The Complete History of '80s 3-D Films -- All 10 of Them

The Complete History of '80s 3-D Films -- All 10 of Them

Feb 21, 2012

For no other reason besides pure cinematic insanity, our friends over at Drafthouse Films (Four Lions, Bullhead) decided that, in response to the endless deluge of 3-D movies that hit the screens these days, they'd go way back in time and dust off a truly historical 3-D film. No, not House of Wax; we're not going that far back.

No, the flick we're here to discuss is the truly bizarre 1981 western known as Comin' at Ya! The trivial tidbits on this movie are virtually endless, but its most noteworthy claim is that, yes, it did re-ignite Hollywood's interest in 3-D films, at a time when 3-D was more or less dead. Whether you want to thank or destroy Comin' at Ya! for kick-starting a (very) ill-fated 3-D resurgence, there's little denying that the Italian / Spanish / American co-production is certainly one weird little curiosity in the annals of novelty cinema. Boasting tons of silly visual trickery, a lot of harsh violence, and a nasty tendency to treat women poorly, the 81-minute neo-western certainly isn't boring. And while I have no idea whether a modern audience has any interest in seeing such a kitschy C-level Peckinpah copycat that flings shotguns into your face, I do respect my pals at Drafthouse Films for embracing the weirdest of obscure cinematic relics.

And since I actually lived through this failed renaissance of three-dimensional film exhibition, here's a quick rundown of the brief climb and speedy demise of the "second" of three 3-D crazes:

1. Comin' at Ya! (August 21, 1981) -- Filmways distributed in 1981; Drafthouse Films in 2012.

2. Parasite (March 12, 1982) -- Embassy Pictures theatrical release; Wizard VHS; Anchor Bay DVD -- Schlock lord Charles Band directs a very young Demi Moore in this grungy, futuristic tale of a mega-splattery monster that does truly awful things to various body parts.

3 Friday the 13th Part 3 (August 13, 1982) -- Paramount Pictures -- 3-D "goodies" include a severed eyeball, a deadly arrow, and a guy getting chopped from crotch to neck. The film is of trivial note because A) it's the only F13 sequel to be directed by a two-timer (Steve Miner), B) it's the film in which Jason acquires his hockey mask, and C) it's really gross to look at. Like porno movie gross.

4. Treasure of the Four Crowns (January 21, 1983) -- Cannon Films theatrical release; MGM on VHS -- The same team that made Comin' at Ya! are back with their own "rendition" of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I remember nothing about this movie, aside from the fact that I dragged my sister to see it, and I'd like to keep it that way. Meh, who am I kidding? I'd watch it again, probably.

5. Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (May 20, 1983) -- Columbia Pictures theatrical/VHS; Sony DVD -- A pretty shameless Star Wars knock-off starring Peter Strauss, Ernie Hudson, and probably the youngest version of Molly Ringwald you'll ever see. Fans of bad cinema will no doubt delight in the joyously rabid performance by Michael Ironside as the villainous "Overdog," although my memory banks might just be overselling that a little bit.

6. Jaws 3 (July 22, 1983) -- Universal Pictures -- I could talk about this one all day: it's truly terrible, but the fourth Jaws is (somehow) even worse! It stars Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, and Louis Gossett Jr. -- all of whom (somehow) survived to build great careers! It was almost a comedy called Jaws 3, People 0! (True fact!) It was the first (and only) film ever directed by the excellent production designer Joe Alves! Lea Thompson is in it! As far as the 3-D goes, I do recall a floating arm, and one of the fakest-looking sharks ever created by grown adults.

7. The Man Who Wasn't There (August 12, 1983) -- Paramount Pictures -- So far all of these really awesome and monumentally well-crafted 3-D movies have been action, horror, or sci-fi flicks. So how about a nice farce maybe? Sure! Perhaps Steve Guttenberg as a governmental nerd who drinks a potion that makes him invisible? Absolutely! Nothing goes better with the visual novelty of 3-D like an invisible leading man! If I had to sit through this one again (and I don't), I'd probably choose to focus on the supporting cast of Jeffrey Tambor, Art Hindle, William Forsythe, and the ever-adorable Lisa Langlois.

8. Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (August 19, 1983) -- Universal Pictures -- My theory is that this is the flick that killed 3-D. By itself, sure, just another piece of junk, but right on the heels of so many other (truly) terrible 3-D movies? Enough is enough. It was Charles Band that helped break 3-D in, and he was also on hand to help kill it. This one's a mish-mash of post-apocalyptic motor-bike fighting and monster villains with crazy 3-D robot fists, I think. I was 12, all right?!? I'm still amazed that major studios used to buy and distribute stuff this plainly amateurish, Makes me feel like I grew up in old-fashioned times. Oh, also Metalstorm features Bull from Night Court, the always-awesome Tim Thomerson, and Kelly Preston because why the hell not?

9. Amityville 3 (November 18, 1983) -- Orion Pictures theatrical; Vestron VHS; MGM DVD -- Most film freaks choose to remember Richard Fleischer as the great director of films like Fantastic Voyage, Dr. Dolittle, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea -- but the man did a bunch of legitimate stinkers late in his career, including Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonja, and this ... the second sequel in a franchise that promptly spiraled completely out of control. Here we have the likable character actor Tony Roberts as a reporter who (stupidly) moves his family into a haunted house. This PG-rated slog is arguably more appealing that the consistently unpleasant Amityville 2: The Possession, but it also has a distinct layer of "TV movie sheen" all over it. Fans of actresses will enjoy seeing Tess Harper, Candy Clark, and Lori Loughlin wander through the corny 3-D proceedings, and yes, that is a very young Meg Ryan, in only her second feature.

10. Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (November 22, 1985) -- Atlantic Releasing Company theatrical; Paramount VHS; MGM DVD -- So thanks to nine rotten movies, 3-D was (temporarily) dead. Just like that. Oh, except for when this Korean animated movie popped up two years later and nobody cared. Finally caught up with it a few years ago and it put me right to sleep.

So thanks again (I think) to Comin' at Ya! and Drafthouse Films for this colorful but horrible trip down memory lane. They'll be opening Comin' at Ya! across Texas later this month -- and we'll run this article again if you guys snag the rights to Treasure of the Four Crowns next.

Categories: Features
Tags: 3D movies, 3D, 1980s
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