I'm still surprised no one has made a truly scary killer clown flick. The damn things always scared me as a kid -- grown adults who run around in ghoulish make-up and idiotic, big-footed costumes, making balloon animals and glowering at children trying to make them laugh. Damned if the most terrifying dream I've ever had didn't involve a giant, bloodied clown leaping out of my closet at me with an ax...
I recall this because there is nothing in 'Amusement' that comes close to scaring me like that nightmare. Which is a shame, because despite its derivative plot, stupid-ass characters and somewhat cheap production design, the concept of 'Amusement' showed some promise. The tale of three childhood friends who find themselves trapped in a bizarre, funhouse-like underground lair, chased by a demented killer who tortures them for his own amusement, it's a set-up ripe for unsettling imagery and a cool villain. Had the filmmakers bothered to come up with an actual credible narrative, the film might have at least worked as a scary cult item.
Instead, it's up to director John Simpson to evoke as much mood and as many shocks as he can from a convoluted, and ultimately incomprehensible script by Jake Wade Walls ('When a Stranger Calls,' ''The Hitcher' remakes). This is another of those movies that starts like a rip-off of 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' (aka, childhood friends must pay for a supposedly long-buried secret), gets smothered in 'Saw'/'Hostel' grimy trappings, and finally climaxes with a lunatic 'Twilight Zone'-inspired series of twists that really make no sense at all. Add to that three female lead characters who are so dumb you want them to die just because they deserve it, and there is little here to differentiate 'Amusement' from the standard slasher pack.
The value in 'Amusement' for horror fans is in the effective moments it contains. Simpson actually has a fine talent for build-up and pay-off, milking a few sequences of all the tension they are capable of. Notable is one neat moment involving a room full of stuffed clowns, as well as his nice framing of his locations, which force us to look into every dark nook and cranny, perpetuating a sustained sense of unease. And yes, clowns are simply scary -- 'Amusement' could have used a more iconic killer, but what we do get still gave me the creeps on more than one occasion.
'Amusement' was originally set for a theatrical release via New Line, but after they were eaten by Warner, their parent studio decided to bring the film direct-to-video. That was probably a wise move, since there's little in 'Amusement' that is truly memorable. I liked some of the scary moments, and director Simpson could be a talent to watch if he can find better material. But the box cover of 'Amusement' hints at far more terrifying sights than we see, making the film somewhat of a missed opportunity. I continue to wait for my kick-ass, killer clown movie.
Warner provides 'Amusement' with a very nice 1080p/VC-1 encode, framed at the intended theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
This is a pretty good-looking film. It's dark, but detail is rather above average, with even the darkest shadows bearing some noticeable fine textures. There is good depth to the picture, too, and colors are nicely saturated if a bit pale at times. The source is clean, too, with nice blacks and enough pop to contrast to lend a nice high-def feel throughout. I also had no problems with the encode, or any apparent edge enhancement. For a pretty dumb horror movie, 'Amusement' looks nice.
'Amusement' gets a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit) that's more effective than I expected.
Surrounds are surprisingly active, with nice discrete effects during the scary bits and even some well-sustained atmosphere. Low bass is supple, with a well-recorded source that is bright and wide. Though the film's dialogue is unmemorable, all the screams come through loud and clear and I endured no volume balance issues. 'Amusement' is hardly a reference mix, but it sounds better than it really needs to.
There is nary a single bonus feature to be found.
'Amusement' disappeared from New Line's release slate when the studio was absorbed by Warner, and it's not hard to see why. This isn't bad as direct-to-video fodder, but it's rather unoriginal and aside from a couple of effective moments, not all that scary. This Blu-ray is serviceable -- nice video and audio, but zero supplements. Worth a rental for horror buffs, but really no one else.