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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Amusement (Blu-ray)
Amusement (Blu-ray)
New Line // R // January 20, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 22, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Amusement was stuck
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in development hell for a couple of years there, and once Picturehouse finally did get this low-budget horror anthology in the can back in '07, they left it on the shelf caked under a few inches of dust. Originally eyed for a theatrical release before being pushed back over and over again, Amusement is only now clawing its way out of the vault and heading straight to video. Not really released so much as accidentally managing to escape, Amusement is being chucked out on DVD and Blu-ray with about the most stripped-to-bare-metal package New Line thought they could get away with.

Playing kind of like a few weeks' worth of Tales from the Darkside haphazardly stitched together, this pretty tame horror anthology is anchored around three childhood friends who are all stalked by some nutjob they thought they left in the rear view mirror back in grade school.

Shelby (Laura Breckenridge) is snoozing away in the passenger seat, and she wakes up to find their boxy sedan sandwiched in the middle of a great big convoy rockin' through the night. Nah, it's okay -- her douchey boyfriend (Tad Hilgenbrink) swears by it...that sticking closely to a couple of friendly folks on the Interstate is the best way to make it through these long, long road trips. But...y'know, this is a horror flick and all, so you're not exactly settling in for pit stops at Stuckey's and a couple rounds of Slugbug. There's a dead-eyed girl who keeps poking her head out of a window in that truck up front. Rob misses the whole thing, but Shelby frantically insists that they try to do something to try and help her. Oh, no need for that, though. Here she comes...outta the truck and straight onto their windshield. Mmm-hmm, gear up for round one of stalk-and-slash with Amusement's cackling maniac.

Next up on the hit parade...? Tabitha (Katheryn Winnick) has just rolled into her aunt's new digs to watch over her pint-sized little cousins for the night. The babysitter left these mischievous little tykes alone, and that's no good, but the kids are all in one piece. After Tabby takes over and puts 'em down for the night, she settles into a guest bedroom that's plastered wall to wall with creepy clowns of just about every possible shape and size. There's even one demented looking six-foot tall clown slumped over in a rocking chair with an accordion. As Tabitha's PG-ratedly getting ready for bed, she hears a muffled squeak from that squeezebox. A minute or two later, the TV flips on, and...hmmm, the remote's in the clown's lap. Tabitha's creeped out enough by the whole thing that she shifts around on the bed to keep that eerie bastard out of her line of sight, and it's just then that his head turns towards her... A babysitter trapped in a house with a maniac in a fright mask? Well, it's worked before...

Hey, it's Roommate Night! Only...hmmm. Lisa (Jessica Lucas) showed up, but her pal Cat...? No sign of her. Kitty's not so much the one night stand type, and she's not answering her cell either. Since Lisa knows the guy she was chatting up at the bar is staying at this rundown converted mansion on the outskirts of town, she stakes out the place in the hopes of tracking down her buddy. Check off one girlfriend devoured by this crumbling hotel. Oops. Go ahead and mark off one boyfriend too. The nutjob answering the door is draped in a leather apron and thick rubber gloves like he's an extra in Hostel or something, but that's not nearly enough to scare off Lisa, who's hellbent on sneaking inside and seeing what happened to her friends, and...yeah, you see where this is going.

All three
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of those stories come together in the flick's shocking finalé, which picks up with a shellshocked Tabitha in some kind of Fincher-esque wet dream of a FBI compound, only it's...y'know, not. There's a little bit of backstory before Amusement settles into ripping off imagery from Saw wholesale, although I'll give the movie credit for lobbing out a clever twist in the middle of the grue that I never saw coming.

Amusement really does feel like one of those syndicated horror anthology shows from the tailend of the '80s strung together into a feature-length flick. There's a framing story, yeah, but it's kind of an afterthought. All of these segments are pretty low-key -- no grotesquely over-the-top splatter or seven-figure effects budget to throw at the screen -- and they even clock in around twenty minutes a pop. Like all those vintage anthology shows -- y'know, Tales from the Darkside, Monsters , that sorta thing -- these four tales of terror are also pretty hit-or-miss.

