North Carolina movie mogul Earl Owensby surprisingly demurred at taking a role in the 3D horror anthology he produced, which was released in 1984 as TALES OF THE THIRD DIMENSION.
Inspired by the Crypt-Keeper from the EC horror comic books of the 1950s, the film is introduced by Igor, a skeleton puppet with a Rod Serling-sounding voice that inhabits a cemetery similar to your neighborhood’s haunted house last Halloween. Even watching a murky full-frame VHS print, the strings are obvious, and the plastic bat that juts into the 3D camera is pathetic. Looking on are wisecracking puppet vultures that sounds like Laurel & Hardy and the Three Stooges (nyuk nyuk).
Igor’s first tale, “Young Blood,” written and directed by Thom McIntyre (THE RUTHERFORD COUNTY LINE), is about bickering adoption officials who make a house call to a spooky castle inhabited by vampires seeking a new child. It has a twist ending and another twist ending, and neither is all that interesting.
Then in “The Guardians” by Worth Keeter (WOLFMAN), a pair of grave robbers forces a kindly cemetery caretaker (William T. Hicks, later the heavy in Keeter’s 007 homage THE ORDER OF THE BLACK EAGLE) to tell them the entrance to catacombs hidden beneath the graveyard. Cardboard sets and sketchy matte work stand out more than the lame climax, and the story is as mundane (but slightly better acted) than the first.
The third and last story, Todd Durham’s “Visions of Sugar Plums,” gets off to a promising start with an angry father who almost drives the family station wagon off the road while taking a belt to his wiseass son in the backseat. Mom and Dad drop the two kids off at their wheelchair-ridden grandmother’s house during Christmas vacation. Granny (Helene Tryon) seems all sweetness-and-sugarplums at first, but it slowly begins to dawn on the little siblings that they’re trapped in the care of a lunatic. With a shotgun. It's pretty fucking amazing, actually.
Any recommendation of TALES OF THE THIRD DIMENSION is based solely on the last story, which is dark, demented, and funny with a droll twist. I suspect it was originally the opener, due to the film’s title appearing before it (an hour into the film!), but was wisely saved to give the audience something to laugh about as they left the theater. Pop TALES OF THE THIRD DIMENSION into your holiday horror-viewing schedule. Just be sure to skip ahead to the last tale.
Owensby directed the Igor wraparound sequences himself, though Keeter receives an additional credit as “Supervising Director”—a new one on me. Filmed in 2.35:1 in “Future Dimensions 3-D” (!) with 3D lenses by Chris Condon, who also worked on JAWS 3-D, PARASITE, and METALSTORM.