What with one object or another appearing to fall on you, lunge at you or hurtle toward you, the level of pictorial provocation in the new 3-D feature "Comin' at Ya!" is often startling. A number of the hurtling objects are aligned so skillfully along background-to-foreground flight paths that it's virtually impossible to resist the impulse to duck as a bat or spear or flaming arrows threaten to fly up your nose.
However, a note or two of caution ought to be sounded. While it appears certain to score a bull's-eye with movie-going sensation-seekers, "Comin' at Ya!" requires a fairly high threshold of tolerance for sadism. In addition to being the latest 3-D novelty attraction, it's also an unmitigated example of the spaghetti Western in its terminal vicious phase. The filmmakers don't skimp on 3-D effects, but they're militant minimalists when it comes to plot, character development and even incidental humor.
The premise is brutally simple. The wedding ceremony of a couple, played by Tony Anthony (a fixture of the "Stranger" series of Italian Westerns) and Victoria Abril, is interrupted by two degenerate intruders (Gene Quintano and Ricardo Palacios) who shoot the priest, wound the groom and abduct the bride. An equally appropriate title might be "The Groom Saw Red," because the remainder of the footage documents Anthony's implacable quest to recover his intended and settle accounts with the bad hombres, who turn out to be brothers and professional procurers. The hero's bride is rediscovered among a few dozen captives, quivering in their scanties in a bat-infested dungeon while awaiting transportation to fates worse than pesky, nipping bats.
The continuity consists of having hero and villains turn the tables on each other. Anthony kidnaps the obese, brutish Palacios, kicks his face to a pulp and seems to have Quintano over a barrel. When his guard slips, Anthony ends up bound and tortured. The freed Palacios foolishly cuts him loose, the better to savor murdering him, at which point Anthony regains the upper hand. Returning to find his ghastly brother permanently indisposed, Quintano massacres all the women captives except the hero's missus (there's a very picturesque arrangement of shapely corpses in an arroyo), who is staked out as bait on Main Street of a ghost town. The hour growing late and the quantity of atrocities and thrills being more than generous already, the filmmmakers decide to make this encounter the showdown.
Not every sensation relies on threatening the audience with a lethal weapon of some kind. The most outrageous funny stunt -- one that Mel Brooks might envy, in fact -- finds a frontier mother hoisting her naked infant over the 3-D lens, which assumes a kind of potty's eye view of the baby's behind as he prepares, presumably, to relieve himself. Models of taste on this score, the filmmakers mercifully cut away before any damage is done.
Perhaps the most impressive scenic effect has nothing to with exposing the audience to dropped, thrown or dangled apparitions. The Spanish cinematographer, Fernando Arribas, achieves some dazzling deep-focus compositions of the ghost town, aiming along porches or colonnades to pick up a rider in the background and tracking laterally without losing focus at any point in the field. He and director Ferdinando Baldi also arrange complicated depth illusions with their sets, props and actors on a number of the interiors, but the spatial relationships get a little cluttered in 3-D, which tends to miniaturize the image and cut down on illumination as an inconvenient matter of course. The exteriors, having more space and natural light to work with, offer the process a more flattering pictorial framework.
Nevertheless, there's no sense kidding oneself that "Comin' at Ya!" will succeed on the basis of its subtlest 3-D effects. Subjecting spectators to imaginary assaults is its strong point, and nothing was too excruciating for the gleeful first-timers at the Town. In fact, the most excruciating joke got the biggest roar of approval: the hero shoving his rifle up through some floorboards and unloading right in the crotch of an unsuspecting bad guy. That's blowing 'em away with a vengeance.