Can it be true? Is the final Saw really upon us? Hard to believe James Wan’s little indie nasty resonated with audiences six years back in a way large enough to spawn six freakin’ sequels. And what’s more surprising is that Jigsaw waited until the very end of his October reign to cash in on the trendy 3D craze that’s been putting the hurt on our wallets the last few years.
With Saw 3D’s release quickly approaching, there’s perhaps no better time to reflect on the genre’s most successful (or, in some cases, most baffling) forays into all three dimensions. Of course we’re going to cover all of the mainstays, but this list wouldn’t be worth much if we didn’t pull the curtain back on some of the truly bizarre offerings that somehow found their way to dimly lit screens all over the world.
So, before you head out the door to savor the 3D traps (they’re coming alive, ya know!), pop on those uncomfortable glasses, pocket some aspirin for the inevitable headache and let’s remember ten films from the past and present that were so damn large they couldn’t be contained by two measly dimensions!
10. It Came From Outer Space (1953)
While I’ve never come anywhere near close to seeing this one projected in 3D, Jack Arnold’s archetypal science fiction film (small town besieged by an alien threat) holds up as a compelling cautionary tale. Richard Carlson (in the first of two films on this list) was never better as the desperate believer shunned by a community of skeptics who refuse to believe in the alien threat buried at their feet. The notion that humanity isn’t ready to interact with such a superior and technically proficient race speaks volumes about society’s dependence on technology (now, more relevant than ever) and, frankly, the alien designs are all kinds of awesome. The densely layered Ray Bradbury script certainly doesn’t hurt much, either.
9. Piranha 3D (2010)
Crass, drive-in exploitation found its way to the multiplexes this past summer and while the upconverted 3D was little more than a sloppy and insignificant gimmick, the movie was another story altogether. Deftly handled by director Alexandre Aja, Piranha smartly understands that the key to nonsensical success is to refrain from winking at the audience. Everything here is played straight and it’s an amazing juxtaposition against the ludicrous threat of prehistoric fish. A fantastic cast (Elisabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames) adds class all the way around this watery horror story, but it’s the dollops of boobs and blood that cement this one at number 9 on the list. The penultimate set-piece, a balls-to-the-wall massacre of dozens of drunken college kids, is worth the price of admission alone.
8. Silent Madness (1984)
Here’s one of those forgotten flicks that came on the coattails of the initial slasher ‘boom’. Archival screenings are rare, meaning we don’t know how the film’s hopelessly dated 3D FX played from behind polarized lenses but it remains an engaging slasher for those of you who like this sort of thing. It gets underway with a hilarious computer mix-up, resulting in a psychotic murderer being released from a mental institution, and moves at good clip with lots of victims along the way. Rotoscoped hatchets fly toward the screen (even hovering in the air for maximum 3D effect!) while Creepshow’s Aunt Bedelia (Viveca Lindfors) steals the show with her limited presence. Sleepaway Camp fans will be delighted with this ‘reunion’ of sorts between two of Camp Arawak’s counselors, Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) and Meg (Katherine Kamhi), even if they don’t actually share any screen time in this one. A vintage 80’s slasher, this one. By now you probably already know whether or not it’s your cup of tea but I’ll go on record as saying it’s worth tracking down.
7. Amityville 3D (1983)
It seems to be rule of thumb among horror fans that the absolutely tasteless Amityville II – The Possession remains the proverbial diamond in a very rough series. I don’t want to take anything away from the film that took a real life tragedy and converted it to a tale of incest and demonic possession, but I will say that Amityville 3D also happens to be lighthearted fun for those willing to go along with it. We’ve got a rubber demon that looks like a precursor to the following year’s C.H.U.D. (although he’s also glimpsed in the aforementioned The Possession), a messy car accident resulting in a char-broiled corpse and even a sinister elevator that traps our hero (Tony Roberts) and puts him through the paces. It’s the goofiest, most harmless funhouse ever put on film and that’s how it should be approached. But Amityville 3D is also home to one spectacularly spooky bit involving a drowned girl that will provide a chill to all but the most jaded. No, it’s not as delightful as the second entry in the franchise but it remains a close second. Easily.
