As pertaining to motion pictures, describes any film that exploits, in its marketing or promotion, the use of stereoscopic (3-dimensional) filmmaking techniques.

This blog is my notepad as I research a nonfiction book spotlighting 3-D genre films of the last century. While the book will focus primarily on films from the 60's, 70's and 80's this blog has no restrictions.

All articles on this blog are copyright 2010-13 of its author,
Jason Pichonsky, unless otherwise stated.

Images are used for information purposes and remain the rights of their respective owners.

Based on a layout by: 16thday

The World Loses 3-D Pioneer

Wow, I can't believe I missed this obit until now.

Chris Condon, producer and cinematographer of The Stewardesses (1969), passed away on Dec 19 in Encino, California after suffering a stroke at the age of 87.

Condon is best known in the 3-D world for designing stereoscopic lenses (through his company StereoVision Entertainment) that could be used with a single camera. The Stewardesses was a phenomenal hit, banking over $25M despite its budget of just $100,000 and its vignette style story telling that was extremely light on plot and heavy on soft core sexploitation. His lenses were used on a number of 70's features including Flesh For Frankenstien (1973) and into the the next decade. He served as a stereoscopic consultant on Owensby's first 3-D film Roitwettler: The Dogs of Hell (1982) and he consulted on many more films through the eighties 3-D boom; Parasite (1982) and Charles Band's empire building film Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn (1983), and the Universal Studios release Jaws 3-D (1983).

Together with Joseph Mascelli the authored the American Cinematography Manual of The American Society of Cinematographers.


Alas Virginia, there is no Santa Claus

…at least not for readers of this blog.

With the holiday season in full swing, I’m just not able to get an informative review of the third segment from Tales From The Third Dimension before Christmas is through.
My hugest apologies.

But I thought I should get something up here as a Christmas treat. A few of us might remember when Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas got the 3-D conversion treatment a few years back. The conversion was adequate but just imagine what it would have been if the film had been shot in 3-D ala Coraline.

Well thanks to Joel Fletcher, an animator on the film, we can. A stereoscopic fan he shot 3 dimensional photographs of a number of scenes in the film. They’ve but up on the web for a while now, but if you missed them grab your anaglyph glasses and check out this link.

 Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

A Halloween Tale from the 3rd Dimension Part III in 3-D


The second segment featured in Tales of the Third Dimension, "The Guardians" is a 19th century period tale of grave-robbing inspired by the works of Poe and Lovecraft.  Things begin with Nigel, a hospitable local graverobber, who returns home fresh from his duties that afternoon, and finds himself entertaining two uninvited vagabonds, Charley and Freddie. After much prompting by the pair, Nigel muses about the people he has buried and the wealth they may have taken to their graves. Quickly after their visit, Charley and Freddie take to robbing that day's newest grave, cutting off the finger of the young dead girl in order to remove a valuable ring.
William Hicks as Nigel, in a performance that channels John Candy's SCTV character Mayor Tommy Shanks.
The next day, Charley, the so-called mastermind of the operation, recalls rumors of secret catacombs hidden under a decrepit church, long since sealed off. The pair return to Nigel and, when coaxing won't work, strong arm him into revealing the entrance’s secret location. After pillaging a few of graves in the catacombs the greedy Charley leaves Freddie for dead, pinned under a gigantic stone that covered a secret chamber. Charley treks deeper into the underground labrinyth and quickly encounters the tomb's guardians.  Rats. More than can be counted.
The "Guardians" is Tales of the Third Dimension's strongest story, though it is not the films most entertaining segment (that is reserved for its last). It is filled with an ambitious visual atmosphere and characters that are as charming as they are dark. Charley in particular is played with devilish flare by Terry Laughlin, while William Hicks’ understated almost non-performance of Nigel services the naive character very well. But the maturity of this segment's direction lies in the hands of E.O. Studios most experienced director, Worth Keeter, a staple at E.O. Studios. Not only did he helm the hillbilly gothic Wolfman (1979) for Owensby (which features an Irish lychanthrope returning to his Carolinian birthplace) but he also had a hand in all of the 3-D productions done at the E.O. studio including its most successful international 3-D project Rottweiler a.k.a The Dogs of Hell (1983). After Owensby’s studios stop producing films he went on to direct a number of straight-to-video features (including 1993’s Snapdragon featuring an early Baywatch Pamela Anderson) finally landing a regular directing gig on the kids TV series Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, overseeing American sequences which were intercut with with the really cool stuff from the Japanese tokusatsu (superhero teams) series of Super Sentai television programs.
Japanese Super Sentai.
The catacombs in "The Guardians" offer ample opportunity to show off depth as the camera tracks past foreground cobwebs and through confined archways filled with skeletal remains. Charley and Freddie must slosh through dank water to enter the bowels of the tomb and past rubber bats on strings (always an entertaining conceit in 3-D films of the era). This is after all a gothic tale on a budget and the rats that eventually devour the greedy Charley are impeccably clean and far less menacing then they should be, despite Keeter's best efforts. But it's not Tales from the Third Dimension's budget shortfalls that keeps "the Guardians" from rising to the showcase segment of the film, as it must have been intended. Indeed it features the movies most grandiose sets and art direction. It's quite simple the story's simple plot and it's all to familiar comeuppance twist ending.

