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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Friday, August 18, 2023

Tales of the Third Dimension (1984)

Movies like Tales of the Third Dimension is why I continually dig thru piles of crap looking for that diamond in the rough. I suppose that is a bit of a spoiler to lead with, but I can’t help myself. This direct to video (at least that is what the sources I have found say) is a prime example of the sorts of oddball regional flicks that were made in the early days of the home video market. This one being shot in North Carolina is an anthology, has some 3D gags in the wrap around, and is generally just silly. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie kicks off in a cemetery where a coffin pops open and a skeleton named Igor sits up. He speaks just like Rod Serling and sets the stage for the upcoming story as well as popping back up in between to introduce the others as well as wrapping it all up in the end. Along with Igor the cemetery has two groups of vultures. A pair that are imitating Laurel and Hardy and a trio that are clearly the Three Stooges. We get some comedy from them in each segment, and I can’t lie I laughed more than once at them.

All of this is brought to the screen with puppets that while not the greatest do get the job done. Additionally there are a few 3D gags with things popping out at the viewer that aren’t terribly distracting. Just to be clear I watched this on VHS without any 3D. That also explains the title of the movie if you think about it. Though ironically none of the stories use it at all.

Before I continue, I need to warn you that my reviews are going to contain some spoilers. I tried to figure out how to explain why I like this anthology so much without ruining any of the plot, but I couldn’t sort it out. You already know that I dig this flick so if that is a deal breaker stop here and track yourself down a copy. Cool? Okay now we can get to the good stuff.

The first story is titled Young Blood and has us following a pair of co-workers as they take an unconventional home visit in the evening to vet a potential couple for adopting a child. This is Dudley and Ms. Marquette. There is some talk of Dudley wanting her job, which is important later, as they drive to a creepy old house. When they get there it is obvious due to the cape, and bad accents that the Count and Countess are vampires. Dudley protests but Ms. Marquette clearly is under their thrall and agrees to bring them a child.

The next scene is her returning the following night with a young boy. While the Countess takes him upstairs to settle in the Count drains Ms. Marquette as a reward for her help. That seems like a bad deal to me. What is an even worse deal is when it becomes apparent that something is up with their newest acquisition. Seems that the kid is a werewolf and after killing the vampires is picked up the following morning by his father… Dudley! Guess he got that promotion.

Our host Igor!
This will be a theme for all these reviews of the individual segments, but the budget is clearly very low. Though they had a decent location, which helps sell the story. The vampires have cheesy clothes, and the fangs are costume store quality. We also don’t see the werewolf much at all as they keep it hidden. Given the lack of resources that was probably a good call. The pacing is solid and takes just enough time to setup the situation so that the twist pays off. This is my second favorite of the three.

The second story is titled The Guardians. It begins with a horse drawn hearse delivering a body to a funeral. This is to introduce us to Nigel, the gravedigger. After he has finished his job he returns to his home to find a couple of his “friends” waiting for him. Freddie and Charley have a few drinks and ask about the woman he just covered up. Specifically, about her jewelry. You can probably see where this is going. They have decided to become graverobbers and dig her up for some easy cash.

Not satisfied with this score they decide to go back and force Nigel to tell them where the hidden entrance to the catacombs under the old cemetery is located. Why? Well that seems like a much easier job then digging them all up you see. After some violence they find it and discover that there are a lot of rats… rats that like to eat people! You might have figured this out already, but it doesn’t end well for the pair. 

Of the three stories this was my least favorite. It isn’t bad but was fairly generic with a twist that you could see coming a mile away. I also feel like I’ve seen this before and done much better. Though again I must point out that the locations for this with the cemetery and tunnels were surprisingly good for a lower budget production. The only other thing of note here is the appearance of Leon Rippey (The Patriot, Eight Legged Freaks) as one of the grave robbers. He is the only recognizable face from any of these so that was fun to see.

The third and final segment is called Visions of Sugar Plums. This one was the strangest and in the end my favorite of the bunch. It is the week before Christmas and a young brother and sister are dropped off at Grandma’s house. Mom and Dad are headed out for a vacation in Hawaii and have left the kids at home. They don’t seem too annoyed by it though since Grandma is a nice lady. When she takes her pills that is. When she doesn’t she apparently becomes a homicidal maniac! Guess who ran out of pills?

Festive homicidal granny!
The rest of the movie is the increasingly crazy old lady yelling at the children before finally snapping on Christmas Eve. It is at this point she grabs a shotgun and starts to chase them down. Make no mistake she is trying to murder them both. When she runs out of shells it seems that they are safe from the wheelchair bound woman. That is until she grabs the hedge clippers! It looks as if they are doomed when she corners them and gets ready to trim their limbs all the time cackling maniacally. Then Santa Claus shows up and kills her by shooting her keister right up out of the chimney and into a nearby field!

For much of Visions of Sugar Plums I wasn’t feeling it. The story drags a bit as we slowly see her lose her mind. I also though the child actors weren’t good enough to carry the story, which they were asked to do. But when the weapons get broken out and the chase through the house begins things did pick up. And that ending, which comes out of nowhere, sealed the deal for me. I damn near fell out of my chair but in a good way. This immediately became my new go to Christmas horror movie or at least this final segment did.

Is Tales of the Third Dimension a great movie? Not at all. But there is a charm to these low budget regional movies, at least when done correctly, that I get a kick out of. This one is a perfect balance of decent storytelling, passable acting, and a tongue in cheek sensibility that appealed to me. I’m shocked that I hadn’t heard of this before but am so glad that my pack rat self picked up a copy and held onto it. I also understand that this is one of those “holy grail” tapes that collectors are always looking for. I can completely understand that. It might take some doing but if you can find a copy, I highly recommend checking it out.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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