Studio: Wild Eye Releasing
Director: Cary Hill
Writer: Cary Hill
Producer: Cary Hill, Scott Lewis
Stars: Wendy Wygant, Steve Rudzinski, Alicia Marie Marcucci, Kyle Riordan, Tyler Kale, Kailey Marie Harris, Dean Jacobs, Kevin ‘Ogre’ Ogilvie, Nicole Beattie, Brian McDaniel, Ian Lemmon, Doug Bradley
Two masked killers stalk the teenage employees of an amusement park during an after hours party.
Seeing Tobe Hooper’s “The Funhouse” at an impressionable age instilled me with an everlasting affinity for slasher films that take place in theme parks. It could be that I was murdered while attending a carnival in a past life too, but whatever the explanation, my lifelong fascination with the concept makes horror set against a backdrop of rollercoasters, cotton candy, and midway games somehow irresistible.
Which is why I am generally willing to adjust expectations and give the benefit of the doubt to low-budget production values as long as they tickle that touchstone of 1980’s horror nostalgia. “Scream Park” starts by channeling a vintage “Friday the 13th” feel with simple white on black opening credits, and then swiftly falls down a well of “what a shame” wasted potential once the movie is fully underway.
The hubris felling the film is that it thinks it is a throwback homage to festival-set fright fare, yet doesn’t realize it has to exhibit some sort of twist, cynicism, or reverence for the subgenre in order to rise above being boringly derivative. “Scream Park” rips the skeleton from the teen slasher premise and regurgitates it back onscreen bare boned, without refitting it under a skin of self-aware satire, unique personalization, or high concept execution that might energize an unoriginal idea.
Writer/director Cary Hill shows misplaced confidence by assuming that the audience will accept his film as a worthy addition to any theme park terror collection while either overlooking or not noticing the corner-cutting efforts slapping it together. Accepting the production as is actually means recognizing “Scream Park” as a cheaply made, poorly acted, and uninteresting film.
I will never understand why filmmakers insist on writing characters as teenagers when the actors they have to work with are all in their mid-twenties or older. Little about “Scream Park” would change by graduating the characters from high school undergrads to college kids working a job between semesters, yet the film is bent on making a fool of itself by presenting men with hair thinner than the plot as 17-year-olds.
The story is simply kids in a theme park after hours stalked by two masked maniacs. Characters include the jock in a letterman’s jacket, misfit loner, moody goth girl, punk guy, sex-crazed couple, virginal Final Girl, etc. There is nothing wrong with intentionally using these stereotypes as long as there is a purpose in the execution, e.g. offering an original spin or poking fun at the clichés. But “Scream Park” is just a face value exercise in generic plotting and characterization.
That kind of underachieving approach to horror moviemaking puts the burden on the audience to infer their own scares and suspense by unconsciously linking to memories of better movies that did the same things. That is a cheap trick to avoid being original, and it is an illusion that “Scream Park” does not have the ability to pull off.
If “Scream Park” demonstrated a sense of humor about itself, or otherwise acknowledged that it knows how out of its depth it is in delivering a believable fantasy, perhaps there could have been value from playing its shortcomings for laughs. Or by offering slier in-jokes than Doug Bradley using a Lament Configuration as a paperweight. Instead, the film treats the audience as though they are as dumb as the characters.
Aged 24 at the time of filming, Wendy Wygant is cast as a teen coed daydreaming of the boy she is crushing on and what college life might be like. Aged 25 at the same time, Steve Rudzinski is meant to pass as her much older boss, a cheat that is attempted by dusting the hair around his temples with chalk. 25-year-old Rudzinski is as convincing at playing a man in his forties as the actor with the receding hairline is at portraying the kid who needs a fake ID to buy beer. The rest of the roster is occupied by several performers who have no acting credits to their name other than “Scream Park” and likely never will. That “Scream Park” expects its audience to take any of this seriously is outrageous.
As touted by the box cover, Doug Bradley of “Hellraiser” fame appears in one single scene that was filmed before any of the production details were even finalized. Bradley’s scene was used for a concept trailer to drum up interest and crowd-funding money that ultimately paid for the movie, although it is unclear if everyone investing knew they had already seen the entirety of Bradley’s brief performance.
“Scream Park” might have pulled off some retro charm had it fully embraced the era from which it draws inspiration. Plastic glasses and cassette tape decks initially suggest that might be the mood the movie is going for, and then the movie abandons any such illusion by including cell phones, contemporary branding, and signs advertising $32.49 for a case of Stella Artois. Cary Hill confirms on the DVD commentary track that he was not aiming for a period piece, which only further begs the question, why then should anyone care about what “Scream Park” has to offer?
Masked killers. Promiscuous teens slaughtered in bloody ways. These are the horror movie tropes that “Scream Park” knowingly employs. Amateur acting. Run-of-the-mill scripting. Miscued jump scares that fall flat and a camera that bounces when someone walks past it. These are the low-budget filmmaking staples that also course throughout “Scream Park.” They are also the ones that make it a movie certain to underwhelm and disappoint.
Review Score: 25