Richard Fleischer, 1983
Starring: Tony Roberts, Tess Harper, Robert Joy, Meg Ryan
“It seems like a convergence of events that could only be... supernatural.”
John and his partner Melanie hire psychics to hold a seance in the infamous Amityville house, but then discover that the psychics are con artists. John and Melanie wind up buying the Amityville house to further investigate it and reveal the well-known past haunting as a hoax. Their real estate agent dies on the premises, but John is sure there’s a rational explanation. Melanie’s photographs turn up weirdly distorted and soon other deaths occur -- Melanie herself is killed -- though John still refuses to believe the house is evil. But after his teenage daughter dies and his wife insists that she is still alive, he allows a team of real paranormal investigators to check out the house.
Though this isn’t really supposed to be a direct sequel, it references the DeFeo murders (the subject of Amityville II) that happened before the Lutz family (depicted in The Amityville Horror) moved into the house. The actual Lutzes were involved in a law suit at the time and could not be part of the story line for legal reasons. I won’t deny that the premise is interesting. A couple of skeptical psychic researchers investigating the Amityville house could have some promise -- I’m thinking of The Frighteners -- but instead it fails at just about every level.
I don’t know how Richard Fleischer managed to drop the ball so thoroughly here, as he had an interesting career that includes 10 Rillington Place, Soylent Green, The Boston Strangler, Fantastic Voyage, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Conan the Destroyer, and Red Sonja. Between the lousy script, bad acting, boring cinematography, and terrible film quality, there’s not much that Amityville 3-D does right. It certainly doesn't live up to the fantastically bad Jaws 3-D and sadly even lacks that Ed Wood-ian sense of “so bad it’s good.”
The acting might be the worst thing about the film, despite the fact that there are some familiar faces. Tony Roberts (Hannah and Her Sisters) is weirdly out of place as the skeptical John and probably gives the worst performance of his career. A young Melanie Griffith appears as his daughter’s friend and has some great dialogue about how she thinks having sex with a ghost would be great. TV actress Tess Harper plays John’s distraught wife, and Lori Laughlin (Full House) plays his unfortunate daughter. Robert Joy (The Hills Have Eyes) and Candy Clark (American Graffiti) also co-star, but absolutely no one gives a decent performance here.
I wish I could say that the effects sort of save the film, but Amityville 3-D is incredibly silly and probably the shining moment of the film is the conclusion, when the house proceeds to launch everything imaginable at the camera to maximize on the 3-D, which it ignored for 90% of the running time. Though Amityville 4 may be able to boast a possessed lamp, 3-D features a mounted swordfish out for blood that flies across the screen and narrowly avoids impaling our robust hero. There’s an amusingly fake seance that opens the film and the basement, already sinister in the first two films, is now the home to some kind of insane, swirling “well.” And where The Amityville Horror had a fair number of flies, 3-D just has a ridiculous amount that swarm and somehow kill the real estate agent in the first of a string of completely implausible events. I wish I could say that some of these implausible events are silly or remotely entertaining, but they’re really just overwhelmingly dull.