MARCH 19, 2010
After a “long wait” that turned into a “no longer available” on my Blockbuster queue, I was happy to find The Fun Park among the many titles available dirt cheap at a closing Hollywood Video. I long for a good amusement park slasher, or at least one that’s as decent as Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse (itself no classic). But after a promising start, Fun Park gets duller and duller as it goes, and ultimately ends up faring only somewhat better than Dark Ride (something that shouldn’t take any effort whatsoever).
The main problem with the film is the script, attributed to one screenwriter (director Rick Walker) but three story creators. I’m not sure if the multiple go-nowhere plot threads are the result of hasty re-writing, or if they were simply half-assed plot elements thrown in for padding/“character development”, but either way they’re a big part of what sinks the movie. It’s one of those movies that starts at the end, with the lone survivor (Jillian Murray, the film’s best asset in that she’s very pretty AND has my support for being a part of Mass Effect) of an alleged massacre at the titular locale telling her strange story to cops and a kindly female psychiatrist. We learn her character has a shitty life - her mom’s an addict, her dad is a question mark, her dreamboat boyfriend is going off to college, likely without her, etc. So you’re probably thinking - and they seem to be suggesting - that she’s delusional and simply killed everyone herself.
She didn’t. The killer clown did. In fact, there is no seeming reason for the flashback structure, other than, I guess, not bothering to try to derive any suspense out of Murray’s character’s fate, since any horror fan would know she was safe right off the bat. There’s an opening text that’s very much like Texas Chain Saw’s, but if you recall, that one didn’t specifically say that Sally survived (if anything it hints she has died as well). The only reason for such a structure is to pull a High Tension and say she killed them all, or was at least in cahoots with the clown, or SOMETHING. But no, it ends as typically as one could expect.
The shrink has some needless baggage too. It opens with her in the shower, crying and experiencing her OWN flashbacks concerning her miscarriage. Later, her investigation puts her in direct contact with the guy who knocked her up, but once this relationship is established it’s never relevant or even mentioned again. Nor do they bother trying to draw any real parallel between the two women - both have suffered loss and all that, but so much time is spent on the fun park stuff (scenes that don’t have the shrink, obviously), the two never really develop a real relationship, which makes the end (where they end up living together, apparently) all the more awkward.
But the real killer (heh) is the lack of using the setting well. For a movie about a killer clown at a fun park, there are remarkably few scenes set in or even around the rides. We see a ferris wheel, bumper cars, etc. but other than a quick scene on a carousel, the characters never interact with the attractions. Instead, they dick around an arcade for a while and then the killer takes them to a standard basement dungeon you can see in hundreds of other, largely better horror movies.
And then, the final nail in the coffin. Because this is a mid 00s horror movie, the killer can’t stalk and kill his victims and then move on. Nope, he has to chain them up and fuck with them for a while, making them watch each other get maimed. And Walker substitutes quantity for quality to an excessive degree - we actually get a (not exaggerating) FIFTEEN MINUTE scene of the clown cutting off their faces and smacking them around while they’re all chained up and painted as clowns. Even the most die hard fan of Hostel and Rob Zombie’s movies would probably get bored by this sequence before it was even halfway over, and the fact that the actual setting (you know, the one in the goddamn title) has nothing to do with it makes it even more excruciating.
Not helping matters is Walker’s schizo direction. Frequent, unmotivated zooms and camera shifts are the order of the day, with even casual conversation between two characters shot in migraine-inducing “Bourne Identity Wannabe Cam”. He also tosses in super impositions and grainy super 8 flashback footage throughout the film, not unlike Natural Born Killers, but without the skill or even narrative significance. All of the stuff about broken childhoods (the clown is a victim of a domineering, insane mother - the subject of many of his own flashbacks) never pays off in any meaningful way.
And it’s a shame, because the elements are all there. The cast is personable (though the stoner character is WAY over-stoned, to the point where actual stoners might be insulted), it looks like it cost more than its reported million bucks, the HD look is quite good, looking sharp and colorful despite a lackluster transfer (non-anamorphic, more on the DVD’s shortcomings later), and the clown is an imposing, somewhat creepy figure. The clown makeup is quite good in fact - and it’s worth noting that the “messy” look he has (and gives to his victims, another cool touch) appeared in this film, shot two years before the release of The Dark Knight. And as I said a while ago, it actually starts off strong - for the first 30 minutes or so, I was enjoying it quite a bit (despite the camerawork). Its faults lie not in its basic ideas, but in their execution, or lack thereof.
Even the DVD is puzzlingly incomplete. Not only does it not provide a scene selection, it doesn’t even have chapter breaks! If you doze off, or (for some goddamn reason) have a favorite scene, you have to fast forward from the beginning of the film to find it, like a VHS tape (fitting, as VHS tapes, instead of DVDs or even mini DV tapes, are seen several times in this not even 4 year old film). Weirder, all of the bonus features are listed on the main menu instead of on a “Special Features” page. There’s a feature called “The Story of The Fun Park”, which suggests it will be about the true story behind the film (according to the blurb from Movie News Flash (?) on the back, it’s based on a true story. On that subject, it also has raves from Yahoo News and Premiere, but I can find no review of the film from any of these outlets), but it’s actually just about the cast and how much they like the location. "Behind The Scenes" is 3 minutes of the eponymous footage, sans any sort of insight or even cohesion - it’s just a bunch of random, largely inconsequential clips. Ms. Murray’s audition is a nice inclusion, as its followed by the scene she reads as it appears in the film, which you don’t often see. And then there are some outtakes, none of which are very amusing (I really should just stop watching these things). All of the bonus features have full end credits sequences, which is odd, as usually such things just have a copyright date. Odder still, the film’s caterer is specifically credited with their own card on each feature. The outtakes and audition were catered? Oh and there are some typos too (“Wanye” instead of “Wayne”), the surest sign of half-assery. In short, save for maybe the audition, skip all of them.
Hell, skip the movie too. Watch Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the millionth time and The Funhouse for the 2nd or 3rd, back to back, and you’ll have a better time.
What say you?