“They’re longtime friends on separate life paths, but they share a horrific destination, where a seemingly innocent incident from their school days comes back to terrify them. Something, someone wants payback.”
If there was an award for cramming the most horror movie conventions into one film, Amusement should win it hands down. You’ve seen it all before: young couple stranded on a trip, that pesky rural shortcut, psycho truck driver, isolated house in the woods, spooky gothic looking hotel, ingenious little torture contraptions, a maze of traps and filthy bloody rooms, a demented clown, escaped psycho returning to the scene of his childhood to kill, and the usual assortment of sundry death scenes. In just a little under an hour and a half you get to see parts of Saw, Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th, Hostel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and even Killer Clowns From Outer Space. A pretty solid collection of hits, but ultimately Amusement is a jack of all trades and the master of none.
Amusement starts out as if it were going to be an anthology. We get three stories of three twenty-something women, who end up in terrifying circumstances:
Shelby: Shelby and Rob are driving alone at night on a highway. They’re returning from a not so good getaway. All they want now is “no more bad luck”. But how boring would that be? Rob fancies himself a “convoy” expert. Cue the CW McCall “Breaker, breaker, this here’s the Rubber Duck”. He’s been drafting trucks to get a better speed and hopefully avoid the cops. When the truck he’s following stops for gas he decides to follow and finally meet one of his fellow travelers. We start to get suspicious when we hear tell that the road is backed up ahead and someone happens to know a good short cut. You can scream all you want at your television set. It won’t make any difference. The characters in this show are dumber than dirt. Despite the fact it’s the middle of the night and there haven’t been 2 cars at one time on the whole road, the unlikely suckers fall for the traffic jam line and take the shortcut hook. I don’t have to tell you about the sinker.
Tabitha: This is by far the best of the stories and would have made a far better film on its own legs. Tabitha arrives one stormy night at the home of her aunt and uncle. She finds her young cousins are all alone. The babysitter has apparently split. She sits for the young ones and is frightened by a stranger at the door looking for the missing babysitter. You never see his face, but at least Tabby’s not quite stupid enough to invite him in for tea and slaughter. Tabby finally gets the kids to bed and does the same for herself. She’s spooked by the room filled with creepy clown dolls, particularly the life-sized one in the rocking chair. When aunt calls she complains about the doll, but good old aunt answers with the expected, “What life-sized doll?” Turns out this clown’s killer funny, although not likely from outer space.
Lisa: Lisa’s a bit of a part girl. She and her guy are at a club and he wants to get it on, but it’s roommate night. That means she and her roommate spend the night together, bonding or something. The problem is that roommate never shows up at home, but that’s okay, she wanted to have Dan over anyway. When morning comes and roommate is still missing, Lisa begins to worry. For some reason she suspects that the missing girl might be at the local spooky hotel. She gets Dan to muscle in with his health inspector badge, where he enjoys some nice music. Hours later Lisa goes looking for Dan; what she finds is a room filled with girls wired into mattresses where they have been left to die. Instead of going for help she goes looking for trouble. Trouble wasn’t exactly hiding.
Up until this point the film had some ups and downs but was a pretty watchable affair. The problem comes as the three stories come together. We have a psychologist, ala Dr. Loomis, who fits the pieces together and figures out that a boy these three girls knew in elementary school is on the loose and wants to kill the girls. In a bizarre series of events, that actually does contain one effective twist reveal, that I won’t spoil for you here, the film slowly degenerates into something very tired and clichéd. The film ends in a horror movie tradition, a cat and mouse game with predictable results.
Amusement begins with a lot of promise. It’s a tale of two halves. The first is an entertaining collection of vignettes. The second makes a perhaps unnecessary attempt to bring it all together. It’s worth a look see, for the Tabitha segment, at least; just don’t get your hopes up high.
Amusement is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. You can also view a full screen pan and scan version, but why? Unfortunately the alternate format only takes up space that could have been better used on just one transfer. I obviously chose the widescreen version for this review. The film is very dark and hurt by the relatively low bit rate, often just 4-5 mbps. There’s obvious compression artifact, hurt further by a fair amount of grain. The picture is sharp enough, but the colors are pretty soft and understated. Don’t look for anything to jump off the screen here. I guess it works for the film’s mood, but there is a definite lack of any kind of detail. Some of the sets look pretty cool, and I’m guessing would have looked sweet in high definition.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a bit overpowering at times. The score is a deep dynamic pulsating affair that really does drive your sub levels as well as anything else. The dialog is fine, and you should have no problem with the clarity or placement. Surrounds aren’t overly aggressive, but I must admit the mix is clever and greatly atmospheric.
Digital Copy: You get a code to download a portable copy of the film.
Amusement is an okay ride, at least at first. It doesn’t matter to me much that I’ve seen it all before. If it’s fun, I’m willing to take the ride. I also understand that for this kind of film to work the characters can’t be rocket scientists, although that worked okay in Alien. I do like to see a little more intelligence than these characters have. Obviously they’ve never seen a horror film before. The clown in the Tabitha story was pretty creepy. I would have loved to have seen that film. Watching movies like this is like eating a box of Cracker Jacks. You know it’s bad for you, but you can’t resist. Every now and then a piece gets stuck in your teeth; it’s annoying, but you keep on munchin’ anyway. “And at the end, you get a surprise.”