3D In Horror – Perfect Or Pointless?

Unless you’ve been stuck in a coffin with Ryan Reynolds for the past three years, you’ll have noticed that 3-D is making a comeback. This time, however, it’s not the red/green cardboard glasses nightmare of old – it’s the future of cinema. Apparently.

What is 3-D?

What is 3-D? Theatre. That is 3-D. Real life is 3-D. When someone actually punches you in the face – that’s 3-D. Anything else is attempting to give the illusion of 3-D, and as cinema has always tried to depict real life and failed miserably, it’s basically cinema, but more in your face.

After minutes of research, Gorepress scientists discovered how 3-D works: two synchronized projectors display two films on the cinema screen, one after another in quick succession. Your 3-D glasses allow only one of these images into each eye and the easily-fooled human brain then combines those two 2-D images into one single, 3-dimensional scene – therefore creating the illusion of depth. Apparently it’s more complicated than that, but that’s the extreme basics.

In recent years the company RealD has emerged as the world’s most widely use tech for 3-D – they’re the company who designed those sleek new glasses you resent paying for. RealD perfected the 3-D technique to ensure that you can experience the 3-D at every angle, providing a better view for all. No longer will you tilt your head and lose the 3-D. It’s vastly improved.

Before RealD, 3-D films had always been niche and never greatly received. This is mostly due to a lack of available funds, as the equipment involved in filming and displaying 3-D cinema is expensive and complicated. But everything has changed in recent years – the big Hollywood players have vomited gold at the new technology, and the cinemas have reluctantly followed.

3-D is here to stay.

RealD glasses

Why 3-D?

With a significant increase in film piracy, 3-D is a sly way of ensuring no one can record a 3-D film from a 3-D cinema screen – unless you want a blurred, confusing movie as a result. It also means cinemas can charge more, what with the addition of 3-D glasses – a controversial issue on a number of levels. Building the screens costs the cinema, so inevitably the customers absorb these costs – some cinemas pass it off as a glasses fee, while others are less shameless, forcing you to pay for a “better” experience. Whatever the reason, it’s an additional fee the viewer has to suffer with, which means the film industry is once-again blowing its feet off with bazookas – people had already turned to piracy because they felt the cinema was too expensive, so making it more expensive doesn’t prevent piracy, it promotes it. For now, anyway…

The 3-D future we’ve been promised is a long way off still, so snuffing out piracy is a long way off too. All 3-D films are also shown in 2-D, so the pirates just have to choose their cinemas wisely. Also, no one has a 3-D television. So when a 3-D film does come out on DVD or Blu-Ray then all the benefits of having it in 3-D are eliminated – okay, you get 2 free pairs of 3-D glasses with The Final Destination, but it will look like the 3-D films of old (that no one really liked – see Friday the 13th Part III for details…) and means you can only watch it with two people at once.

3-D in Horror

3-D can be very impressive in certain types of films. In Avatar it’s so damn good it’s hardly noticeable and within the cartoon worlds of Bolt, Up and Monsters Vs Aliens it’s seamless and gloriously fun, because the camera can go wherever it needs to in order to make the 3-D a compelling, excellent experience without compromising the story. 3-D in other less motion-captury, cartoony or James Camerony films, however, still needs to vastly improve. And this significantly includes the horror genre.

3-D in horror has never been a sign of quality. Back in the days of crappy card-board glasses, the eighties provided laughable attempts at 3-D, and the likes of Jaws 3-D, Amityville Horror 3-D and Parasite 3-D proved three-dimensions were just a way of getting bums on seats because the story and characters barely existed. Perhaps the advent of the new 3-D will attract a different calibre of horror film… but considering the recent offerings, don’t count on it.

The only 3-D horror films which used RealD technology in recent years are My Bloody Valentine 3-D (2009) and The Final Destination (2009). The reviews for these suggest exactly how thrilling 3-D made them. It didn’t.

My Bloody Valentine 3D

Within the framework of a horror film, it can actually be detrimental to the story and creative vision to put a film in 3-D. The My Bloody Valentine remake was an infuriating cavalcade of “things being thrown at the screen”, from a pick-axe through a windscreen to a pickaxe through a head (about twenty times). It forces the creative team to compromise their vision in order to create a 3-D death or scare, essentially playing up to a gimmick. It certainly reduces any tension or the possibility of a slow, torturous demise – and doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. It’s not allowed to.

Whether a lack of 3-D would have improved the likes of My Bloody Valentine and The Final Destination is unknown, but the forthcoming releases of Piranha, Resident Evil: Afterlife and, absurdly, Saw VII only leaves a sense of concern and bewilderment for horror fans. Okay, so Resident Evil is less of a horror and more of a visually-arresting, dumb-arse action flick, but Saw has always been known for it’s slow, horribly inventive deaths on a very personal level. The implementation of 3-D within this framework means every death will have to involve something popping out of the screen at us – and if not, why even have it in 3-D? A creepy puppet clown on a bicycle in 3-D just isn’t worth paying extra for…

What does 3-D add to a Horror film?

