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.

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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.