JANUARY 31, 2012
Like the killer clown slasher movie, horror movies set in amusement parks tend to suck more often than not, and sadly Closed For The Season does little to reverse the trend. It’s certainly better than Dark Ride or whatever, but the inconceivable length (a few minutes under two hours), purposely convoluted plot, and two leads who aren’t engaging enough to warrant looking past the other blemishes ultimately kills whatever goodwill a “Better than Dark Ride” claim can provide.
At 90 minutes I could be more forgiving, because at its core IS a fairly unique story, which is something that should be lauded (especially nowadays). Our heroes are trapped in an abandoned amusement park, forced by the movie’s strange villain (a carny played by the great Joe Unger – someone needs to cast this guy as John Hawkes’ dad in one of his 195 yearly awards bait type flicks) to relive the memories – most of them painful/scary – of the folks who had passed through the park over the years. Why he would do this, I have no idea, but it’s better than the usual slasher or whatever in terms of inventiveness. Also, director Jay Woelfel lucked out with a terrific location, an actual abandoned amusement park that has been left to rot for the past 30 years.
And he must know how good of a location it is, because I am sure at some point that someone told him that another horror movie called Deadwood Park was shot there as well. Amazingly, my biggest problem with THAT movie (which also blended nostalgia with ghosts) was that it was too damn long, so this is one of those things that only doing Horror Movie A Day can make happen: I’ve now seen two bloated horror movies shot in Chippewa Park, which is at least one more than any normal person should endure. Sadly, even though Deadwood was actually a few minutes longer (!) it’s actually the better of the two, so make that your one experience with this overrun fun park.
As with that film, the production value afforded by the one of a kind locale adds immensely to the proceedings; there’s something incredibly eerie about seeing coasters and tilt-a-whirl type rides with trees and brush growing between the rails and tracks – it’s the sort of thing that even the best set designers in the world couldn’t accurately recreate and get that creepy, almost kind of sad look that these things provide “as is”. Or, “as was”; since this movie’s production I understand the park has finally been demolished properly in order to make way for new developments. It’s the movie’s best asset for sure.
Thus, the fact that it’s gone is kind of infuriating – no one will ever be able to put it to truly good use for a movie. Instead, its last hurrah was used up in this convoluted nonsense. Few horror movies can be accused of being full of themselves, but that’s exactly the problem here. It seems Woelfel was incapable of reigning in his ideas and instead just put them all into one movie, which would be a problem even on a big budget movie (see: Transformers sequels), but is even more problematic when you’re dealing with an action-lite affair with only three characters. Poor Unger has to wear more costumes in this film than the Dean on Community wears in an entire season, and worse, occasionally has to provide important exposition while dressed as a sea monster or one of his many clowns.
It also drags out every plot point to an insane degree. When Unger demands they beat him at a carnival game, not only does it take forever (it’s one of those “break the plate” deals), but it just keeps going! After our male hero beats him the game, the female then has to have her own “test”, a dunk tank scene that is equally overlong and dull. Add in the constant dream sequences and hallucinations, and you have a movie that probably could have been 75 minutes long if Woelfel could have focused while writing and/or wasn’t such a baby in editing. Doesn’t matter how much time and effort you put into shooting something – if your story is becoming muddled or drawn out, it HAS to go. It’s why it’s never a good idea for a director to be his own editor (as he is here); in fact I was amazed to discover some deleted scenes among the film’s many extra features. This movie could have been LONGER? Christ.
Also, call me crazy, but a movie about two characters experiencing things that happened to other people just isn’t that interesting after a while. Yeah, it’s sad that someone got killed on a ride and someone else was sexually assaulted in the park, and numerous other things, but if you step back and look at it as a whole, the movie is about two people doing and experiencing absolutely nothing for real. It reminded me of that awful movie The Babysitter with Alicia Silverstone, where the entire thing is just people briefly fantasizing about getting closer to her when in reality they’re just standing there staring. That’s basically what happens here – most of the movie is a dull illusion.
I will give it props about one thing – the ending wasn’t what I expected. I was positive we were building toward a “they’ve been dead the whole time” finale, but that wasn’t quite it. It wasn’t much BETTER, but at least I was sort of fooled, which is always a plus regardless of the other circumstances. And even though the CGI roller coaster scenes look awful, it kind of “fit” to me – they weren’t really happening, so the crude “un-reality” look was appropriate (sort of like the bit in Speed Racer where the background is made up of his childish drawings). In other words, this movie doesn’t fail because it doesn’t have any good ideas – it fails because it doesn’t know what to do with them.
If you dug the movie though, this DVD will delight you to no end. It will take you nearly four hours to go through everything, starting with a full length commentary on the 2 hour movie. Woelfel is by himself here, and he admits some of the movie doesn’t quite work as well as he wanted to and even mocks its endlessness on occasion, but he’s also kind of boring. His obsession with scenes that were shot in two locations will drive anyone up a wall after a half hour or so – no one cares that an insert shot was shot in LA! I swear, at least 10% of the track is him going “OK so this was Ohio, this was California, California… now back to Ohio for that shot, and then cutaway was back in California!” And his soft voice over two hours of mostly dull film is almost like a challenge to the viewer: I dare you not to doze off as he drones on about CGI shadows and where they found the “Octoberfest” sign seen in the background of one scene.
The rest of the stuff is a little more enticing; 45 minutes’ worth of making of footage (broken up into “Webisodes”) will provide some insight into the real location and techie stuff like sound design, and then there are 20 minutes of deleted scenes that you can watch with or without commentary. None of them really felt much different than anything that was seen in the endless movie, so if you loved every minute of it – there’s more! Interestingly, he doesn’t say much about why he cut them, opting to just ramble on about the location and nitpicking about the color timing, same as he did on the feature. The only one of real interest is the last one, which would have been near the end of the film and explained how she really ended up in the park in the first place, but only someone who truly cared about the movie doing anything but finally ending by that point would have been annoyed by this dangling plot thread. Then there’s a pair of trailers (1st is better, not sure if the order is swapped or they just made their film look more amateurish on their 2nd wave of marketing) as well as two separate video tours of the abandoned park grounds, which will mostly just make you wish someone had thought to make a found footage movie in this eerie, unique location. Oh well.
Again, I like seeing original horror stories, especially in the indie world where most seem to just be trying to cash in on the current trends in an attempt to get noticed. But you gotta do that original idea justice with a tight script and strong characters, neither of which are offered here. Nice try, but I can’t recommend this one unless you’re a big fan of Unger, since he’s the best thing about it.
What say you?