Frankly, it adds a “wow” factor. It’s a selling point. What it doesn’t do is make the audience leap in fear or surprise like the embarrassing adverts for My Bloody Valentine falsely depicted. 3-D is in its infancy and it’s therefore deliberately noticeable – it’s what you’ve paid an extra £1.50 or so for, after all. Sprinkles on ice cream, 1st class seating, a disease-free hooker – you pay more, you expect to receive more. Yet by making it noticeable, at specific points, it makes you instantly realise you’re watching a film, pulling you from the realms of a world created by the director / writer and throwing you instantly back into your own reality.

Perhaps this doesn’t matter for über unrealistic deathfests such as the Resident Evil and Final Destination franchises, but with Saw and a lot of other horror films, the character and story should suck you in, compel you and ultimately keep you gripped throughout. The Shining in 3-D would be horribly uncompelling, for example, and more than a little needless. When 3-D is used, currently it needs to be there solely to entertain as it breaks the narrative, disturbs the story and essentially makes you go “my, that decapitated head flying at me is rather well realised, isn’t it dear?”.

And some of it is very good. No-one has neared the insane technological prowess of Avatar, of course (and I’d love to see a horror movie with a budget in excess of 200 million dollars to allow it to achieve that ridiculous pedestal), so we’re only given glimpses of decent 3-D instead. Oddly, the best 3-D moment in The Final Destination was when an elastoplast floats past the screen while underwater in a swimming pool. It is genuinely impressive. The flying tyre, the flying car engine, the flying pebble and all the other “it’s 3-D! Quick – fling something at the camera!” moments were expected, dull and too quick to be spectacular. Again, the Final Destination franchise is known for its gleefully inventive deaths – but the 3-D seems to have compromised their latest output even more than usual.

Piranha 3D

The Future of 3-D Horror

Until the technology becomes cheap enough to be standard practice, it’s as necessary to have a Saw film in 3-D as it is to have archived Charlie Chaplin documentaries in 7.1 surround sound Blu-Ray. Perhaps for mayhem-filled idiotic horrors such as Resident Evil and Final Destination it’s acceptable, but it still suffocates creativity, even when dealing with inventive death-dealing.

3-D may eventually save us from the evil movie pirates that are currently raping Hollywood, but until every cinema and every film is in 3-D all it does is make horror films more expensive, more unbelievable and more likely to compromise their creative vision for gimmickry and lobbing a CGI pickaxe at the screen. It may be the future for the horror genre, but currently it is utterly pointless.

Forthcoming Horror films in 3-D (some are in pre-production):

  • The Cabin in the Woods
  • Condition Dead 3D
  • Cowboys from Hell 3D
  • Friday the 13th Part 2
  • Horrorween
  • Piranha 3D
  • Priest
  • Ratred 3D
  • Resident Evil: Afterlife
  • Saw VII
  • Underworld 4

2 Comments on “3D In Horror – Perfect Or Pointless?”

  1. Aaron Gillott says:

    I don’t think the future will ever be 3D, even with the best of 3D stuff to me it’s a novelty, like going on a rollercoaster, which is great now and then but I wouldn’t want it every time. Or rather that’s what I hope, since I’d find every single movie being released in 3D to be absolutely interminable, especially since as you mention most of the time it seems pretty poor and arbitrary, relegated to the odd “make something jump out at you” moment to try and justify its inclusion. I’m even more concerned by how far they’re willing to go to jump on the 3D bandwagon in that they’re “retro-fitting” (as I’ve heard it being called) some films that were shot to be shown in regular 2D using computer technology – I heard this is what’s happened with the “Clash of the Titans” remake, and most accounts I’ve read suggest the 3D is mostly just distracting and lacklustre rather than an added layer of excitement.

    The industry is ramming this down our throats and they’ve invested so much in it that I fear the only end to it would be if the public didn’t play into their hands, wise up to when it’s going to actually be a benefit (the occasional “Avatar”-like experience, maybe…though Cameron could do with making the film itself a bit less shit next time, thank you very much) and otherwise attend the 2D screenings en masse, which might tell Hollywood that we’re not falling for it, not being dictated to and not sheep…but, that’s rather a lot of faith I’d be putting in the public, I fear… :/

    • The Scullion says:

      Clash of the Titans was indeed “retro-fitted” to 3D, and it’s horribly, disturbingly noticable. Most of the film it barely registers there’s even any 3-D at all, but when the occasional coin-lobbed-at-the-camera or pegasus-wing-beating moment happens it’s poorly done and clearly tacked on as a pathetic afterthought. The film itself was a shoddy, dull affair, anyway – so once again, 3D for the sake of 3D, and a complete waste of the extra £1.50 I paid for it. Sigh.

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