A taste of the 3-D that might exist in the stereoscopic version of the film.

"The Guardians" is a tale well told and finely acted. It must have been a real entertaining treat in 3-D, unfortunately in 2-D it is merely so-so.

Sorry for the Absence

Wow. Has it really been a month and a half since my last post? And I was only a third through my Halloween 3-D picture Tales of the Third Dimension --shame on me for leaving you readers hanging on for so long. But I have a pretty darn good excuse for my extensive absence. Well, that’s only partially true. The truth is I ran out of steam and my full review of the Owensby Studio anthology film still would have spilled past Halloween. The reason for the extensive delay in getting back to business is the birth of my second child. Dirty diapers and the wrangling of a newborn and a two year old have left me pretty exhausted at the end of the day—the result has been very little writing. Not much film going either (it was so much easier with just one child to contend with).

At any rate, I’ll be getting back to the review this week. I owe you two more chapters from the film. It’s not a complete wash though. The last story in the anthology just happens to be a Christmas tale. It seems it could all work out in the end.

For now, why don’t you have a listen to this live musical performance of “Chasin’ Down a Dream” by Mama Said, a song that sings the exploits of Tales of the Third Dimension’s producer Earl Owensby.

A Halloween Tale from the 3rd Dimension Part II

My review of Earl Owensby’s Tales of the Third Dimension continues...
WARNING there may be spoilers!

The first installment of Tales of the Third Dimension is written and directed by EO Studios alumni Thom McIntyre. McIntyre penned the inaugural EO Studios stereoscopic projects; Rottweiler: Dogs of Hell (1982), Hit the Road Running (1983) and Hot Heir (1984) as well as a number of early films for Owensby including Seabo (1978) and Living Legend: The King of Rock and Roll (1980) --a disguised Elvis Presley biopic, which starred Owensby as the King renamed Eli Caulfield, with songs by Roy Orbison and Ginger Alden (Presley’s real life fiancĂ©e at the time of his death).
Does this couple remind you of someone... undead?
With “Young Blood” McIntyre draws upon the classic monster films of the sixties and seventies as inspiration. Two social workers, Dudley and Ms. Marquette make a mysterious late night house call to the eerie Victorian Manor, in order to facilitate an adoption for its residents, an enigmatic Count and Countess. Although they already have a small salo-faced brood of their own they wish to add to their family. Dudley has been weary of the Count from first meeting (perhaps it’s his long black cape or Transylvanian accent), yet he consents to the adoption request due in no small part to the urgings of Ms. Markette (seemingly mesmorized by the count). A mute boy is brought to the new parents, described as a problem child with no explanation given. At this point it becomes clear that the couple are indeed vampires as the Count drains the blood from Ms. Markette. The problem child then turns out the window to face the full moon and begins a lycanthropic transformation. Once in wolf form he attacks and kills the vampires. The next morning Dudley returns to collect the boy, who it is revealed is Dudley’s son.
The Children of the Night. What music they make.

