TALES OF THE THIRD DIMENSION (1984) was yet another of the six 3D movies released in the 1980s by Balladeer’s Blog’s old friend Earl Owensby. Earl was known as “The Dixie DeMille” since he and his film company operated almost exclusively out of North Carolina. To me he’s always seemed more like Roger Corman, however, since Owensby’s flicks were mostly just unpretentious B Movies made with so little money they were guaranteed to turn a profit.
Many of Earl’s film ventures are okay time-wasters but horror was definitely not his forte. Previously I reviewed three of Owensby’s other gems of Bad Movie Goodness: Wolfman, A Day of Judgment and Dogs of Hell. Recently I finally got a chance to watch his horror anthology Tales of the Third Dimension.
Let’s start with the title. Since we live in a 3-dimensional universe there is nothing eerie or macabre about anything from “the third dimension.” Usually movies reference the fourth or fifth dimension. And that brings us to the film’s biggest problem: it seems to be an attempt at horror-comedy, like some of the elements in the Creepshow movies. That being said I guess it’s possible that the title was supposed to be a joke … kind of.
You find yourself caught up in such questions throughout the movie. The only parts where the attempts at dark humor really work and have sufficient clarity are in the twist endings … kind of. The rest of the time you feel like you’re watching a Halloween rerun of Hee Haw or Madam’s Place or God forbid, the unsold Terry Bradshaw/ Mel Tillis pilot Stockers.
Tales of the Third Dimension opens up on a graveyard set – possibly the same graveyard set from Owensby’s Wolfman. Which is to say it’s so obviously a cheap set that North Carolina Horror Host Don Brandon might have used it on his show in the 1970s.
A sub-Sid & Marty Kroft puppet of a well-dressed skeleton emerges from its grave to be our host for this collection of horror shorts. The puppet calls itself Igor and speaks like Rod Serling … or at least like one of your friends trying to imitate Rod Serling. Reinforcing the feel of a cheap local Horror Host show are the lame buzzard puppets in the background.
There are five buzzards total, with two being pastiches of Laurel and Hardy and the rest being pastiches of the Three Stooges. They’re FUNNY with a capital “ph.” After some mercilessly eye-rolling attempts at comedy we finally get to the first segment.
Young Blood comes the closest of any of the segments to being competently done so that’s probably why Earl and company led off with it. A married couple who are obviously supposed to be vampires are trying to adopt a child to have on hand as an emergency blood supply.
SPOILER: Though the viewer is concerned over the fate of the little boy being adopted it turns out he is a werewolf and when he transforms he fights and kills the pair of vampires.
The Guardians segment follows after some more lame interplay between Igor and the buzzards. Two grave-robbers decide to stop settling for the scattered valuables they dig up with some of the corpses and go straight to a veritable mother-lode: a subterranean mausoleum with several generations of a wealthy famly just lying there waiting to be robbed. This segment features INTERMINABLE padding but also showcases Leon Rippy, later famous for Young Guns II and Leverage.
SPOILER: It turns out the man who tipped the grave-robbers off about the potential fortune in the hidden mausoleum deliberately sent them there to be surrounded and eaten by the dozens of rats which serve as guardians for the place.
Next it’s back to Igor and his buzzard pals for some more failed humor. Even worse the truly bad, cheap and slapdash nature of the entire production becomes even more obvious as the movie seems to be ENDING, complete with credits when suddenly we move along to a THIRD short segment with no introduction by Igor.
Visions of Sugar Plums is that third and final segment. Two children – Dennis and Suzy – are left with their grandmother over Christmas while their parents go off on some romantic getaway. Grandma proves to be somewhat deranged and often comes close to killing or injuring Dennis and Suzy.
At one point I was wondering if we might be headed for a twist that was a forerunner of M Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, but nope. It really is their grandmother and she really is homicidally insane. She spends a very long time toying with her intended victims like a cat with a mouse but an even LONGER time boring viewers to death with lots and lots of pointless, meandering filler.
“Bizarrely uneven tone” are the three words that best describe this final horror short. It goes from coal-black humor to goofy Jim Varney levels of humor to bits that make you wonder if Grandma is just senile and doesn’t realize the danger she keeps putting Dennis and Suzy in.
But none of it seems intentional. Like so many bad horror efforts this segment gains unearned eeriness points by virtue of how ineptly it’s presented. It goes on for so long with nothing happening that we actually lose any sense of a cinematic narrative. It becomes so disturbingly aimless that it captures the “real” feel that found-footage films can only aspire to.
SPOILER: Just when it seems the kids are doomed to die at Grandma’s hands Santa Claus shows up and kills the madwoman. It’s as weird and out of the blue as the way Santa causes lightning to kill the villainess in the strange animated film The Christmas Tree.
Tales of the Third Dimension is fine for lovers of Bad Movie lore but nobody else would find anything entertaining or even mildly interesting about this oddity. ++
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