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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Amusement might end up being the most ironic title of the year, because there's absolutely nothing amusing about it. I confess being extremely disappointed. The film, on DVD January 20 from Warner Home Video, was released by Picturehouse, the now-defunct "boutique" division of New Line Cinema (owned by WB) that typically put out classy fare like Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, the brilliant documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, and the superb Spanish horror film The Orphanage. Why they opted to invest in such a hackneyed, cornball slasher movie is beyond me.

There really is no plot here, other than that a bad guy nicknamed "The Laugh" plots revenge against three female former classmates by tormenting them in the style of their elementary school art projects. (I know - lamest horror movie concept of all time!) His reasons for doing this are not fully revealed until the last 10 seconds of the movie, and even then the motivations are not convincing. The first victim he terrorizes while she drives in a convoy with her boyfriend. Another he terrorizes in a creepy old hotel that no one in his or her right mind would ever spend a night in. This particular stalking is really absurd because, to pull it off, the Laugh would literally have to be psychic. He would need to know exactly where the girl was going to go, what she was going to do, and when she was going to do it.

Then there is Tabitha (Katheryn Winnick). Her stalking is like every horror movie cliché crammed together. Thunder claps right when you expect a scare. The phone rings similarly. There's a room full of creepy clown dolls, one of which turns its head. A television turns itself on. The girl gets a phone call suggesting that a killer is inside the house! You get the picture.

A big part of the problem with Amusement is that it's almost completely incoherent. The stories of the three girls don't seem connected, and the plot jumps around from one time period to the next. Occasionally, I wasn't even sure what was going on. And because the killer is never developed - or his rationale satisfactorily explained - it's impossible to care whether anyone in the picture lives or dies.

Speaking of the Laugh, actor Keir O'Donnell is totally miscast in the role. He tries to make evil looking faces, but the result is unintentionally comical. There is zero that's menacing about him. Every time the Laugh comes on screen, you're more likely to, well, laugh than squirm with fear. Ladies and gentlemen, this may be the worst performance by an actor, ever.

The finale takes place in one of those dingy, rusty basements with lots of gates and ladders and cages - the kind of setting that has become the norm for horror movies ever since Saw. In yet another example of the film's incoherence, the characters run around this cavernous space, yet when one of them emerges, she finds herself in a little tiny shack somewhere deep in the woods. Perhaps an engineering student could explain to me how a ramshackle hut could possibly have a basement the size of several airplane hangars.

You notice such things when a film isn't working, and boy, does this one ever not work. Sometimes a bad horror flick can compensate slightly by having interesting blood and gore. Amusement doesn't even do that right; the carnage is surprisingly restrained for a story that is so centered on slashing. Viewers looking for some Fangoria-worthy bloodletting will be sorely disappointed.

Then again, what do you expect from a movie that uses Hungary to double for Ohio?

(1/2 out of four)

DVD Features:

Amusement is available on DVD - in your choice of widescreen or fullscreen - Jan. 20. There are no bonus features except for a digital copy.

Amusement is rated R for horror violence, terror and disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.

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