And that’s it. A story that ends when it really should have just began. “Young Blood” is the weakest of the three tales contained in Tales of the Third Dimension. This can be blamed on first time director Thom McIntyre, he wrote the script after all. His direction is adequate, he even manages to hurl a few candles at the camera to heighten the 3-D effect, but the script (built on such an absurd premise) is far to heavy handed for its subject matter and devoid of the humor it could have delivered. There are no attempts to create a sympathetic Count longing for a child since he is played and written as a caricature of Dracula, complete with an old world accent. Contrasted with the vaudevillian humour delivered by our host Igor from the introductory segment (also written by McIntyre), it is a real missed moment.

It would also seem that Mr. McIntyre had also seen a few Paul Naschy films, because where else in moviedom can a werewolf kill a vampire simply by scratching them.

Which brings me to the lycanthrope. The transformation of boy to wolf is achieved through a number of mismatched lap dissolves. My copy of the film is pan-and-scanned so I can only assume that we watch the boys hand change color and grow hairier. In fact we are never really treated to a good look of the werewolf at all. The bulk of the transformation occurs under a sheet and when it leaps out to attack the Count it is often obscured.

We never get a glimpse as good as this publicity still in the film.
So this first story is a bit of a dud. Don’t worry they do get better...

A Halloween Tale from the 3rd Dimension

I wanted to get a film review up on this blog in time for Halloween. But which stereoscopic movie to choose? There are of course the usual 3-D horror offerings; Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D, Amityville 3-D, even Flesh For Frankenstein. But no, it needs to be more unique then those. I want to dig deep, so deep that I could unearth the rarest of 3-D horror offerings. 1984’s Silent Madness might do, but it needs to be more than just the familiar slasher flick. I think I’ve found the rarest of the rare in the 1984 anthology film. A film so rare that it has only been available once on home video, in 1998 as part of the EO Studios 25th Anniversary VHS collection. This now out of print tape could only be ordered directly from the studio that made it. The film is Tales of the Third Dimension and the studio is EO Studios home of North Carolina film producer Earl Owensby.

Owensby today; 74 years young.
Earl Owensby is a self-made filmmaker.  After military service as a marine and a successful business career Owensby was bitten by the movie making bug and setup shop in his hometown of Shelby N.C. His first foray into the movie business was
Challenge (1974), a Walking Tall (1973) inspired revenge flick in which he also starred. Often dubbed the “redneck Roger Corman” (although he most likely prefers the description G.Q Magazine used; “the Dixie DeMille”), Owensby’s films often played the bible belt drive-in circuit and became a training ground for North Carolinian filmmakers Worth Keeter and Thom McIntyre. All of who contribute to Tales of the Third Dimension. While E.O. Studios films often suffer from a lack of polish due to their budgetary constraints, I always find them extremely entertaining, which is all they attempt to be.
Now onto the review...


After seeing Tony Anthony’s 3-D spaghetti western Comin’ at Ya in 1982, Owensby purchased a number of Stereovision lens made by Chris Condon, and declared that his studio would produce all it’s films in 3-D. He started with the successful Rottweiler: Dogs of Hell (1982), a sort of Jaws clone with genetically enhanced rottweilers standing in for the Great White. Owensby also starred, as a small town sheriff charged with protecting his town. Owensby came close to his promise and would produce six more films in the third dimension, only his last film of the era, The Rutherford County Line (1987).

Classic comedy team Laurel & Hardy?
Tales of the Third Dimension is an anthology film, very much in the tradition of Amicus Productions’ Tales from the Crypt (1972). It’s EC Comics influences are also front and center. The film’s three segments are hosted by Igor (although his tombstone reads Clyde Jones), a living corpse who speaks in Rod Sterling’s voice. During his tongue in cheek introductions a group of vultures cat call from the sidelines. 