I started to give Amusement credit for writing strong, reasonably intelligent women rather than the usual double-digit IQ spam-in-a-cabin, and then Lisa's segment rolled around. Staking out a haunted mansion because she thinks her pal might be inside, and then after her boyfriend schmoozes his way in only to vanish for hours on end, her kneejerk reaction is to sneak inside and never be seen again herself. I know it's a horror flick and the red shirts are kind of obligated to do stupid things so they can be carved up into bloodied, fist-sized chunks, but Lisa's segment never really seems to know where it's heading, and it's by far the most boring stretch of the movie. Like Shelby's bit, there's almost nothing to it but lots and lots of something's-not-quite-right setup and a couple of minutes of payoff. Shelby's opening segment also has it tougher than the rest since it's saddled with the flick's single worst actor as the hero type. Really, its second segment is the only creepy and effective one in the bunch...the only one that capitalizes on any real sense of claustrophobia and atmosphere. If you can get past a completely illogical twist with a grief counselor in the finalé, the last part is okay too, but I'm starting to think that's just because I just really, really like Katheryn Winnick.

Amusement is okay. It's not cringingly bad, and that's a step up from some of the other direct-to-video horror the rest of Warner's extended family has churned out over the past couple of years. Still, only one segment really works, and even it leans on about the most familiar stalk-and-slash formula in the playbook. Swap out Katheryn Winnick with someone without that same sort of screen presence and the whole movie would be a wash. Amusement doesn't really take advantage of that framing story device, and it's also kind of a drag that the flick recycles the exact same twist for all four segments. Okay, it's not as big a deal in the end, but still, all the movie does is put a foxy twentysomething in a slightly uncomfortable situation, pull a "boo!" when someone who halfway passes himself off as a harmless schlub turns out to be that cackling butcher, and swap out the backdrop and disguise when the next segment rolls around. There's not a whole hell of a lot of imagination in the twists or the premises for these tame little vignettes either. Still, I'm a sucker for horror anthologies, and even if Amusement isn't exactly close to being good, it's good enough...squeaking by just enough for genre completists to find it worth a rental.


Video
Amusement looks alright in high-def, sporting a scope image that's reasonably sharp and detailed. The photography's a little rough-hewn, though, saddled with flat contrast as well as a gritty texture that occasionally looks more like noise than natural film grain. There aren't any glaring flaws, though, and Amusement is pretty much what I'd stroll in expecting for this sort of low-budget horror flick.


Audio
This
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is a movie that was originally supposed to make its bow in theaters, but Amusement's tepid sound design screams direct-to-video. The rear channels are only sporadically used to ramp up the tension: creaking footsteps in an unfamiliar house, a truck plowing across the screen, and some demonic cackling are about it. Otherwise, they're just there to reinforce the score and belt out stock atmospheric effects like dripping water and a mildly nasty thunderstorm. Aggressive pans? An unsettlingly claustrophobic, immersive mix? Nope. There's not all that much going on in the lower frequencies either once you get past the booming stings that punctuate the big stack of jump scares. I never really got that sense of distinctness and clarity of every last element in the mix that I'm used to hearing on Blu-ray either. This 16-bit TrueHD 5.1 track isn't bad or anything, but it's pretty uninspired.

Amusement also piles on a traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 mix alongside subtitle streams in English (SDH) and Spanish.


Extras
Nothing at all...unless you count the digital copy tossed onto a second disc or that glossy cardboard slipcase, at least.


The Final Word
Amusement is kind of a throwback to lukewarm horror anthologies like Creepshow 2 and Campfire Tales, and...yeah, it's okay. Aside from that second segment shouldered by Katheryn Winnick, it's all kind of an indifferent shrug. It's not the sort of flick that grabs you by the throat and screams out to be shoved in your Blu-ray deck for a second go-around, and there aren't any extras at all to try and sweeten the deal. So...yeah. The smart money says you could probably keep on living a happy, productive life without ever giving Amusement a whirl, but if you can't pass up a direct-to-video horror anthology in high-def, a rental will probably do it. Rent It.
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