7 notable old-school 3D effects

With a resurgent craze for 3D sweeping Hollywood, we delve into the archives to salute the best 3D effects from old-school movies…

It seems like every other movie is getting released in 3D these days. And just when you thought an HD television was good enough, now it’s time to throw that in the trash and upgrade to high-definition 3D. Even movies shot in two dimensions are getting retro-fitted – often to their detriment (yes, that’s you Last Airbender) – with 3D.

Does today’s 3D need a lesson from yesterday? Here are a several notable 3D effects hailing from the bygone era of anaglyph 3D and earlier polarized lens efforts:

Harpoon gun – Creature From The Black Lagoon

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Numerous point-of-view shots feature projectile weapons being fired at audiences, but this one still tops the list, just as Jack Arnold’s 1954 creature feature is one of the best of its kind. It features a great score by Henry Mancini and Hans J. Salter, and some gorgeous underwater cinematography courtesy of William E. Snyder.

During not one, but two notable scenes when the Gill-man attacks the human crew, Mark (Richard Denning) decides that the best way to deal with the monster is to shoot it with a harpoon gun. The movie’s second best 3D effect? Julia Adams in a swimsuit.

Flying eyeball – Friday The 13th Part III

The first Paramount film to be released in 3D, and the film that started the craze for ice hockey masks at Halloween. The film boasts a few neat 3D effects, including the firing of a crossbow directly at the camera (yay for projectile weapons, again!) as well as a character playing with a yo-yo for the sole purpose of having the 3D cameras on hand to record the event.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of gruesome effects, too. The best? Jason crushing a victim’s head with enough pressure to send an eyeball rupturing out of the poor man’s socket, and directly at the audience. Evil Dead 2 still features the best flying eyeball gag, but no one’s retro-fitted that into 3D yet. Phew.

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Automatic billion bubble machine – Robot Monster

Proof that one does not need to throw money at a movie to make it entertaining. Possibly the greatest bad movie that Ed Wood never touched, 1953’s Robot Monster features a solid score from a young Elmer Bernstein… and that’s about it.

Robot Monster stars the shabbiest creature ever put on film, ‘Ro-Man’, a terrifying alien consisting of a gorilla suit and fishbowl space helmet (with a pair of bunny ear antennae). Ro-Man is out to kill the “hu-mans,” and does a pretty good job. He obliterates all life on the planet with the exception of about eight people.

Conflict, including Ro-Man’s lust for the sole female survivor capable of breeding, ensues. Oh, and the movie is in 3D, too. The filmmakers didn’t forget, and so when Ro-Man needs to communicate with command, it uses a concoction of spare parts for a high tech machine that includes the “automatic billion bubble machine.”

Yes, bubbles. The effect is so notable it actually gets featured in the credits.

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Grace Kelly and a pair of Scissors – Dial ‘M’ For Murder

Though he worked in the studio system, Hitchcock was constantly experimenting with the medium. Rope was an attempt to create a film without editing (apart from a few seamless cuts), Psycho used a television crew for its low-grade look. Dial ‘M’ For Murder was made in this newfangled 3D process as well, but in Hitch’s hands, the experience is made to be more immersive, with fewer objects popping out at the audience.

That said, the best effect is still one of shock and surprise. Ray Milland has hired Anthony Dawson to kill his wife, the lovely Grace Kelly. Thankfully, things don’t go according to plan, especially when Kelly saves herself from being strangled by reaching back (to us) and grabbing hold of a pair of scissors, which she proceeds to stab Dawson in the back with. Too bad we didn’t see any more of Grace Kelly in the following 3D effect…

Breasts – The Stewardesses

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Here’s where I plead ignorance. I’ve seen a 35mm 3D print of this softcore 1969 flick about a group of airline stewardesses, but other than the curves of the titular characters, cannot recall anything of note (then again, maybe that’s the point). The Stewardesses is one of a handful of adult 3D movies that lovingly graced cinema screens.

Other titles from this sub-genre include: The Playmates (1973), Love In 3-D (1972), Lollipop Girls In Hard Candy (1976), and who can forget Disco Dolls In Hot Skin (aka Blonde Emmanuelle) (1977).

It’s probably safe to say that you’ve come to these movies for the same reasons you’ve come to see a Linda Lovelace flick, which raises the question: once naked people are projected larger than life (and in a trio of dimensions), to the point where they and their various parts dwarf the audience, does the erotic factor lose its lustre?

Exploding Jaws – Jaws 3-D

Poor fishies: the great white sharks in the Jaws franchise have always paid the ultimate price for merely following their instincts. First, it was the mistake of chewing on a tank of pressurized air that got shot by Roy Scheider, then chomping down on a live wire. By the time Jaws: The Revenge rolled around, sharky gets impaled on the broken bowsprit of a sailing ship.

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But Jaws 3-D features the greatest end to a great white yet. In the climactic sequence, the shark comes swimming to the undersea HQ of Sea World, smashing face-first through a glass window – runner-up for best 3D effect in the movie. Upping the ante, a diver heroically tries to lob a hand grenade into the maw of the shark, and ends up getting partially swallowed.

Why only partially swallowed? So Scuba-clad Dennis Quaid can reach in and pull the pin out of the grenade (still clutched in the hand of the deceased diver wedged in the mouth of the great white). Needless to say, the sequence ends with a bloody big bang – and, most fittingly of all, a pair of shark jaws literally fly off the screen to give the audience a final chomp.

Spilling entrails – Flesh For Frankenstein

“To know death, Otto,” Frankenstein says to his underling during a pivotal moment in Paul Morrissey and Antonio Margheriti’s Flesh For Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein), “you must f**k life. In the gall bladder.”

FFF features a few stunning 3D moments – a character impaled with a long pole through the torso is pretty eye-popping (horrible pun intended). But the pièce de résistance occurs when Otto decides to emulate his master’s work, and literally rips open a poor unsuspecting housemaid.

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The money shot is a point-of-view angling up through a sewer as the entrails spill through the grate, towards the audience. Three dimensions have never been used in such a Grand Guignol fashion – surely one of the best effects of its kind ever committed to celluloid (and designed to remove popcorn from an audience’s stomach).

Add your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments…