Desperate to compete with the Internet, Blu-ray discs, DVDs, cable TV and other distractions of modern life, the motion picture industry has once again gone back to the 3-D well in an attempt to give moviegoers an experience they couldn’t possibly replicate at home. With films ranging from U2 3D to the recent My Bloody Valentine remake getting in on the action, the scheme has paid off surprisingly well–finally giving the genre some well-deserved respect. This is largely because today’s 3-D flicks are more about utilizing state-of-art-technology than imploring the schlocky in-your-face gags of yesteryear. The 3-D movies of the 1950s to the early-1990s may lack the innovation of Coraline, but they possess the magic that can only come from studios wanting to make a quick buck by cashing in on the latest fad. In celebration of these often cheesy classics, throw on a pair of red-and-blue glasses and check out this look at the eight greatest old school 3-D flicks.
8) The Charge at Feather River
Featuring the most arrows ever shot towards the camera in any 3-D film, The Charge at Feather River is an enjoyable Western that thrilled audiences in 1953. It holds a revered place in geek history as well. Star Wars sound guru Ben Burtt was so taken with the scream made by the Pvt. Wilhelm character and two others in the flick that he decided to cannibalize it for countless Lucasfilm productions. (The sound effect itself was borrowed by the Charge at Feather River filmmakers from 1951’s Distant Drums). To see Wilhelm himself fall off his horse in three dimensions is a rite of passage every true Lucas fan should endure, cementing it’s place on this list and in the hearts of nerds everywhere.
7) Robot Monster
Living proof that even the most terrible of films can become somewhat enjoyable when rendered in the 3-D process, Robot Monster has been the subject of much ridicule over the years (especially from the Satellite of Love crew in a memorable episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000). Once you can overlook the not-special effects, non-existent budget and complete lack of coherent plot, you’ll find a little film worthy of your love and mockery. Think of it as the cinematic equivalent of a little brother–albeit one dressed up in a terrible space ape costume with a space helmet on.
Set in the post-apocalyptic future, this sci-fi horror effort from Charles Band (of Trancers and Dollman fame) features a scientist attempting to destroy murderous parasites he created for government use. The only trouble is that he has one of the organisms living in his tummy and the other existing creature has been stolen by some local rubes. As the above trailer illustrates, plenty of low-budget monster effects–the creation of which were overseen by Stan Winston–ensue. Largely forgotten, the film is most noteworthy for being Demi Moore’s second film. If you ever meet her, ask her about it and watch how pissed she’ll get at you. Trivia–when this was made in 1982, her future love Ashton Kutcher was a whopping four years old. Ewww.
5) Friday the 13th: Part 3: 3-D
The 3-D third installment trend of the 1980s–which also featured Jaws 3-D and Amityville 3-D — began with this film, the first to feature Jason in his trademark mask. Ignore claims by Friday the 13th aficionados that The Final Chapter is the best of the sequels. That one may have Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman, but at not point does it feature JASON LUNGING OFF THE SCREEN AND INTO YOUR LAP! This is awesomeness for which mere words cannot do justice. Friday the 13th: Part 3: 3-D was recently released on a DVD in a deluxe edition that purportedly recreates the original theatrical experience, but all it will really do is give you a headache and make you throw the damn thing across the room when the 3-D effects don’t work right.
4) House of Wax
The above clip would have you believe that 1953’s House of Wax is crammed with shots showcasing the bells and whistles of the 3-D process. That’s a pretty accurate assessment, but there’s more to the film than just cheap gimmicks. Working with three different cinematographers (and only one eye), director Andr? De Toth created a movie that proved that good 3-D could fill seats and be elegant at the same time. In a performance that would set the tone for the rest of his career, Vincent Price infused his villainous character with both malice and sympathy. Clearly, there’s much to be said about House of Wax‘s atmosphere, effects and story. But you know what makes it especially great? Paris Hilton isn’t in it.
3) Jaws 3-D
By now you’ve probably realized that a good chunk of the films featured on the list fall squarely into the guilty pleasures category. Ditto for Jaws 3-D. One of the most shameful cash grabs in the history of Universal Pictures, this second sequel to Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece ditches Chief Brody to focus on his sons Michael and Sean. This time around, Bruce the Shark decides to wreak havoc at Sea World. Why? The jury’s still out on that one. Out to stop the animatronic undersea predator are a fresh-from-Supercuts Dennis Quaid, a pre-My So-Called Life Bess Armstrong, a soul-crushed Lou Gossett, Jr. and a young Lea Thompson (before she tried to put the moves on her time-traveling son or started shacking up with a space duck). There’s nothing as patently ridiculous as Jaws eating a helicopter in this one, and that’s a damn shame because that would have been amazing to see floating off of the screen and into the audience. Instead, viewers see plenty of fish, extras from The Go-Go’s “Vacation” video, the occasional body part and leaping dolphins, all in glorious 3-D. Well, maybe not.
2) Creature from the Black Lagoon
Creature from the Black Lagoon is a horror classic that also holds the distinction for being the most enduringly popular 3-D film ever made. Why? Because of the Gill-man. Ladies want to be him and men want to be with him. Or something like that. He’s the George Clooney of undersea monsters, don’t you think? Equally successful in 2-D as it is in its original format, Creature is 79 minutes of Gill-magic. But as amazing of a movie as it is, it doesn’t top this list. That distinction goes to an obscure Canadian film that shares its name with a certain Jim Carrey crapfest…
1) The Mask
The only 3-D film ever made in Canada, this 1961 indie horror effort focuses on a psychologist who receives a mysterious mask sent to him by a patient. Obsessed with the artifact, the doctor feels compelled to put it on–thrusting him into a nightmare world that leads to his downfall. First introduced to mainstream American audiences during the 1980s when it was frequently aired in syndication, The Mask features four brief 3-D sequences that are genuinely unnerving (the best of which is featured above). Since the film is only partially in 3-D viewers are cued to “put the mask on, NOW” by a sinister voice prior to each of the segments. This nice little bit of audience participation is part of the reason it has enjoyed a cult of devotees throughout the years. Reminiscent of Witchcraft Thru the Ages and Carnival of Souls, The Mask is a creepy delight whose 3-D effects translate perfectly to the small screen. Put the mask on, now!
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.