Sunday, January 9, 2011

What, am I funny like a clown? Do I AMUSEMENT you?

Few gimmicks are easier to pull off in a horror movie than menacing clowns. Plant one on your poster and you can guarantee a few automatic rentals, at least 10% of which will come from me. Hence today’s feature, 2009’s Amusement, clinched its way onto my television when it hit Instant Watch.
Quick Plot: Opening credits introduce three lovely young ladies poised for big things: Tabitha (most likely to succeed), Lisa (most likely to be famous), and Shelby (most likely to shine, whatever that means). Last is a weird little boy with mental issues, untitled but we’ll call him Most Likely to Remind People of Michael Myers.
Shelby, now grown and tired, is driving home to Ohio with her boyfriend, a young man who dreams, it would seem, of joining a highway convoy. Granted I don’t travel much by car, but are convoys some sort of secret Skulls-like fraternity that guarantees true happiness? Anyway, as you can guess, this one is filled with menace, here in the nicely twisted form of a kidnapping-happy roadster.

Following the mildly effective first story, we move on to Tabitha (Satan’s Little Helper charmer Katheryn Winnick) as she embarks in spending the evening with her moppy-haired cousins. And for whatever reason, their collection of awful evil very terrible clown dolls. A storm is raging, one first-shift babysitter missing, mysterious hooded man spotted, and giant awful evil very terrible clown doll is creaking away in a rocking chair, waiting for the perfect moment to leap to life and hunt the pretty blond.

Lastly, we move to Lisa, who worries when her good-girl roommate never comes home and hunts her down with her health inspector boyfriend. They end up in a Frankensteinian hotel headed by a little weirdo, who naturally....well you see where it’s all going.

Amusement is an odd little dish, one made with a lot of genuinely good ingredients that simply never got cooked long enough. The basic premise of following three women as they get taken by a psycho is something new, and the fact that each story has a completely different approach helps. The opening offers a neat car chase, the second, a tried and true clown hunt, and the third, a nice stalking through a funhouse. All three actresses are adequate, with Winnick proving the most charming. 
On the other hand, Amusement is also something of a mess. We don’t really know the villain well enough to ever really be scared of him, as a single childhood flashback doesn’t really give us much to fear. Ending all the buildup with one more stalk-chase sequence feels lazy, especially when we reach a point where it seems clear who will emerge the survivor. The film has plenty of genuine originality but unfortunately, not a good enough screenplay to make it work.
High Points
Though we know how it has to eventually end, the prolonged scene with the life-sized clown doll (or is it???) is fairly effective (at least if you’re naturally uneasy with giant life-sized clown dolls)

Low Points
As stated earlier, a script that doesn’t really have the energy to tie its pieces together
Lessons Learned
Entertainers and performers are also known as lovers of the laugh
There’s an art to a good convoy, and it apparently includes introducing yourself awkwardly at rest stops
Most FBI interrogations are not held in abandoned drafty warehouses with moving walls and no cell phone reception. Remember this when calling in on your job

Amusement is not by any means a good film, but it has a little more going for it than a lot of other slick direct-to-DVD modern horrors. Director John Simpson can clearly stage a few good scenes, though tying them together just never seemed to happen in Jake Wade “The Hitcher AND When a Stranger Calls remakes writer” Wall’s script. Sure, for a $10 million budget, a better story could have been told, but it makes for an entertaining enough 85 minutes of your mild attention. It’s no Drive-Thru (really what is? Other than Drive-Thru, which you should totally stop everything for and go watch immediately), but it’s a decent little horror that passed my morning with mild suspense.

Now go watch Drive-Thru.


  1. I really wanted to like this movie. It has an actress I like in it. Like you though, it didn't work very well for me. As always, your review is so good!

  2. Aw thanks Heather! I enjoyed some aspects of the film, but it's also kind of a mess. With Instant Watch though, I can never be too angry.

  3. I've toyed with the idea of watching this. (Instant watch is such a Siren!) And your review is much more positive than I expected! So I may just take a look!
    That clown reminds me of that episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Man that episode freaked me out...

  4. Give it a try. The movie itself actually kind of FEELS like an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark, now that you mentioned it!

  5. Like Christine, I was on the fence about this one, but now I wish I had watched it. Though I doubt I could have come up with a better joke for the title than you did. I salute you ma'am.

  6. Thanks! Every once in a while, the right title comes along.

  7. Didn't much care for the movie, but the line that went something like "You picked the wrong fukcing Convoy!" is just brilliant on so many levels of good to bad.

    Another "Lesson Learned" worth mentioning is that when some creepy dude asks you to put your ear right up to his victrola, you probably shouldn't.

  8. Ha! The entire convoy subplot just amused me. The kid was SO HAPPY to finally be part of one!

    And really, putting your ear to anything is just silly nowadays. I learned that back in Scream 2.