Amityville 3-D (1983) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

Amityville 3-D (1983) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

The episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? covering Amityville 3-D was Written by Mike Holtz, Narrated by Travis Hopson, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

You’ve heard the horrific true story of Ronald DeFeo Jr. You’ve heard of the alleged true story of the Lutz family who moved in afterward. You may have even watched Paulie from the Rocky franchise move into the same house and face a horror scarier than anything a haunted house could ever conjure… his own kids… brother and sister… you know what? I can’t even say it. Don’t you put that evil on me, Ricky Bobby. Just watch Amityville II: The Possession. Bring a loofa and some bleach though because you’re going to want to scrub that off of your memory. Just when you’ve seen it all when it comes to a place up on Ocean Avenue, this third installment brings Amityville to your eyeballs with a PG rating. In 3-D. Featuring Meg Ryan and Becky from Full House. Welcome to WTF Happened to Amityville 3-D. Also known as Amityville III: The Demon (watch it HERE) if you’re nasty.

The story starts with 1982’s Amityville II: The Possession, a moderate box office success despite its weirdness (SERIOUSLY WHO OKAYED THE BROTHER-SISTER STORYLINE?) pulling in over 12 million dollars on a 5 million dollar budget. The film would also become something of a cult hit thanks to a wild storyline, amazing practical FX, and fun Evil Dead or Exorcist-type moments. Some even deem the film the best of the franchise. But not everyone was happy…

The Lutz family, who had claimed to be terrorized in the house for twenty-eight straight days, barely making it out with their lives (and potential book and movie licensing deals) were suing Producer Dino De Laurentiis. The Lutz family claims that Orion’s films titled Amityville II and Amityville 3-D mislead audiences to believe they were follow-ups to the allegedly true stories the family allegedly experienced inside the Ocean Avenue home. They claimed these new sequels were messing up their chances at their own follow-ups to the story which were set to tell the story of the events and hauntings the family allegedly went through AFTER leaving the home. ALLEGEDLY! Which, they of course also optioned the film rights for.

The courts would eventually side with Orion Pictures that the family could not allege that the word Amityville had somehow acquired a secondary meaning, leaving De Laurentiis and Orion to do their dark 3-D bidding. However, the production company notably had to include in the marketing material that this was NOT in fact a sequel to either the first or second films in the franchise. But you know it, I know it… everyone knows it. Speaking of which, I really can’t understand why we don’t just make a slasher movie with a guy in a hockey mask named Mason Short-trees who murders construction workers in the woods and call it a day while the Friday the 13th people make up their damn minds… but here we are. And so, a new Amityville sequel… ah, shit… non-sequel was in the works. And how can you make a film that’s the third film in a franchise, NOT seem like a third film in a franchise but also, kind of probably let everyone know that it is the third film in a franchise while the marketing noticeably says it is not the third film in a franchise? You put a “D’ on it. That sounded weird. Amityville 3-D was born. The film would be the latest picture to give 3-D a go in the horror world, following the footsteps of Jason Voorhees in 1982’s Friday the 13th Part 3 and Jaws 3-D.

The 3-D effect is a nice footnote on horror sequel history but in the end, didn’t do much to make the film more interesting. At one point, the effect is used heavily as a character tosses a frisbee into the audience. This is the kind of thing that makes you wonder just how easily entertained your own dumb ass is. Reviews weren’t impressed either, claiming it was headache-inducing and made the images blurry. More confusion ensued with the home release of the film, as viewers were naturally upset when they got their copy of Amityville 3-D home only to discover that not only did it not include the awesome novelty of the 3-D glasses, but that the film wasn’t in 3-D at all. And that, my friends, led to the re-release and re-naming of the film: Amityville III: The Demon. Which is listed in the encyclopedia as the most original film title of all time. Allegedly. Today, there are special editions of Amityville 3-D that you can order that come with 3-D glasses for your enjoyment. Which kind of like most of the things we collected from the 80s and 90s were fun…regardless of how pointless they were. You get your dirty hands off my POG collection, Dad.

Fantastic Voyage and Soylent Green director Richard Fleischer would helm the not third sequel in the franchise, written by David Ambrose under the name William Wales for….reasons? The casting would include Tony Roberts of Serpico as John Baxter, whose character was loosely based on real-life human being and paranormal investigator Stephen Kaplan. The word “loosely” meaning Dutch for “thou musn’t sue”. According to Kaplan, the Lutz family once reached out to him to investigate their haunted home after their alleged experiences. Kaplan agreed and told them his services were free….but with the caveat the public would be informed if it turned out to be a hoax. Which allegedly led to them canceling the investigation, prompting even more skepticism about both them and the famed Ed and Lorraine Warren’s claims about the house.

To round out the rest of a fascinating cast, No Country for Old Men’s Tess Harper plays the soon-to-be ex-wife of John Baxter, Horror stalwart Robert Joy hails as paranormal research skeptic Elliot West, and Zodiac’s Candy Clark portrays John’s colleague Melanie who is about to suffer one of the best death scenes in the whole franchise.

