why is it holding some sort of demon that has never been mentioned before? I mean, the idea to have a visual evil presented is a good one - IF ANYTHING WAS DONE WITH IT! Hell, the film has bigger villains in the form of flies that seem to harm anyone they come across. But we get astral projection at one point for a dead character, and these flies actually leaving the house to attack someone at their workplace inside of an elevator - what are the rules again? If things were more explained, rather than the filmmakers just being focused on the visual gags, maybe I'd like this sequel more.
I also gotta say that the characters are either uninteresting, or just plain annoying. The John Baxter character, in particular, deserved to be sucked down that well in the basement from the first frame. I get that characters have to be somewhat skeptical about the supernatural occurrences around them to up the tension and suspense along the narrative. But this dude was dense as hell! People are dying around the guy and not once does he believe what his friends and family are telling him - THAT THE HOUSE IS EVIL! How many people have to croak before the dude gets it? It's only when a certain member gets killed that he finally realizes his home is haunted! Well no shit.
The other characters aren't much better. John is going through a divorce, or a conscious uncoupling, with his wife Nancy. She's kind of a clingy nag who becomes a bit mental by the final act. Daughter Susan is extremely cute, but there's not much to her besides that. Melanie is better than John and actually sees things for what they are, but more could have been done with her character. Susan's best friend, Lisa, is the only character I genuinely liked. Why? Even though she had the expository dialogue about the house's history, at least she had a personality. Although I did find it really dumb that she, Susan, and two guy friends decided to do a seance inside of a haunted house. Because, you know, that just makes the evil weaker and stuff...
It also doesn't help that the story is pretty much nonexistent for the most part. The narrative is pretty much glued together by the 3-D gags and special effects that are shot while trying to do a teenage version of the original story. What makes things worse is that the evil isn't just inside the house, but can travel outside of the house to do bad things. For example, a bunch of flies attacks a character inside a work elevator, while controlling the elevator to make it crash with the character inside. There's also a car that's miles away from the house, whose doors just happen to lock on their own before bursting into flames. And then a character drowns in a lake outside of the house off camera. So now the house can't possess people, yet it can travel out of its source to attack people anywhere?? Maybe the filmmakers felt that this would bring some freshness to the AMITYVILLE franchise. But it just goes against its own logic - logic that was set up for two straight films without much of a problem. It's a haunted house movie that wants to be a slasher flick to bring in a younger audience. It doesn't work.
The 3D effects could have saved the film by using the visuals as a distraction to the weak story. I mean, those opening credits - where the words fly towards the screen - could have been cool in three dimensions. Watching flies travel towards the screen, as well as hands, a flashlight, a skeleton, stream, a Frisbee, a demon popping out of a well, and people being thrown towards the screen could have been a lot of fun wearing 3-D glasses. But unfortunately, I watched this in 2-D. Sure, some of these effects made me laugh a bit. But they look a bit hokey and distracting without that added effect. Still, I can tell the producers were trying to make it work. I'm sure if I were wearing special glasses, I would be having a blast with these dumb visuals. So I can't hate the film for that.
What I can hate the film for is that fake looking demon that comes out of the well. GREAT special effects, guys! The Ghoulies looked more realistic than this thing. I doubt this "demon" scared anyone back in 1983. I probably would have died laughing. Maybe that's the demon's power - death by laughter. In that case, he's doing his job right.
The direction by Richard Fleischer, best known for directing 1954's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, 1973's SOYLENT GREEN, 1984's CONAN THE DESTROYER, and 1985's RED SONJA, is okay at best. I can't judge his work on the 3-D stuff, but I'm sure Fleischer used them to the best of his ability. But honestly, Fleischer's direction is pretty much TV-movie level. There are attempts at tension and creating this bleak atmosphere at times. But Fleischer had to deal with a terrible script that no one was going to be able to salvage. So it was going to be a lost cause either way. But the film isn't an eye sore, so there's that.
The acting was a mixed bag as well. Tony Roberts had a terrible character, but he made it work as John Baxter. I was more distracted by whether he looked more like Will Ferrell or Ron Perlman, rather than his acting. Tess Harper didn't do much for me as Nancy, although I found her traumatized act in the final act of the film pretty funny. Lori "Aunt Becky" Loughlin was good in her role as the cute daughter, Susan. She was pretty endearing and charming. Robert Joy didn't get much to do, but he was pretty good anyway. Candy Clark seemed to be trying too hard at times as Melanie, but I thought her exit was memorable. And Meg Ryan, before all the botox and plastic surgery, is pretty much the best actor as Lisa. I really dug her spunk and she seemed to be having a blast making this film. I'm not surprised she eventually became an A-lister soon after.
THE FINAL HOWL
AMITYVILLE 3-D is probably not the worst AMITYVILLE installment, but it's still pretty bad due to it being kind of a bore to watch. The film isn't scary and the special effects are unintentionally funny. The story is bare bones, hoping the dull visuals would compensate for that. And the acting is a mixed bag for many reasons. I'm sure some will get a kick out of AMITYVILLE 3-D, but it didn't do much for me. This film deserves a "For Sale" sign, in my opinion.