The 3 Stooges, in vulture form.
These buzzards, rod puppets with little more than a mouth for movement, caricature the classic comedy teams Laurel and Hardy, and the Three Stooges (Larry, Shemp and Moe). These sequences, filled with blue light and fog, effectively copy the old EC Comics horror hosts although the pace is decidedly slow and the puppetry of all the characters very stiff. While the film is a collaboration of E.O. Studios directors, Earl Owensby himself is credited with directing this wrap-around material, his only directing credit. 

Igor: built by Photo Lab of Charlotte owner Harry Joyner. 
In these sequences Owensby takes every advantage to to utilize screen piercing 3-D effects. As Igor exclaims “case in point” as his skeletal hand floats out over the audience.
"Case in point."
Owensby has another odd connection to the world of stereoscopic movies. James Cameron, director of the recent 3-D epic Avatar, shot an equally epic production at Owensby’s studios. The Abyss’ underwater sequences were shot an uncompleted nuclear reactor which was owned by Owensby and his studios. You have to wonder if Cameron ever consulted Owensby about the stereoscopic process?

The real meat of this film is found in its horror tales and that is yet to come.  Keep following the blog....

Cave of Forgotten Dreams: A Review

As promised here is my review, scribed in haste, from the second screening of Cave of Forgotten Dreams at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.

Warner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams is less of a documentary that a meditation of the filmmaker’s thoughts and impressions of the Paleolithic paintings found in the darkness of the Chauvet Caves. But, should we expect anything else from Herzog?

Located in Southern France, the caves of Chauvet contain the oldest cave paintings known to man, painted over 30,000 years ago. Due to the age and fragility of the artwork and artifacts found in the cave, Herzog and his small crew were limited to six days of shooting in the caves and only allowed 4 hours per day.

The result is much introspective narration, delivered by Herzog, over long meditative shots of the cave walls’ rudimentary artwork photographed in three dimensions. As a result Cave of Forgotten Dreams is not a landmark moment for the 3-D documentary film, (after all IMAX 3-D has been showcasing stereoscopic cinema for decades), but it’s one of the first 3-D films that feels like cinema verite in 3-D. For fans of Herzog’s documentary films, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a real treat, but more information about the Chauvet caves can be found on its wikipedia entry then in the film.

Firstly what’s wrong with the film, from a stereoscopic point-of-view. A large number of scenes are presented in converted 3-D, pseudo 3-D or just plan technically poor 3-D. Many of these, such as Herzog and his crew’s first walk through of the cave (a scouting of the cave done before the 3-D cameras were ever involved), could have and should have been left alone and played flat. Much of the converted 3-D featuring humans in the cave is done with very loose matte lines creating a cut-out collage quality to it. In one dizzying scene, as the crew climb to the mouth of the caves, the camera man lets the run as he climbs the steep path. The resulting shot is sky and treetops. The resulting stereoscopic image is a tunnel built in flat layers, with as little dimensional realism to it as a magic eye image. (This section is so abstract and artificial that I chalk it up to Herzog having some optical fun with 3-D).

An often used painting of horses within the film.

However, when the true 3-D is used it’s a thing of beauty. After seeing the Paleolithic paintings on the curves and folds of the cave rock in 3 dimensions one can hardly imagine the images in flat.  Nor would a 2 dimensional image of the cave art represent it in anyway as powerful as presented in 3 dimensions. Herzog’s vision to shoot these images in 3-D was definately the right decision.

This is a rare flat image that represents the depth of the cave paintings in Chauvet.
There are indeed other moments that showcase the 3-D process. A scientist who demonstrates spear throwing feels like it may have been included in the film for it’s 3-D imagery (with a backdrop of vineyards) and one wishes Herzog had been more whimsical with the staging, encouraging the man to point the arrow point further into the camera.

I hoped for something stronger in the 3-D imagery of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, however Herzog is no real fan of 3-D films so it’s not that surprising that his one time venture into the process would come up a little short. It’s film-makers like Arch Obler or (shutter) James Cameron who had a lifetime investment in stereoscopic cinema who are the filmmakers to look to expanding the techniques of stereoscopic filmmaking.

