Writer/director Cary Hill was able able to fund his ’80s slasher throwback Scream Park a couple years ago thanks to Kickstarter. Since then it’s been kicking ass at festivals and now the masses can finally enter Hill’s house of horrors with Scream Park on DVD and VOD. And believe me, guys, it’s worth the price of admission. While the film may suffer from some of the typical low-budget indie trappings, Hill and co. salvage any shortcomings with cinematic finesse and loads of creepy atmosphere.
It’s the final night of business for the Fright Land amusement park. The remaining skeleton crew decide to give the place a thoughtful send off by getting wasted and screwing in the restrooms. The crew is a ragtag group of goths and geeks, with our protagonist Missie (Nicole Beattie) as the only uncategorized one. While the others party, Missie searches the park for her boyfriend, who’s been M.I.A. since closing time. As she scours the park, she runs into two mysterious figures – one with a burlap sack over his head, the other wearing one of those dick-nose masquerade numbers. When they spot Missie the two figures saunter off, but it soon becomes apparent that they’re not there to stay in the shadows.
You see where this is going, I’m sure. Once the two guys, Iggy and Ogre, are introduced, Scream Park does divert a bit from the well-worn path of stalk and slash. Missie has to play detective, and she gradually uncovers the path that led these two hillbilly psychos to the park. Without spoiling anything, it’s a fairly interesting motive to kill a bunch of people. In our world of corporate greed, it’s also a sadly tangible one.
Seeing a film marketed as an “’80s slasher throwback” always makes a siren flare up in my head. A lot of the ones I’ve seen recently sure have plenty of slashing, but disregard crucial aspects like atmosphere, suspense, and characters worth a damn. Cary Hill and co. have their shit together though. Scream Park is a deliberately paced thriller that miraculously doesn’t fall back on any “creepy carnival” cliches. There’s no over-obvious, lingering shots of scary clown faces or played out “creepy carnival” shit like that. They never even go in the haunted house attraction! Iggy and Ogre could’ve easily been carnies or clowns themselves, with caked on makeup and painted on grins, but by making them some local shitkickers, Hill establishes Scream Park as part of a bigger world.
The film was shot at an actual amusement park, Conneaut Lake Park in Pennsylvania. The location immeasurably helps drench the film in atmosphere. A lot of the most tense scenes are set against the carnival lights, which really adds some juice to the horror. My only issue is that I feel like the location wasn’t utilized to its fullest potential. There are a lot of tight shots, making the park feel smaller than it obviously is. No geography is really established either, so it was impossible to tell where characters were in relation to each other. When the location was taken advantage of for a few super wide shots, they’re really chilling.
The acting drags the film down in parts, particularly when all the kids are together. A lot of their dialogue timing sounds awkward and some of the actors inflect really weird. Nicole Beattie is great though – she’s really the film’s linchpin. She plays Missie real sympathetic with just the right amount of toughness. Beattie makes a solid final girl.
Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy fame plays Iggy, which might be confusing because his partner in the film is named Ogre, but he’s played by Ian Lemmon. Nivek really hams it up as Iggy, the fraternal sleaze bucket. The first girl he kills, he grinds up on her from behind while doing it – you can tell he’s really getting his rocks off. It’s a funny performance, but at times he goes overboard and it almost seems like he’s in a different movie. There’s a fun cameo by Doug “Pinhead” Bradley too.
There’s really a lot to enjoy in Scream Park. If you can get over the amateur acting it’s a real blast for genre fans. I mentioned earlier the whole “’80s slasher throwback” buzz term, but just ignore that and settle in for a unique, entertaining little ride.
Scream Park is available on DVD and VOD April 22 from Wild Eye Releasing. The DVD includes commentary with Cary Hill and some bloopers.