In my reviews, I sometimes talk about characters afflicted with The Stupids: engaging in activities that no rational human being would undertake solely because there would be no movie otherwise. Amityville 3-D is a graduate lesson on The Stupids, which runs rampant among every character on screen save those who are quickly killed so as to spare us their idiocy. Beyond that, it so utterly fails to articulate its threat that the scary stuff presumably facilitated by everyone's moronic behavior turns into a running joke.
Said scary stuff starts with that infamous house in Amityville, site of a gruesome mass murderer and subsequently declared "haunted" by a couple of con artists and eager to exploit a gullible public’s willingness to swallow their toxic bullshit. Amityville 3-D actually acts as a sort of response to anyone who would dare question the pack of lies that started this whole franchise, presenting a professional skeptic who buys the house against everyone's better judgment and spends the next ninety minutes convincing himself that all the heinous shit happening isn't actually happening.
The man is played by Tony Roberts, and he works for a magazine depantsing phony psychics. The film opens with one of his typical efforts: taking down a gaggle of hucksters who have set up shop in the Amityville house in hopes of bilking cash from the gullible. Roberts takes that as affirmation that there are no real hauntings or possessions, and doubles down on the notion by promptly buying the house for a song. Bad idea. Pretty soon, realtors are dropping dead, hellholes are spitting up crap in the basement, and precocious friends of Roberts’ teenage daughter (including a pre-star Meg Ryan) are playing with Ouija boards in the attic.
Yet despite the increasing preponderance of evidence to the contrary, Roberts refuses to believe that there’s anything wrong. Nor do most of the film’s walking victims who can’t believe that the same thing that happened to the house’s previous occupants could possibly happen to them.
In more skilled hands, that idea could become quite potent: how our ability to blind ourselves can become a form of madness in and of itself. Skilled hands, unfortunately, are nowhere to be seen here. Instead, Amityville 3-D tries to come up with interesting ways for an inanimate object (the house) to do someone in. Supreme silliness emerges: neither scary nor intelligent nor particularly interesting. Indeed, the house itself doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite for the mayhem, since it attacks people far away from its cozy confines. Roberts is menaced in an elevator, his colleague gets it on the road in her car, and even those closer to the home die by indirect means rather than anything that could be attributed to stepping inside the front door.
And again, none of it would happen if any of these people had the slightest ounce of common sense. That’s par for the course with the Amityville series, of course – not a single soul in any of these movies has anything but wind whistling between their ears – but it doesn’t make the experience of watching them any less exasperating.
Director Richard Fleischer – a Hollywood veteran with dozens of credits under his belt – nonetheless betrays none of the atmospheric instincts required to make an effective horror movie. He views it all from the mechanistic standpoint of plot: who’s doing what and why without the slightest idea of how to generate a sense of menace in the audience. Presumably, the 3D effects were intended to make up for that, but they’re delivered with the same clunky lack of tact as the rest of the film. Every time an ostensibly scary moment arrives, we instantly sense a thousand ways to enhance the creepiness, only to watch Amityville 3-D almost willfully ignore them all. Nor does it bother with anything beyond the immediate point-and-click needs of the scenario, refusing to invest its setting with any air of mystery and instead counting on the previous two films to keep us up to speed.