Nuclear albino alligator offspring.  
Herzog: “perhaps they are splitting off into their own doppelgangers”.
The 3-d cinematography as well as Herzog’s narration gets a little trippy here, shooting swimming albino alligators so that we can see them simultaneously under and above the water.  The water’s refraction creates a M.C. Esher type of optical illusion in 3-d, reflecting (so to speak) the doppelganger nature of the alligators. In real life our brain simply doesn’t interpret the hyperstereo image the way it is presented in this scene and we are presented with a visual puzzle that is close to the heart of Herzog’s work.

The Queen in 3-D

The Queen prepares to watch her Coronation on CBC Television

This week I have to dub the “week of the 3-D documentary”. After watching Warner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3-D at the Toronto International Film Festival last Saturday, tonight Canada’s public broadcaster the CBC aired a one hour documentary on Queen Elisabeth II with partial segments in 3-D.

This is the new millennium of 3DTV Canadian style. Our national broadcaster is not offering the documentary to the elite owners of the new fangled television sets, but in the true nature of public broadcasting is presenting the documentary’s dimensional assets in that age-old anaglyph format. The glasses (utilizing an amber and blue set of lens patented as ColorCode 3-D) are available to the public at Canada Post outlets for free.

Queen Elisabeth in 3-D is not so much a documentary as an excuse to broadcast 3-D footage from Elisabeth’s coronation in 1953. This 1-hour special fuses the archival footage and new 3-D footage of Queen Elisabeth’s recent visit to Canada with factoids about 3-D technologies then (the fifties) and now, all wrapped up in horrible narration delivered by award winning novelist and actor Ann-Marie MacDonald (though we can excuse her since she didn’t write the script).

However, the 3-D worked very well particularly the recently discovered coronation footage and I’m a sucker for old 3-D footage. The usual misinformation about fifties 3-D films was tossed around and the Creature from the Black Lagoon was referred to as a blob of latex (you’re on thin ice CBC with that description) but it was nice to see some British short subject clips included. In this case A Solid Explanation that was a 3-D demonstration film produced for something like the 1951 Festival of Britain, though I haven’t checked that.
from "A Solid Explaination" in ColorCode 3-D
The biggest disappointment with the special was discovering that much of this footage has been broadcast during Channel 4’s 3-D Week in Britain last year and repurposed for the CBC. The Paul Morrissey film Flesh For Frankenstein (1973) was also broadcast that week, a true depthsploitation film.  Come on CBC lets follow-up with that!

The documentary will be rebroadcast on CBC News Network September 22 & Saturday September 25 at 10 pm ET/PT, so head out to the post office and grab some glasses.

My Herzog review is coming, with an additional 3 TIFF screenings on Sunday and a touch of the cold I’ve been a bit shy of time.


Apparently Monday's inaugural screening of Werner Herzog's 3-D film Cave of Forgotten Dreams ran with a small hiccup. The air conditioners were turned on in the new TIFF Bell Lightbox screening facilities and shutdown the power. Luckily the power was quickly restored and the audience was able to enjoy the rest of the film.

Coincidently last year's TIFF premiere screening of Joe Dante's 3-D film The Hole experienced a similar setback. The fire alarm sounded as the film entered it's 3rd act. But that audience was not as lucky as Monday's as the entire auditorium was shortly evacuated. As a testament to either the power of Dante's story telling or the loyalty of a Festival patron, many of the audience had to be herded out of the theatre, watching the film from the isles while the alarm blared over the soundtrack. I have to admit, I was one of those patrons.

I promise reviews of both films. The review for Cave of Forgotten Dreams will come shortly after I see it on Saturday. I'd like to try a view The Hole in it's entirety before I review it. Still hoping to get to it this week. After all what is a Cave really but a big Hole?

If you're interested in Herzog and his film, here's a link to a CBC interview with the man about Monday screening.



