Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Abusement Park

Last weekend, Kathy and I headed south to the Monster-Mania horror convention, hooking up with a friend we hadn't seen in years, and eventually sharing an elevator with Gary & Jake Busey. (I get the feeling that if Gary Busey crosses your path, you're jinxed, but I crossed paths with him a second time, hopefully nixing the jinx.)

While we were there, we went to the premiere screening of an as-yet-unreleased film, Closed for the Season. It wasn't remotely good. Which is fine -- sometimes (especially with horror films) "good" isn't precisely what you're looking for.

But what you're looking for is usually better than this.

It's a haunted amusement park story, with Aimee Brooks as The Girl, Damien Maffei as The Guy, and Joe Unger as The Carny. (The character's names are actually Kristy, James, and...  well, the Carny, but they're hardly names you need to know.) Apparently the amusement park is angry at being abandoned after a kid flew off a roller coaster 20 years ago and impaled himself on a tree and just lay there with a severed spine for hours (days?), and years ago Kristy lost a stuffed teddy bear there, and... hell, there's no way to explain this. The movie tries, every now and then, and when it does, it becomes impossible to focus. If you try too hard, your brain will turn into Mike and Ikes.

What's happening is that the amusement part is making Kristy and James hallucinate horrible things that they were afraid of in the amusement park when they were kids. There's the Lake Monster, the alligator wrestler, the notion that mobsters buried people under the rides. There's the giant Civil War soldier who hung people high up in trees until their flesh was picked clean and they became just bones, bleaching in the sun. And there's the creepy carny, dressed like a (creepy) clown. Sometimes he has a backup band.

All the hallucinations give the filmmaker (writer-directer Jay Woelfel) an opportunity to film all the gore scenes he wants (such as, say, an alligator ripping off someone's leg) without having to deal with any of the consequences. Problem is, when these events have no consequences, they also lose any of their effect on the audience. What's the point of watching, if nothing that happens matters? Furthermore, with all the emphasis on disorientation -- the characters are always trying to escape the park, but it never lets them -- it would be good to have some sort of handle on what the baseline reality is. Without that, the action becomes a confusing, muddled mess.

Complicating matters, at some point the characters split off into their own evil selves (in evil clown makeup, natch). In a completely unnecessary scene , we get to see Good Kristy getting raped by Bad James and the Carny, while Bad Kristy (and later, Good Kristy, because it's a hallucination) look on. (Also, her beloved stuffed bear gets kinda rape-y, as well.) This scene only exists--like most scenes in Closed for the Season, it has no bearing on the plot--because the writer/director thought it would be awesome. It's not. It's simply a gratuitous and ugly scene in what is otherwise a nonsensical, unentertaining trifle.

Plus: It's two hours long. It goes on and on, and every ending is a false one. Just when you think they've ridden all the rides and visited all the attractions, there's one more thing they have to check off their haunted to-do list. Their ride on the Ferris wheel -- earlier described as "the world's fastest" -- had all the excitement of cleaning the gutters, but none of the danger. If I'd had a box of Sno-Caps with me, I would have used the nonpareils to saw away at my own wrists.


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