You’re sure to also recognize the daughter, Susan, played by Lori Laughlin of Full House fame and not a recent white-collar crime that happened, and Meg f*cking Ryan? Yep. Just like Randy Jackson’s autograph on a Katana sword, you aren’t going to NOT have Meg Ryan in your 3-D horror movie if given the chance. Even if her character is ultimately there to give some of the dumbest exposition you’ll ever hear in a movie. Speaking of dumb exposition, let’s get into exactly what happened in the film…

When Amityville 3-D opens up the title drop features the letters flying at our faces in a way that makes us feel like we’re on the world’s stupidest slide. This entire situation is ridiculous and you know it but we’re having fun, I think. For now. Next, we’re treated to a séance inside the home but wait! It’s actually a sting operation meant to debunk a couple of frauds posing as paranormal experts (cough, Ed and Lorraine Warren, cough) by a reporter and his friends. They wait until the lights are off and the séance is in full swing before a crew member starts taking flash photos all over the room, exposing a guy in a black onesie running around with a broomstick. This leads to old lady scams-a-lot awkwardly spitting right on Melanie’s face, which in 2024 is definitely assault but in 1983 it was considered a compliment, I guess?

We find out that our debunker John Baxter (who bears a striking resemblance to Ron Burgundy mixed with Ron Pearlman) is desperate to get away from his wife. So desperate that he decides to buy the home for himself. Because he’s the coolest guy at Shenanigan’s. Once he does; horrible, no good, very bad things start to happen to him, and visitor encounters with the home end in death. A real estate agent gets My Girl Macaulay Culkin’d by a large amount….of flies….somehow… and photographs of the man taken previously are developed to the realization that he was, in fact, Leatherface. Blame it on bad luck if you like but once the house is purchased, strange things begin to happen to John Baxter and friends. He’s almost killed by an elevator and a friend is… sprayed in the face with a fire extinguisher? John’s teenage daughter Susan is talked into sneaking into the house while her dad is away by her friend Meg Ryan who’s obsessed with the occult and denim clothing. Here, they find the previously dubbed “gateway to Hell” which is given a way worse origin story by Meg Ryan who literally explains “It was burst open by some colossal supernatural power from the depths of the earth. This is supposed to have been an ancient Indian burial ground. The tortured spirits are still down there waiting to rise up and claim their land.” Wow, that’s totally original and something I’ve never heard of before!

Later, as John’s friend Melanie leaves the home with some proof of demonic dealings, her brakes go out because one of the ghosts must have been a mechanic. Melanie is then involved in a car wreck that in no way was simply a plot device to get this giant pipe flying at the audience in 3-D. She then catches fire and burns to death in front of onlooker and Happy Gilmore’s homeless caddy. In a movie that’s PG-rated and otherwise devoid of many scares, this is a pretty memorable and f*cked up (bleeped) moment that again, is one of the best death scenes in the franchise. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only “mean” moment Amityville 3-D has to offer. Later in the film, John’s daughter drowns off screen in the water behind the home. She appears as a spectral presence, walking through the home in front of her mother as they perform CPR on her lifeless body outside. This understandably completely FUBAR’s her mom’s brain, who refuses to leave the home ever again. Ultimately, reporter and Curious George caretaker John decides to let a group of paranormal researchers come over and investigate, led by our guy Robert Joy. Here’s where things get wicked stupid as we’re all led by Susan’s Pink Ranger spirit force to the well in the basement where they try to trade for her soul. Instead, whatever the f*ck (bleeped) this thing is, pops up and drags Elliot into the Hot Tub Hell Machine before the home explodes, debris flies into our faces and John is left standing outside with nobody left in his life except for the wife he was so desperately trying to escape. Then a purple fly is seen flying out of the hole-o-death inside the home. Dead ass serious.

Orion Pictures would release the film the week before Thanksgiving in 1983 to the tune of nearly 2.5 million on the opening weekend and ultimately just over 6 million throughout its domestic run. This may not sound like much but the film did have the number one box office haul in its opening weekend. Not to mention 6 million adjusted for inflation is closer to a 21 million dollar opening by today’s standards. That doesn’t sound so shabby. However, the budget for Amityville 3-D is unknown. This would also turn out to be the last Amityville released in theaters for over twenty years when Ryan Reynolds would bring both the franchise and wet t-shirt contests back to the forefront in 2005.

Perhaps it was a money thing. Perhaps the constant legal issues with the Lutz family were no longer worth the hellish hassle. Or it could have been the doubt that a fourth entry would succeed theatrically after Amityville 3-D royally pissed off some fans and critics alike. Reviews for the film would feature complaints that the 3-D gimmick wasn’t worth the effort with Siskel saying, “all you ended up with was eyestrain and this little cardboard on your nose”. Even without the 3-D, modern critics agree, with the film currently sitting at a 14% “rotten” rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. But the fans love it, right? No, Lisa. They are tearing it apart as well with an 18% Rotten audience rating.

In the end, Amityville 3-D seems like it would be a goofy, fun time in everyone’s favorite all too exploited haunted house. What we get instead is a super serious and kind of sad movie with a weird ending featuring some kind of “Not-the-mamma” sewer monster. But at least there’s some fond memories of it. Allegedly. I mean, it has to be at least more appreciated than some of the other entries into this public domain nightmare of a franchise that includes titles like Amityville Scarecrow, The Amityville Moon, and my personal favorite, Amityville Vibrator. By those standards, Amityville 3-D or Amityville III: The Demon to South Central While Drinking It’s Juice In The Hood might as well be Citizen fricking Kane. So good job, guys!

And that my friends, is just WTF happened to Amityville 3-D. Thanks for reading! And remember…don’t buy a home on an Indian burial ground, okay? Though, in the current housing market, I really wouldn’t judge you. You might have to actually offer your body to the demons for financial returns just to pay the mortgage. Side note, I would totally Air B & B a night at the Amityville. Whether anything happens or not, you could write a book or five about it. Maybe sue someone? Go to Bed Bath and Beyond. Maybe Home Depot? Nice little Saturday. Have a good one, everybody.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

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