It’s September and in Toronto that means it’s time for the Toronto International Film Festival. In eleven days TIFF will present around 300 films from around the world. Last year marked the first time a 3 dimensional film screened at the festival, Joe Dante’s The Hole. I was there last year and I’ll give you my biased first person review of the screening later this week.

This year TIFF is presenting another 3-D feature documentary, this time by the enigma that is Werner Herzog. In The Cave of Forgotten Dreams takes us to the Chauvet caves of southern France, which contain the oldest known cave paintings to modern man, over 30,000 years.
I sure hope we won't be watching Herzog's new film through glasses red and blue. Though I did hear that I'll be treated to a mostly french language Goddard Filme Socialism with minimal english subtitles.

Long time 3-D detractor and film critic Roger Ebert (who until recently continued to insist that Hollywood’s 50’s films were viewed through red and blue anaglyph glasses –they weren’t, the glasses had polarized glasses, much like many of our current 3-D spectacles do) had this to say about the film in his otherwise 3-D damning article in Newsweek.

“And my hero, Werner Herzog, is using 3-D to film prehistoric cave paintings in France, to better show off the concavities of the ancient caves. He told me that nothing will “approach” the audience, and his film will stay behind the plane of the screen. In other words, nothing will hurtle at the audience, and 3-D will allow us the illusion of being able to occupy the space with the paintings and look into them, experiencing them as a prehistoric artist standing in the cavern might have.”
-“Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too)”
Roger Ebert
Newsweek May 10, 2010

While I think there is a place for hurling objects into the audience, I’m looking forward to the film. Although the use of stereoscopic space in a film is often utilized to show the audience depth and space, it’s ability to also recreate the effect of the confinement in small spaces is equally as compelling and often overlooked by 3-D filmmakers. Here’s hoping that The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams makes ample use its subject’s lack of space in three dimensions.

I’ll give you a report next week sometime after I’ve seen the film, but in the mean time I’ll leave you with this interview clip of Herzog explaining his intention for the film.

The Stranger in Earnest

While I continue to promise reviews and insight into 3-D films of yesteryear, I also continue to make you readers wait. It is after all festival season here in Toronto. There was the excursion to New York, Fan Expo here at home and the Toronto International Film Festival is about to start (Werner Herzog has another documentary premiering this year—in 3-D no less). With a family and a day job, there is only so much time to write.

So while the reviews will have to wait, and I’ve got an ever-growing list, I do have a little tidbit of audio that relates to a film I saw at the Classic 3-D festival in New York.

The Stranger Wore A Gun was Andre de Toth’s second dimensional feature of the 50’s, a western follow up to the classic House of Wax. While not as fondly remembered as House of Wax, The Stranger Wore A Gun is a solid B-western featuring Randolph Scott as a crooked cowboy of fortune who draws the line at murder, yet the gangs he runs with almost always end up crossing that line.  Scott’s clean looks remind me of that classic cowboy from the silent era, the ones that are always a little too clean cut.  He’s a far cry from the rugged anti-heroes that would later populate the Spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70’s, though his portrayal of Jeff Travis fits in nicely with the gunslinger of the later Italian westerns, ultimately good at heart, but willing to break a few laws if he can improve his fortune.
Randolph Scott
The film also has in its cast Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine as the villain’s henchmen. This was only Borgnine’s second film for Columbia in a career that has spanned sixty years.  At 93 years of age Borgnine is still as spry as ever, the same man I remember from films and TV in my youth (over 20 years ago).

Ernest Borgnine in his early years.
And now we come to the true focus of today’s post. At this year’s Fan Expo I decided I’d ask him about this early encounter with 3-D, back when the gimmick was truly something new. My earliest plan was to ambush him at his signature booth, but fearing a 40-dollar signing fee and no guarantee that I would be able to preserve our conversation on my ipod’s voice memo I instead waited to pose the question at his Question and Answer session later in the day.

While his response was more antidotal than informative it is presented here as an early recollection of an actor’s interaction with the stereoscopic film camera.

"Throw it into the camera, Ernie!"