6. My Bloody Valentine (2009)
Patrick Lussier’s remake of the 1981 slasher masterpiece turned out to be so much more fun than expected. It helps that the 3D is probably the best we’ve seen (take THAT, James Cameron, and all of your ”3D horror is cheap shit” rhetoric) in this recent resurgence of the gimmick. From the opening, sensationalized news clippings and culminating with Harry Warden’s numerous pickaxe swings, this movie knows exactly how to utilize the format while making its audience duck for cover. Give credit to Todd Farmer for inverting this story in a way that keeps even the most dedicated fans of the original on their toes.
5. Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)
This exploitation classic is so outrageous (in both concept and execution) that I’m patiently waiting for the day where I can catch a revival screening in 3D. Riffs on Mary Shelley’s classic are numerous but when you have Udo Kier as a Serbian Baron Frankenstein spouting such unforgettable gems as ”you have to fuck life in the gall bladder!”, then you know you’ve got something special. Director Paul Morrissey fashions a hilarious epic of sex and gore that also drips with rich, Gothic atmosphere. The old adage has never been truer: They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
4. House of Wax (1953)
André De Toth’s classic slice of 1950’s genre filmmaking remains as haunting and enthralling today as when it first dripped off the screen fifty-seven years ago. An ‘updated’ retelling of 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, Vincent Price is sinister perfection as Professor Henry Jarrod and Charles Bronson is his ‘deafmute’ assistant. The ‘wax’ creations are suitably creepy and the movie unfolds with macabre grandeur.
3. Jaws 3D (1983)
Jaws 3D has taken a lot of shit over the years and while, admittedly, the special effects are sketchy at best, the movie can be quite fun. Louis Gossett Jr. steals the show as Sea World’s unscrupulous administrator Calvin Bouchard, whose greed and ineptitude lead to the destruction of the park’s underwater lagoon. Simon MacCorkindale is the hilariously ineffective shark hunter while 99% of his partner’s (P.H. Moriarity) dialogue is completely incomprehensible. Dennis Quaid might consider this sequel among the greatest embarrassments of his life, but he’s not a bad Mike Brody here. He and Bess Armstrong share some decent chemistry and his all-too-brief relationship with Sean (John Putch) provides some strong moments in the first third. And who can forget the mother shark’s climactic, slow-motion death charge? This second sequel to Steven Spielberg’s immortal classic may not be good, but if you can’t have fun with the way in which Gossett delivers the line ”we talkin’ ‘bout some damn shark’s mutha!?” then you’re beyond saving.
2. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Having already landed one film on this list, director Jack Arnold and star Richard Carlson reteamed for another Universal genre film – one which would go onto to become one of our all time classics. From the absolutely gorgeous underwater cinematography (like when our resident Gill-Man spies the lovely Julie Adams (in that bathing suit!) to the technically impressive creature FX (sure they’re dated, but remain undeniably effective), this gets my vote for the greatest monster movie ever made. It works because The Gill-Man is both an imposing presence for our unsuccessful Amazon travelers, but not without sympathy. I haven’t yet been able to see this creature feature in 3D, but it’s how premiere audiences were introduced to this creature. Perhaps the trendy resurgence will motivate Universal to give us the original version in 3D so we, too, can suffer the Gill-Man’s wrath while in the confines of our living room!
1. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
Even now, I’m not sure any 3D film has been as gratifying to watch with audiences as this one. Director Steve Miner returned to Crystal Lake for a second consecutive outing – this one offering a barrage of eye-popping 3D imagery. The earliest moments include crowd-pleasing bits such as a smoking joint being thrust into our faces before Jason appears, firing spear guns and slamming machetes down at us. Part III happens to be nestled between two stronger Fridays, but seeing this one on the big screen elevates it to a whole new level. Characters are enjoyable and an ambiguous back story is given to Mr. Voorhees that suggests he might do more than just kill his victims on occasion. (How does Chris survive her first encounter with him after all?) For straight-up slasher mayhem, Friday 3D can’t be topped. It may not be the best film on this list, but it puts the format to almost perfect use.
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