Courtesy of American Cinematheque, a rare opportunity to enjoy old-school exploitation horror leaping off the screen!
In our modern era, when mega-budget blockbusters are routinely released in pristine digital 3D, it can be easy to forget that stereoscopic movies were once a rare novelty. With several notable exceptions, 3D was frequently applied to low-budget exploitation films, often poorly photographed and even more poorly projected. The results were haphazard, sometimes excellent but frequently plagued by soft focus, low lumens, and double images - all problems that have been corrected in current 3D presentations.
However, when something is gained, something else is often lost: modern 3D eschews the urge to throw anything and everything out of the screen and into the audience's collective face, for fear of replicating the eyestrain commonly caused by analog 3D. Fortunately for those wishing to relive the days of (literally) eye-popping 3D effects, the American Cinematheque's recent double bill of Friday the 13th Part III in 3D and Frankenstein's Bloody Terror - part of the ongoing 3-D: Double Vision series - was mandatory viewing. In particular, the opportunity to experience the latter film in 3D was so rare that it was practically a historical event - the last 3D screening in Los Angeles would have been well over 45 years ago.
Friday the 13th Part III & Frankenstein's Bloody Terror: Overview
Friday the 13th Part III 3D and Frankenstein's Bloody Terror were screened in 35mm on Friday night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Unlike current 3D screenings, which use glasses framed with hard plastic, the Double Vision presentation utilized old-fashioned, flimsy cardboard glasses. Their polarized lenses diminished the light reaching a viewer's eyes, yielding a darker image - a considerable problem for two films that were not bright and clearly lit in the first place. Consequently, both looked a little drab, but that was a small price to pay for experiencing the magic of three dimensions. It was a bit like putting the old vinyl record collection on the turntable: the flaws become part of the nostalgic charm - every crackle, pop, and needle scratch a reminder of earlier, simpler times, the fun-factor outweighing the technical flaws.
Friday the 13th Part III in 3D: Review
When it opened in 1982, Friday the 13th Part III was the first wide 3D release in nearly a decade. The movie is notable for being the one that first gave Jason his signature hockey mask, but any claim to enduring appeal is based on the outrageous gore effects, which include spears, baseball bats, pitchforks, and even an eyeball leaping out of the screen. One need not admire the film or even think it is particularly good in order to enjoy the surge of shock - followed by tension-erasing laughter - that rockets through the audience in response to each on-screen atrocity.
Perhaps ironically, the 3D's most effective use is its most subtle. The opening scene plays out at night among white sheets fluttering on a clothesline. Each ripple and twist in the wind sends a shiver through viewers, expecting Jason to be suddenly revealed as if by a curtain carefully pulled back by the invisible hand of the director.
After the screening there was a brief but lively question-and-answer session with actors Tracie Savage and Larry Zerner and art director Robb Wilson King. This covered some of the same territory heard at Screamfest's reunion screening a decade ago (transcript here), but there were some new stories, too.
Wilson King remarked that his goal was to present 3D throughout the film, even when nothing was popping off the screen, so the sets were cantilevered, with unusual angles that would take advantage of the visible depth on-screen.
Tracie Savage, who ended her acting career shortly after production to become a well-known broadcast journalist, recalled that, for a time, she preferred not to be associated with the film: "Right out of college, I wanted to be taken seriously as a journalist, so I didn't talk about the film, because it was another part of my life. Now, I tell everybody about it. I love being part of it."
Larry Zerner, who played the supremely annoying prankster Shelly, joked that his role was not much of a stretch: "On the first day of filming [director] Steve Miner said, 'Don't play a character - this is you.' So that's me. He looks like me; he acts like me."
Zerner gave up acting to become an entertainment lawyer. In court one day, he ran into Savage, who was covering a trial for local television. When he introduced himself, she had no idea that the respectable lawyer in front of her was the same person who had acted with her a decade previously. One can hardly blame her, since Zerner's appearance had changed considerably from the dorky, overweight kid he played years previously - a fact underlined when the Q&A wrapped up with Zerner delivering Shelly's most bathetic line: "They were going skinny-dipping, and I'm not skinny enough."
Frankenstein's Bloody Terror in 3D: Review
Frankenstein's Bloody Terror ranks high on the Cult-o-Meter for a number of reasons, not least of which is its ridiculously misleading title: although there are werewolves and vampires, neither Doctor Frankenstein nor his creation appears. The distributor, contractually obligated to deliver a "Frankenstein" film to theatres, had to come up with something quick when their originally intended film fell through, so they picked up U.S. rights to the Spanish-language La Marca del Hombre Lobo ("The Mark of the Wolf Man," 1968) and added a dubious title graphic, showing an image of the Frankenstein Monster dissolving into an image of a werewolf, while narration informs us that the Frankenstein family changed its name to Wolfstein after falling prey to lycanthropy.
This is the first of many films in which Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina Álvarez) played Waldemar Daninsky, the unfortunate victim of the werewolf's curse. Borrowing classic elements from Universal Studios horror movies of the 1930s and '40s (e.g. The Wolf Man) and from the bloodier color approach of Hammer Films in the '60s and '70s (Curse of the Werewolf), and filtering the combination through the lens of European exploitation cinema, Frankenstein's Bloody Terror is not the most carefully plotted film, but its eagerness to entertain is infectious, as is its willingness to toss in just about anything, including a "helpful" doctor and his wife, who turn out to be vampires, who turn out to be diabolists, who comport themselves like a swinging '60s couple: the female vampire seducing the male lead while her husband goes after the young man's girlfriend. There is also a breezy disregard for consistency and logic in plot and lore: though silvers bullets and wooden stakes are required to kill werewolves and vampires, respectively, apparently it is also possible for a werewolf to kill another werewolf or a vampire with his bare fangs.
Unlike Friday the 13th Part III, which was properly released in 3D for its initial run, the 3D version of Frankenstein's Bloody Terror has seldom screened in U.S. theatres. The movie was shot in a 65mm process that allowed two 35mm images to be recorded on a single strip of film side by side (one image for each eye). The U.S. distributor initially released a dubbed 35mm version, then later converted the 70mm1 3D Spanish-language release print to 35mm 3D (which caused a headaches when it was discovered that the 70mm version had slightly different run time, making it difficult to synch the English dub to the 3D version). Unfortunately, the 3D process required special lenses; the results looked good in test screenings but not so much in local theatres where projectionists were not familiar with 3D. The brief U.S. 3D release was a disappointment. In subsequent theatrical engagements, Frankenstein's Bloody Terror has been shown in its 2D version.
Until Friday, August 3 at the Egyptian.2
I wish I could say that seeing Frankenstein's Bloody Terror in 3D was a revelation, but the picture quality was dingy - which is sad considering that the print screened was newly struck and should have looked great. (Blame those polarized lenses for dimming the colors in darker scenes almost to the point of invisibility.)
Nevertheless, I will say that this version is an improvement. Director Enrique López Eguiluz was not the greatest visual stylist, but the added depth improves mundane scenes, lending some visceral punch to the werewolf attacks; even a simple shot of the caged werewolf reaching out through the bars - and toward the audience - becomes memorable. The 3D also enhanced the film's best visuals, such as the swirling smoke at the train station, which wafts away to reveal the vampire couple upon their arrival.
Notable for lovers of trivia and minutia, the U.S. 3D print of Frankenstein's Bloody Terror begins with a montage before the main title card. Not seen on the 2D version, this preamble of snippets resembles a trailer, with a narrator pondering the Frankenstein/Wolfstein connection. Curiously, some of this footage is seen nowhere else in the U.S. release - it's from the overlong and confusing3 first reel, which was shortened by the American distributor to pick up the pace.
At the end of the day, Frankenstein's Bloody Terror may be one of those films best enjoyed as a childhood memory, but finally seeing it in 3D was roughly equivalent to finding the Holy Grail. Though far from refined, the film was apparently a labor of love for its star, who milks the beloved genre elements for the enjoyment of fans.
The American Cinematheque's 3-D: Double Vision series continues this weekend at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, with House of Wax (1953), Black Panther (2017), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and more.
- The 65/70mm discrepancy is not a mistake. 65mm film was used in camera; 70mm film was used in projectors. The extra 5 millimeters were for stereo soundtracks.
- In fact, the restored 35mm 3D print, courtesy of collector Harry Guerro, has been screened previously at least once, on the east coast.
- Early scenes in the complete version have Waldemar, in costume for a party, pursuing the leading lady like a menacing stalker, setting him up as a villain rather than the tragic hero he turns out to be. It's almost as if the footage was intended for a different movie.
3-D Double-Vision Double Bill Ratings
Seeing these old films on the big screen in old-fashioned analog 3D was a bit like putting old vinyl records on a turntable: the flaws become part of the nostalgic charm – every crackle, pop, and needle scratch a reminder of earlier, simpler times, the fun-factor outweighing the technical flaws.